When it comes to putting money away, Whatcom County residents continue to turn to locally based financial institutions.
Lynden-based Peoples Bank once again holds the largest local market share among banks, according to new data released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Peoples Bank has 22 percent market share among the 15 banks that have branches here, with $676.3 million in deposits as of the end of June.
However it's Whatcom Educational Credit Union that has the highest total of deposits locally. According to data from the National Credit Union Administration, as of June WECU had more than 70,000 members with deposits totaling $755.9 million.
Overall, Whatcom County deposits in banks totaled about $3.1 billion, a 2.5 percent increase compared to a year ago. Local credit unions had about $1.1 billion in deposits in June, up 10.9 percent compared to a year ago.
A factor in the growth of Whatcom-based institutions is the push to maintain business on a local level, said Terri Salstrom, CEO of Industrial Credit Union. The Bellingham-based credit union had $168.8 million in deposits, a 15.4 percent increase in the past year. A strong "buy local" mentality for retail can spill over into other industries, including finance.
"We keep looking for ways to put those local deposit dollars to work through loans to those in our community," Salstrom said.
That local-first concept also has benefited Peoples Bank in Whatcom County, said Russ Lee, president and chief operating officer. During the financial meltdown in 2008 that led to the closure of some local and regional banks, Peoples' conservative banking practices helped it survive, then grow.
"Customers know we value Whatcom County, and that is good," Lee said. "We still have to earn it."
Lee noted that the local banking landscape is much more competitive now because it's a healthier market. The banks that were in trouble during the economic downturn were taken over by stronger financial institutions that remained in the market. Also, while Peoples and local credit unions are strong in Whatcom County, other national banks have grown in this market, including Wells Fargo (Whatcom deposits up 23.7 percent in the past year) and Union Bank (deposits up 63 percent in the past year). Both of those are based in San Francisco.
WECU POSTS SUBSTANTIAL 5-YEAR GROWTH
Wayne Langei, CEO of WECU, believes having a good product with a company culture focused on improving the community is why the credit union is popular with local residents.
"Our real model here at WECU is that we try to be responsible corporate citizens to the community," Langei said. "I feel good when I go home at night."
WECU's growth was particularly strong in the five years following the financial meltdown, a time when many in the public were worried about the state of banks and were troubled by some of the practices of big banks leading up to the meltdown. In 2008 WECU's deposits totaled $404.4 million; it had about 15,600 fewer members than today.
With that kind of growth, the credit union is trying to keep pace by hiring employees and adding space. WECU recently opened its Meridian Center facility in the former Value Village building on East Bellis Fair Parkway. That facility, which employs 65 people, will be used for its "behind-the-scenes" departments, including a new mobile platform that WECU will unveil in the coming months, Langei said.
The business loan department recently moved into 770 E. Holly St., near the Lakeway Drive intersection. The move allows that department new space while the real estate department grows nearby at 516 E. Holly St.
Langei points out that when they first bought a building on East Holly Street in 1988, one goal was to help revive that part of the city after the opening of Bellis Fair led to several retailers vacating downtown. WECU now operates on both sides of that street, having bought and remodeled several structures in the area.
CREDIT UNIONS VS. BANKS
As nonprofits with tax exemptions, credit unions have drawn the ire of the American Bankers Association, which contends that credit unions compete for the same business and offer the same products as community banks.
"Credit unions' tax exemption was originally linked to their mission to serve people of modest means. But evidence shows the exemption is subsidizing wealthy individuals and businesses," the ABA states on its website.
Langei counters that the philosophy of credit unions to take care of low- and middle-income people remains, but higher-income members help bring stability, enabling the credit union to make loans that help the community.
He also points out that credit unions don't have to answer to stockholders, like many banks do, and so credit unions are not focused on a profit margin. Instead, he said, WECU can focus on its slogan of "do good, feel good," which includes its social responsibility donations, community seminars and scholarships.
When the current federal government shutdown looked like it would happen, Langei said WECU officials met to talk about expanding the "living loans" program - loans that help people in a short-term financial crunch.
"Credit unions have a different mindset than a bank," Langei said. "It's great to hear people tell me, 'I love my credit union.' I don't think banks hear that."
Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at email@example.com or 360-715-2269. Read the Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.
DEPOSIT TOTALS IN LOCAL BANKS
Here are the total local deposits in each bank that has a branch in Whatcom County, the percentage change from the previous year and the local bank market share. The totals are as of June 2013:
Peoples Bank: $676.3 million, up 2.2 percent. Market share: 22 percent.
Bank of America: $376 million, up 5.4 percent. Market share: 12.2 percent.
Washington Federal: $362.4 million, down 2.9 percent. Market share: 11.8 percent.
U.S. Bank: $260.9 million, down 6.6 percent. Market share: 8.5 percent.
Wells Fargo: $244.5 million, up 23.7 percent. Market share: 8 percent.
Banner Bank: $218.1 million, down 4.1 percent. Market share: 7.1 percent.
Chase: $202.2 million, up 3.8 percent. Market share: 6.6 percent.
KeyBank: $194.1 million, down less than 1 percent. Market share: 6.3 percent.
Whidbey Island Bank: $161.4 million, down 2.4 percent. Market share: 5.3 percent.
Bank of the Pacific: $133.9 million, up 7.6 percent. Market share: 4.4 percent.
Union Bank: $80.5 million, up 63 percent. Market share: 2.6 percent.
Sterling Savings Bank: $78.6 million, down 7.3 percent. Market share: 2.6 percent.
Skagit State Bank: $62.8 million, down 2.2 percent. Market share: 2 percent.
Business Bank: $19 million, up 1.1 percent. Market share: 0.6 percent.
Columbia State Bank: $5.5 million, down 14 percent. Market share: 0.2 percent.
DEPOSIT TOTALS IN LOCAL CREDIT UNIONS
Here are the total local deposits of each Whatcom County credit union, the percentage change from the previous year and the total number of members. The totals are as of June 2013:
WECU: $755.9 million, up 11.9 percent. Members: 70,288.
Industrial Credit Union: $168.8 million, up 15.4 percent. Members: 23,150.
North Coast Credit Union: $150.1 million, up 6.3 percent. Members: 13,467.
WestEdge Credit Union (formerly GaPac): $45.1 million, down less than 1 percent. Members: 4,094.
Pacific Northwest Credit Union: $17.7 million, up 3.5 percent. Members: 2,136.
SOURCE: NATIONAL CREDIT UNION ADMINISTRATION
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2269.