If you live in Seattle and feel like you’ve been seeing longer lines at BECU ATMs or more red bus ads that tout “more than just money,” you’re probably right. BECU, a Tukwila-based credit union, has outpaced Chase Bank, replacing it as the second most-used financial institution for primary banking in the Seattle metropolitan area.
In the past five years, the percentage of Seattle households using BECU as their primary banking service has steadily risen from 9.9 percent to 15.3 percent, while the percentage using Chase has steadily declined from 20.1 percent to 12.2 percent, The Seattle Times reported.
“We’ve seen steady growth year after year,” said Todd Pietzsch, spokesperson for BECU. “I think it’s very encouraging.”
Today, BECU has more than 800,000 members and, by 2012 assets, is the fourth largest U.S. credit union.
The numbers mark a drastic reversal from 2008, when JPMorgan Chase & Co. first acquired Washington Mutual, which had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time, twice as many Seattle households used Chase for their primary bank as used BECU.
Pietzsch attributed the shift to disillusionment with traditional banks. Between the anger over corporate greed and hidden fees, he said, more people are starting to see credit unions as a viable option.
He added that BECU saw a large influx of clients in 2011, after Bank of America announced it would implement a debit-card fee — a decision bank officials soon retracted due to strong opposition from customers.
“Consumers are just frustrated and are looking for other options,” Pietzsch said, “and we’ve certainly been that option over the last couple years.”
Even so, data from Scarborough Research, which provides local market information, shows that Bank of America continues to be the No. 1 choice for primary banking in Seattle, with about a quarter of Seattle households.
Credit unions differ from banks in that they are nonprofit institutions and collectively owned by members — depositing money means owning a share — while banks are for-profit corporations and owned by stockholders.
Due to the structure of credit unions, they can typically offer better interest rates, lower fees and a more community-centric outlook than traditional banks. Along with that, credit unions may have fewer service options and less accessibility.
Pietzsch said that BECU has adjusted to meet the surplus of clients: hiring more staff, adding more ATMs and widening the mortgage department.
BECU, formerly the Boeing Employees Credit Union, was first established in 1936 by and for a small group of Boeing employees. In 2002, it expanded to allow any Washington resident to become a member.
Following Bank of America, BECU and Chase, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank complete the top five banking institutions.