The presence of a new credit union on picturesque Vashon Island in Washington State demonstrates how consumers continue to thirst for alternative banking options.
For years residents living on the quaint island only had three banking choices, provided completely by multi-national financial institutions. Because the remote island is ferry-access only, residents had no choice but to select one of the three banks to hold their entire financial relationship.
However, the banking landscape on Vashon changed in March 2011 when Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union ($75 million, Bellevue, WA) hung up its shingle in the downtown area. The idea to bring a credit union to the island was a collaborative effort between the credit union and a local forward thinking group.
“Community group CU Vashon approached the credit union about taking part in a local event that celebrated and supported energy efficiency,” says Shannon Ellis-Brock, Chief Operating Officer. “We offer energy efficiency loans so having our credit union present made a lot of sense.”
Ellis-Brock said that during the event residents and local business owners approached her under the impression that a credit union was going to be established on the island. “After having so many people ask, I started to wonder why not open a branch on Vashon?”
With the assistance of CU Vashon and support from the credit union’s board of directors and executive management, Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union made its mark in the downtown area, surrounded by some pretty heavy hitters.
“In addition to the stores and restaurants, some of our neighbors are Bank of America, US Bank and Chase,” Ellis-Brock says. Although encircled by large, popular banks, the credit union instantly became an island favorite.
Ellis-Brock recalls that it didn’t require a big push to motivate residents to flock to the credit union. In fact, the notion of “if you build it, they will come” certain rang true in this case.
The credit union experienced an initial rush of deposits, which far exceeded Puget Sound’s expectations, Ellis-Brock remarks. “In some of the news articles it says that 16% of the residents moved their money to us and while that could easily be the case, we have no way of actually substantiating that statistic since single households have now opened multiple accounts. However, the number of people coming into the credit union and opening new accounts was incredible.”
Puget Sound Now Looking for Loans
Ellis-Brock says that deposits came in fast and furiously leaving the credit union to managing growth. In fact the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber reports that since last March the credit union has added 2,000 members on Vashon holding $20 million in deposits.
Although the feverish deposit activity is a positive step toward growth, Ellis-Brock says that now is the perfect time for members to consider its menu of loans as well.
“Our energy efficiency loan is how we were introduced to Vashon,” she says. “Our current focus is on communicating the benefits of our loan products, especially the energy efficiency loan, which we know so many on the island would appreciate.”
In fact Kevin Ellisen, Puget Sound’s CEO told the Beachcomber that he may suspend business accounts in an effort to slow down the deposit train. And if that doesn’t work he may even write letters to members who have $500,000 or more in their savings accounts, asking them to reduce those deposits, “so that we’re able to receive the deposits of more members.”
New Members Sing The Credit Union’s Praises
Ellis-Brock says that in the meantime, the credit union has enjoyed being a media darling and a model for other communities to consider.
“Our approach to business certainly gels with the way they do things on Vashon,” she explains, referring to the easy-going, hospitable manner many islanders adopt. “For example, we don’t have traditional teller lines in our offices. When the member needs to visit the credit union, we have comfortable areas welcoming the member to come in and sit down with one of our representatives. It's a different way of doing business for some, but works well for us.”
She adds that the credit union participates in local downtown events, which includes staying open late on Friday evenings and displaying member artist works in the lobby.
Ellis-Brock says that local residents have certainly made the credit union feel welcomed and is thrilled that Puget Sound has been able to help so many new members in a short time.
“We’ve been able to make a difference in peoples’ lives in the short time we’ve been here,” she says. “We’ve literally had people bring in their statements from their bank and say I don’t understand this because of the fees. They were told one thing but the statement reflected something else.”
She refers specifically to a member who spoke with The Seattle Times about how the member had been turned down by every bank on the island for an auto loan, until finally going to the credit union.
“Our member, Jamie Clapperton and her husband needed an auto loan and although they were both gainfully employed and had belonged to the bank for a long time were unable to secure one,” Ellis-Brock says. “
The Seattle Times reports that Clappterton and her husband were unable to even be approved for a credit card with more than a $300 limit.
"It felt like a slap in the face," Clapperton told The Times. "The credit union had just opened up, and we took all our savings out that day, and we said, 'OK, we're going to go across the street.' We had asked the bank before for a loan for a car, and they said, 'Sorry, we can't make that happen.' ... Within two weeks, we had a car loan set up; we were able to go get a new car."
"They were, like, so willing to help people who want to live on this island, who want to grow here,” she added. “It felt, I don't know, amazing. Like we were finally being rewarded for something."
“We were thrilled to be able to help her out,” Brock-Ellis recalls. “Plus we don’t base our level of service around how long you’ve been a member. Whether you’ve been here 20 years or 20 minutes, we strive to do what’s right and find a solution for all of our members.”
Whether you live on an island like Vashon or in the middle of a bustling city, there is a credit union that’s right for you.