VASHON, Wash.-Puget Sound Cooperative CU's newest branch here is an early hit, much to the delight of those who worked for two years to bring a credit union to Vashon Island.

Shannon Ellis-Brock, VP of business development for the $52-million credit union, which is headquartered in nearby Bellevue and serves nearly 5,000 members, said after having its doors open for less than two weeks, the branch had attracted more than 200 accounts and nearly $1 million in deposits.

"It has been a great start," she said. "We are looking to add members, loans and deposits through the new branch. Because Vashon Island did not have a credit union this was a great opportunity for us, especially because the community is so close knit."

Indeed, a group of Vashon Island activists began investigating bringing a credit union to the area in 2009. Amy Herbig, who owns a marketing and media consultancy for credit unions known as the BA Group, told Credit Union Journal she became involved with the effort, known at the time as "Credit Union Vashon."

"There is a regular population of about 10,000 on Vashon Island and there are a lot of groups that work together," she explained. "Even though we are not far from downtown Seattle we are very rural because we are one of the last islands in the Pacific Northwest that can only be reached by ferry or small airplane."

Herbig said Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign, a nonprofit on Vashon Island, wanted to make a difference and led a discussion of supporting the local economy. After time there was a committee of eight to 12 island residents that wanted to create a credit union for the island that could make loans for weatherization or sustainable farming.

Lessons From Due Diligence
The group queried the community to ask if people wanted a credit union on the island, including a branch service-hours survey at www.cuvashon.org.

"Of course the island was more than for it. We called ourselves Credit Union Vashon at the beginning, but because we did not end up founding a credit union it has morphed into Capital United Vashon, or just CU Vashon."

After doing "much due diligence and research" the group decided founding a new credit union would in effect be taking $700,000 of capital out of the community, Herbig recalled. "No one had started a credit union in the state of Washington in decades. So we looked at credit unions that currently existed that it would make sense to partner with."

Out of the 100-plus credit unions in Washington, Herbig said the CU Vashon group quickly narrowed down its search to a small number, and then came to call on Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union.

"It formerly was known as Puget Sound Energy Credit Union and has been very involved in the community for years. It already was doing weatherization and home energy efficiency lending. After several great meetings, in a matter of months we had an unofficial agreement."

PSCCU's Ellis-Brock said she became involved in summer 2010, when Vashon Island residents kept asking her if the credit union was coming to the island.

"One of our board members lives on Vashon Island and put me in touch with the group," she said. "In late June we started working together. We met several times to discuss the services PSCCU had to offer the Vashon Island community. After we reviewed our financials we felt strongly about working with them."

In its December 2010 Call Report, PSCCU reported net income excluding NCUA assessments of $90,943. It paid $55,523 to the NCUSIF and $60,645 to the corporate stabilization fund, resulting in a net loss for the year of $25,225.

As part of the credit union's commitment to the Vashon community, Ellis-Brock said when management decided to move forward with opening a branch it appointed additional island residents to its board of directors, including two members of the CU Vashon group.

Local Artists Featured
Ellis-Brock said the new branch opened March 1. It is a full-service facility with three employees. She described it as "unique" in its layout and its display of local artists' work, which changes monthly.

"Vashon Island has an event on the first Friday of every month, so for our grand opening event March 4 we showed off the art," she said. "It has been a great opportunity for us to meet people in the community. We hired local people to work in the branch and hired local contractors to do the work of converting the space to being a credit union branch, so we created jobs."

Added Herbig: "It is amazing how it all came together so quickly. We look forward to success for years to come. I hope it is inspirational to people in other areas who want a credit union in their community."

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