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How Did The Financial Crisis Affect Credit Union Market Share?

The following post is from our analyst, Rodney, and is part of an ongoing series of articles that seek to take a deeper and more concerted look into what we can glean from our proprietary depository banking data set.

"For-profit or not-for-profit?" That is the question. Within the last decade, that question has affected the banking industry, or at least many consumers have hoped it would. From the financial collapse of 2008 to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, many have been questioning the role of profit within the banking industry, believing that the livelihoods of millions are at stake. We thought it interesting, then, to look back and see how the for-profit/not-for-profit conversation has actually affected the banking landscape over time.

Before the Financial Crisis

Before the collapse, to no one’s surprise, for-profit banks held the lion’s share of all banking assets. According to the FDIC and NCUA, banks boasted a whopping $10.7 Trillion in assets versus the $770 Billion held by credit unions in the final quarter of 2007:

Market Share by Total Combined Assets: Banks vs. Credit Unions as of December 31, 2007

In December of 2007, 7,772 banks were in operation and averaged almost $1.4 Billion in total assets per institution, as opposed to 8,268 credit unions with an average of just over $93 Million in total assets per institution. In the final few months of 2007, hints of coming trouble emerged on the heels of a rash of sub-prime lending and adjustable-rate mortgages as a part of the housing bubble that had peaked in 2004. The concern about lax lending standards, so-called "predatory lending," and federal deregulation, along with a host of other contributing factors, led many to believe that trouble was brewing for both the U.S. and world economies. The markets began to respond, with the Dow reaching its peak in October 2007 and the nation’s economy plunging into recession by December of that same year.

The Outcry Against For-Profit Institutions

The first quarter of 2008 proved those expecting trouble right, and the beginning of a new narrative for the financial system in the U.S. began, banking included. Mortgage defaults, foreclosures, and bankruptcies began piling up in the wake of the subprime mortgage debacle, and the first in a series of massive bailouts for failing banks began in March and continued throughout the following months, reaching a crescendo in the fall of that year. Major financial institutions, ones considered "too big to fail" for the sake of U.S. and world economies, succumbed to their own involvement in subprime lending and subsequently received billion-dollar bailouts from the U.S. government, which became a regular headline in the major news cycles.

In response to the continual bailouts and ever-worsening recession, a public outcry arose, particularly as it pertained to the huge payouts for Wall Street and banking executives in the very institutions that were receiving Federal dollars.

In response to the continual bailouts and ever-worsening recession, a public outcry arose, particularly as it pertained to the huge payouts for Wall Street and banking executives in the very institutions that were receiving Federal dollars. The American public–at least large swaths of it–was incensed. "Profit" became an honorary four letter word in many circles, especially when tied to the institutions at the center of the recession that was causing financial crisis, bankruptcy, and near-record unemployment levels. People were fed up with the status quo approach that had rewarded and incented such reckless behavior, and they were looking for a way to express their anger and change the system that led to the problem at hand.

Their reaction was to bail out of the major for-profit banks they blamed for the state of the economy and the pain of the recession and move their money into smaller community banks and credit unions.

Bank of America, Bank Transfer Day, and the Occupy Movement

Fast-forward a few years to 2011, and much of the American public was still looking for a way to change the system and hold Wall Street accountable for the continuing recession. Rumors began to circulate about a lengthy protest in the form of an occupation meant–in part–to address banking reform, and "We are the 99%" began to find its way into publications and onto sandwich boards and protest signs.

Bank Transfer Day was planned for November 5, 2011, and consumers were urged to move their dollars to credit unions either by or on that day.

The Occupy Wall Street movement kicked into high gear on August 17, 2011, as protestors literally set up camp in New York’s Zuccotti Park. Barely more than a month later, on September 29, 2011, fuel was poured on the fire as Bank of America announced a new $5.00 monthly fee for debit card transactions, ostensibly in order to help offset its associated costs. Consumers and protesters responded with a renewed call for people to move their money from for-profit megabanks to not-for-profit credit unions.

Bank Transfer Day was planned for November 5, 2011, and consumers were urged to move their dollars to credit unions either by or on that day. Subsequent reports claimed that between September 29 and November 5, 2011 approximately 440,000 people moved nearly $5 Billion into Credit Unions , with more than 40,000 of those new members opening accounts on November 5.

Effect on Credit Union Growth?

Looking back now, the question is whether or not actual change was effected by these efforts. We dug into the NCUA and FDIC data within our database to look for an answer to that question, and the results were rather surprising.

From 2003 (before the peak of the housing market boom) through the end of 2015, credit unions were marked by steady growth:

Total Combined Assets of Credit Unions:
September 2003-September 2015

Over that time, the total assets of credit unions nearly doubled, increasing from $610 Billion to nearly $1.2 Trillion and yielding a compounded annual growth rate of 5.76%. Likewise, the total membership in credit unions increased from approximately 83 Million to just over 103 Million, a growth rate of 1.86%:

Total Credit Union Membership:
September 2003-September 2015

The growth of credit unions throughout this time is undeniable, but whether or not said growth is attributable to the above narrative or accomplished any of the goals of those involved in the anti-banking movements remains to be seen. The following chart zooms in on the asset growth of credit unions between the end of 2007 and the end of 2012 and includes the demarcation of a few key defining dates during that time period:

Total Combined Assets of Credit Unions:
December 2007-December 2012

This detailed look does not reveal a readily apparent positive net gain in assets from the orchestrated responses to the financial crisis as it pertains to making the move to not-for-profit institutions. The sustained growth of assets continues similarly to what occurred since 2003, but no sharp upticks in credit union growth are otherwise visible on or around those high-profile movements and events. That is not to say that these emphases did not have any effect on the long-term growth of credit unions, but that no evidence is seen of an immediate, otherwise-inexplicable impact.

