Credit Unions and Banks: What's the Difference?
Perhaps you've thought about switching your financial institution from a bank to a financial cooperative otherwise known as a credit union. But before taking the plunge, you want to be sure that a credit union can meet all the same needs your bank did. You want to better understand how a credit union works, and good for you. Most people think a lot about how to manage and save their money, but not about where their money is saved and managed, and the larger impacts of that decision.
What's the Same?
- Services: If you're thinking of moving to a credit union, your first question might be: can a credit union do everything a large bank does? If your banking needs are typical - you're not trying to merge billion-dollar, multinational companies - then a credit union can do everything a bank does. Banking - the verb - refers to everything you do with money: saving, borrowing, writing and cashing checks, lines of credit, etc.
- Security: You can do all your banking at a credit union and your money is just as safe there as it would be at a bank; deposits are insured the same way (through different insurance funds) at banks and credit unions. But even though the services you use will stay the same after a switch to credit unions, the way they are delivered is very different.
- Ownership: Banks are owned by shareholders; credit unions are member-owned. If you join a credit union, you are a member-owner and participate in making decisions about how the co-op is run.
- Profits: A bank's profits go to shareholders and a lot of decisions about how banks are run are made with that in mind. Credit unions are not-for-profit, so any revenue is reinvested in the credit union to improve services, like lower loan rates and fees or higher return on savings.
- Community: If you are at a big bank, chances are that the headquarters of the bank are pretty far from where you live, and they may not know much about the causes and organizations that are active in your community. Credit unions, because they are local and community focused, are often heavily involved with organizations that work to benefit the greater good of the community.
- Governance: Banks make decisions about how to run their business based on direction from folks who were hired to create profit for their shareholders. Credit unions are run by a volunteer board of directors who are also members, elected to leadership by fellow members, and tasked with making decisions that benefit everyone who banks at the credit union.
- Competition: While banks consider other financial institutions competitors, co-ops work together to benefit all their members with services like fee-free ATMs around the world, and shared branching, that allows members to bank at any co-op branch.
The Biggest Difference
The most important difference is orientation to customers. At a credit union, the well-being of the membership is the bottom line. Making sure the best services are provided to their members as sustainably and responsibly as possible is their top priority. Because WSECU is a credit union, we embrace the cooperative spirit of these principles in what services they offer, how they are governed, and how we support the common good in the larger community.