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My wife and I took a trip to Home Depot to buy light bulbs. As I was pulling out my credit card to pay, the clerk asked if I had a chip card. I said, “Yes. Our Credit Union is sending out the new chip cards to our members. I would use my debit card, but we’re still testing the chip.”

The clerk looked stunned and responded, “Credit unions have debit cards?”

My wife, who majored in fashion merchandising in college (I know, I know. Elle Woods majored in fashion merchandising in the movie “Legally Blonde”), went into full marketing mode. She rattled off a list of all our services to the clerk faster than logging onto the Internet.

“I didn’t know credit unions had all these services. I hate my bank. Can I join one?” asked the clerk.

For those members who have had Credit Union accounts for many years, this may sound like an unusual conversation. However, the reach of credit unions hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years. Even though credit unions manage over $1 trillion in assets, they only control 7% of the financial market, the same percentage as 1985.

The perception among non-members hasn’t changed much in the last third of a century. I don’t know if it’s the term “credit union,” or that people still think you must work at a certain company, government agency, or military base to join, or that credit unions have limited services in limited locations.

Most of the largest credit unions have many locations with full services and a community charter limited to only the geographic region they are approved to serve. As most of you are now aware, Contra Costa converted its public service employee charter to a community charter serving people living or working in Contra Costa, Alameda, and Solano Counties. We still have a relatively limited branch network but have plans to expand as we continue to grow in members, loans, and shares.

Credit unions, large and small, have had to work together to provide affordable services over a wider area. We are perceived as having a limited ATM network, even by our own members, but most credit unions are members of The CO-OP Network, a credit union-owned network which operates over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs in North America, more than Bank of America.

Hopefully, my wife and I gave something for that Home Depot clerk to think about. Credit unions may look small and unsophisticated to the untrained eye, but that clerk will discover credit unions will give her all she needs in financial services, plus superior service as a bonus. We’re the best deal in town. Ask my wife.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802