SEATTLE – Shared branching is coming to the Puget Sound area along with a major one-year television advertising campaign to promote greater awareness of credit unions in the region. At a news conference scheduled Jan. 23, officials formally announced plans for the shared banking initiative among at least eight credit unions in the Seattle area. Plans call for participating credit unions to begin phasing in the branch network in April. Those participating include Washington State Employees CU, Boeing Employees' CU, Varity CU (formerly NW FCU), Qualstar CU, Seattle Metropolitan CU, Western FCU, Group Health CU and First Technology CU (Microsoft). At least two other credit unions are considering signing on in the near future. In addition to member convenience, shared branching is conservatively expected to save credit unions $10 million to $20 million in new branch construction costs, according to both John Annaloro, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Credit Union League, and Kevin Foster-Keddie, president/CEO of Washington State Employees Credit Union, who was instrumental in organizing the shared branch network here. "Members will be able to conduct their financial transactions not only at their own financial institutions but at a number of other branches, so convenience is increased without a corresponding cost for each of the organizations," Annaloro said. "If you look at credit unions in the Seattle market and their branch deployment over the next 10 to 15 years, you can easily see $10 million to $20 million in potential savings by not having to build branches." "As we begin to talk to each other about where we want to place branches, we're now working to place branches cooperatively," Foster-Keddie said. Opening those lines of communications is expected to have even longer term implications, he noted, and could lead to credit unions working cooperatively on such things facility planning, advertising and marketing and financial literacy and education. "In both eastern and western Washington with all the community charters happening and the overlapping fields of membership, what we were able to realize here is that our competition is not each other but it is really the banks," Foster-Keddie said. "We can really emphasize how distinct and different we are by working together." With the advent of the Seattle shared branch network, credit union members will be able to manage their financial transactions from one end of the state to the other and beyond, even overseas through any credit union which is part of the Financial Service Centers Cooperative (FSCC). FSCC's shared branch network boasts some 750 credit unions and 780 locations in 36 states and four countries. In Washington, a similar shared branch network utilizing the FSCC platform is already in operation in Spokane and in the Vancouver, Wash.-Portland, Ore., area. Talks are under way among more than a dozen credit unions in the Tacoma area to set up a shared branch network there as well. Foster-Keddie said the shared branch network in Washington should help attract new members to credit unions while providing added value for existing members. The network will allow members from Washington State Employee CU, for example, to conduct financial transactions in real time when traveling or vacationing inside or outside the state. "These things over time will change consumer expectations and enhance the benefit of belonging to a credit union," Foster-Keddie said. "It really is turning into a marvelous regional network," Annaloro added. "When you have so many credit unions participating in a distinct area like the Northwest, then market perceptions are inevitably changed. This promotes the unique role of credit unions and the fact that we collaborate and we do things for the consumer." The Seattle branch network will eventually include 40 or more branches by the end of the year, according to Foster-Keddie. The nearly $400,000 television ad campaign, expected to feature some 1,000 spots, is to begin airing in June. It is to run on and off every 60 days. Although launching a shared ad campaign has been discussed in the past, this is the first time the plan has come to fruition, Foster-Keddie noted. "One of the great outgrowths of this is that we now for the first time will have a shared campaign because it's single focus, single theme, and that's what people like," he said. He said he hoped the ad campaign could eventually be taken statewide. Foster-Keddie noted that the state's lagging economy was actually a positive factor in making the media buy as costs were lower. He said the spots would air in popular time slots. "We're hoping to raise awareness of credit unions in western Washington," he said. "So we have two good news stories: One is the shared branching initiative, the other is the TV campaign." -

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