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Credit union growth continues as total membership passes 114 million

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Credit union growth continues as total membership passes 114 million

Total U.S. credit union membership has been on a steady upward trajectory for years, and that trend continued in the first quarter as the industry grew to 114.1 million members.

That represented year-over-year growth of 4.3%. A year ago total credit union membership stood at 109.4 million.

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Navy FCU, the largest U.S. credit union by assets, added 776,111 members over the past four quarters, marking the biggest year-over-year increase in the nation. The credit union had nearly 7.8 million members at the end of the first quarter.

Credit union membership has been shifting away from small institutions as larger ones grab an ever-increasing piece of the pie.

But some smaller institutions are still finding ways to grow. Riverside, Calif.-based Altura CU has $1.36 billion in assets and 123,489 members, and saw year-over-year growth of 4.2% in the first quarter.

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During the past 18 to 24 months, Altura has focused on growing membership in two groups, millennials and Latinos, with targeted ad campaigns and marketing outreach, spokesperson Carol Kramer told S&P Global Market Intelligence. As a result, membership among millennials grew by 14.2% in 2017, while Latino membership grew by 9.7%, Kramer said.

As Altura strives to increase overall membership in 2018, Kramer said the credit union is also focused on ensuring existing members are happy with its products and services.

"We are tracking member satisfaction monthly in every area, but more importantly we have empowered our employees to flag faulty processes and services in real time," Altura President and CEO Jennifer Binkley said in an interview. "The management team is committed to fixing the top issue each month and taking corrective actions on the others."

Altura regularly surveys members, and one area of concern that came up repeatedly in 2017 was long lines in branches. Altura determined it was primarily caused by shared branching, which enables members of other credit unions to conduct business at branches of participating credit unions without fees.

Altura is the largest credit union in Riverside County with 13 branches, making it a popular choice for other credit unions' members, Binkley said. But that also meant long wait times. "For Altura, shared branching was negatively impacting our own members," Binkley said.

In response, Altura stopped providing shared branching services to members of other credit unions but it continues to participate in a network that allows no-fee usage on its ATMs for members of other credit unions.

"Altura listened to our membership and decided to make this change, which will reduce lines and wait times significantly," Binkley said. "We may sacrifice some revenue as a result, but it will greatly benefit our members."

Tiny Horizon FCU in Williamsport, Pa., also increased membership year over year, despite eliminating most marketing programs and raising its loan rates twice so far this year.

The credit union has $78 million in assets and 10,772 members, representing year-over-year membership growth of 3.9%. President and CEO Justin Howard said in an interview that the increase is a side effect of 2016 and 2017, when the credit union grew substantially.

"So the growth this year is coming from my team's growing relationships with new members from the previous two years and word of mouth from members," Howard said.

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