Credit Unions See Fewer New Members than Projected

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 10:56:00 AM

CUNA has lowered its estimate for the number of new members credit unions signed on in the weeks leading up to November's Bank Transfer Day.

In November, the trade association said that based on a survey, 650,000 people joined credit unions from Sept. 29 to Nov. 2. However, after the group collected its regular monthly data for October that covers balance sheet figures and new membership, it is now saying that only 214,000 people joined in October.

Bill Hampel, chief economist at CUNA, in an interview gave a possible explanation for the discrepancy.

"We have been routinely collecting data for 30 years to make population projections," he says. "Because there was so much hubbub, we went out with a quick survey to pick up anything between those other surveys. When we came back and got more routine data, we tried to reconcile it and find out why it would be different."

The overestimation stemmed from several problems, Hampel says. The first question in the survey asked respondents, "since Sept. 29, has your credit union seen growth in membership and accounts?" The second question then asked the person to "estimate the growth of members." Even though the second question specifically asked for new members only, the wording of the first question may have caused respondents to combine the counts for new members and new accounts (whether opened by the new members or existing ones) in their estimates, Hampel says.

Hampel says that it was possible that credit unions saw 400,000 new checking accounts opened by existing members. This would help reconcile the data that CUNA originally reported with its new monthly figures, he says.

CUNA also initially reported that credit unions added about $4.5 billion in savings. However, its latest numbers show that savings decreased by $400 million in October.

An article in the American Banker this week also covered the discrepancy.

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