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Another strong year for Whatcom’s largest credit union

Whatcom Educational Credit Union's Chief Human Resources Officer Cindy Klein, left, President /CEO Jennifer Kutcher and Executive Vice President Jeff Dykstra meet Friday at the WECU main branch in Bellingham.
Whatcom Educational Credit Union's Chief Human Resources Officer Cindy Klein, left, President /CEO Jennifer Kutcher and Executive Vice President Jeff Dykstra meet Friday at the WECU main branch in Bellingham. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Whatcom Educational Credit Union followed up a milestone 2015 with strong growth this year, and its leaders expect more growth in 2017.

After breaking the $1 billion mark in total deposits for the first time at the end of 2015, WECU followed up with double-digit growth in 2016, according to data from the National Credit Union Administration.

At the end of September WECU had slightly more than $1.1 billion in deposits, a 15.2 percent increase compared to a year earlier. The credit union had 82,762 members at the end of the third quarter, according to the data.

WECU and other local credit unions attracted customers following the global financial meltdown at the end of 2008. Following that meltdown, some became frustrated at what was happening with bigger banks and wanted to put money into local financial institutions. At the end of September 2008, WECU had deposits totaling $412.1 million and a membership of 55,760.

Jeff Dykstra, WECU senior vice president, said the credit union noticed an increase in people shopping local soon after 2008, but noted that is not a primary driver of attracting new customers today.

“We’re hearing more from people who have discovered us and then told their friends,” Dykstra said.

The most recent expansion included the naming of Jennifer Kutcher as president/CEO. She took over the top spot in September 2014, replacing Wayne Langei, who retired after 41 years at the helm.

Kutcher, who was a WECU employee for 16 years before becoming president, said the transition has been smooth. She said she has spent much of the time being a steward for the organization, focusing on the future while preserving the past.

“I’ve been honored the last two years to be in this position,” she said.

While the credit union expects further growth, both Kutcher and Dykstra said WECU officials will spend the coming year focusing on services for members and assessing the infrastructure.

How people interact with credit unions and banks continues to change, so they are in the process of seeing how WECU’s system works and making appropriate changes where they can. Today’s infrastructure priorities continue to be a bit of a balancing act, with many members preferring to use physical branches, while a growing number are opting to conduct transactions online.

WECU members are a huge part of the recent growth, and as the economy recovers, the members are as well, which leads to more financial activity, including real estate and business loans.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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