Credit Union Membership Reached Record Level in 2011

The national Credit Union Administration reported Thursday that membership among its members surged last year as consumers grew weary of the fees charged by the nation’s biggest banks and sought alternative places to put their money. Credit unions added 1.3 million new customers in 2011, bringing their total membership to 91.8 million as the year drew to a close, the highest membership total ever for the nation’s 7,094 federally-insured credit unions.

The number of accounts gained by the credit unions is likely much larger, as the membership totals reflect number of members who joined credit unions, not the number of accounts they opened. Much of the growth came in the final three months of the year, when a series of consumer movements like Bank Transfer Day urged customers to ditch the big banks for alternatives like community banks and credit unions, which typically offer lower rates and fewer fees to customers than major financial institutions.

The wave of customers leaving the major banks increased substantially after Bank of America, then the nation’s largest bank in terms of assets, announced a new $5 per month fee for customers who use their debit cards to make purchases. Announced in September, the fee was subsequently withdrawn, but the damage was already inflicted, as consumers had already been growing angry with the big banks over fees, and held them partially responsible for the financial crisis that sparked the recession.