Another interesting trend in this storyline can be seen in the total number of credit unions in operation over this time:

Total Number of Credit Unions:
Septemeber 2003-September 2015

While assets and membership grew steadily between 2003 and 2015, the total number of credit unions actually declined. June 2003 saw a total of 9,646 credit unions in operation, while only 6,216 remained in September 2015. As evidenced, the industry began a significant consolidation during this period, with the larger credit unions growing larger, while many of the smaller credit unions either shrank or disappeared altogether.

What About the Banks?

As important context for gauging the expansion of credit unions in the wake of the financial crisis, we can also examine the growth trends of banks over this period. If the purpose of the movements in response to the financial crisis was to pull consumer deposits from banks to credit unions, then their effectiveness could be gauged both in the growth of credit unions and an assumed (relative) decline in banks (though, admittedly, the unprecedented efforts of the Fed over this period muddle this analysis). The following image charts the course of bank asset growth from 2003-2015:

Total Combined Assets of Banks:
September 2003-September 2015

And the following chart displays the total number of institutions:

Total Number of Banks: September 2003-September 2015

As you can see from the assets chart, banks posted a fairly steady–and impressive–increase in total assets, nearly tripling over the charted time period. As for the total number of banks, though a slight increase can be seen for the first half of the period, a total net loss of 846 banks occurred as failures and consolidation began hitting the banks in 2009 and beyond.

Maybe the most telling statistic, however, in the question of how much real measurable change has occurred in the system may be seen in a return to the initial chart showing market share. We began this article with a look at market share at the end of 2007 before the financial crisis. The following graphic takes a look at the same measurable data, but from September 2015:

Market Share by Total Combined Assets: Banks vs. Credit Unions as of September 30, 2015

That’s correct–no measurable change exists. Though the actual dollar numbers ($15.8T now vs. $10.7T then for banks, and nearly $1.2T now vs. $770B then for credit unions) are much higher than those from 2007, the percentage of market share in the banking industry was the same in 2015 as it was in 2007.

’Profit or Not-for-Profit?’ More like ‘Go Big or Go Home'

"Profit or not-for-profit?" That may still be the question. In light of the current trends, and barring a major change, it seems that a more appropriate expression might be, "go big, or go home." Based on recent data and industry projections, larger institutions may grow larger (both banks and credit unions), and the smaller may shrink or disappear. As for not-for-profit institutions taking significant market share from their for-profit counterparts, that remains to be seen. Again, however, following current trends, it seems rather unlikely any time in the near future.

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  |     |   Comment #1
I just look at the pictures.
Short and to the point.
  |     |   Comment #2
I simply adore pretty graphs! 

Good article.  Thanks for posting.
  |     |   Comment #3
i've been with a small, local credit union for 20+ years and would NEVER switch to a for profit institution. 
  |     |   Comment #10
Ditto.  I would not switch from my credit union for any reason.
  |     |   Comment #4
Interesting analysis, with a counter-intuitive conclusion.  You would think that, with yields shrinking, the competitive advantage and generally higher rates of CUs would increase their market share.

At least this analysis may stave off the banks' push to rein in CUs as having a supposedly unfair advantage.

Thanks for posting, Ken.
  |     |   Comment #5
Would love to see a graph showing the percentage of all deposits in the US at the 4 mega banks, as well as at the 10 largest banks, before and after 2008-9. I think a pictorial representation of the growing dominance of these huge banks would demonstrate the industry is a functional monopoly that is no longer truly competitive. If this aggregation of deposits hadn't occurred as a result of the financial crisis, I wonder if the gap between deposit rates for banks and credit unions would exist today?
Ken Tumin
  |     |   Comment #7
Lou, Thanks for the comment. We do have a graph that shows how the assets of the 4 mega banks have changed since 2008. It's the top graphic on our bank health page. Click the right arrow in the graphic to click through to the fourth slide. As you can see in the graph, all 4 have become quite a bit larger.
  |     |   Comment #9
Thanks, Ken, for pointing me to the graph of the 4 mega banks. As I was looking at it, it occurred to me that we didn't include JP Morgan Chase, certainly big enough to join this group. Their size increased geometrically with the acquisition of Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns during the financial crisis. As a result of all this consolidation, deposit rates at these 5 banks are abysmal. 
  |     |   Comment #11

  A very interesting article!
  |     |   Comment #13
C.U. lover
  |     |   Comment #14
Thing is, even though the smaller C.U. vanished, our asset did not vanish along with it. As a matter of fact, many of the larger C.U. picked up the members and allowed them to join. C.U. under the NCUA, have $250,000 protection, unlike the $100K FDIC and after the 2008 crash, a few C.U. who invested in the stock market, one I know who did illegally (they violated their charter) was bailed out and I believe the CEO committed suicide.

C.U. are more stable and I will remain one until the day I die.
  |     |   Comment #15
When was this article written?
Won't Be Fooled Again
  |     |   Comment #17
Big banks - Bigger Failures.
Keep repeating the same crooked ways as in '07.

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