ANAHEIM, Calif. — Credit unions have kept strict watch on increasing income and lowering expenses over the last few years of tough times, but some have made creativity and frugality a way of doing business.

Honda FCU CEO Jim Updike admits his credit union has a uniquely tight relationship with its single sponsor company, but that hasn’t been without strategic thinking. When the now $540 million credit union was much smaller it put in place an card for Honda employees, similar to student ID cards, that allows employees to use the card to pay for food in the cafeteria; Honda mandated that all employees join the credit union.

And back in the early 1990s, Honda used American Express for its American corporate T&E cards but by 1994, Honda FCU stole that business away from one of the biggest companies in the business. Not only did Honda FCU make $1 million on the interchange but Honda saved more than $1.5 million between not having to pay AmEx’s annual fee and reports that Honda FCU would produce (that AmEx reportedly couldn’t) showing where Honda executives spent their money so it could negotiate deals where it spent the most. All this from a then $30-$40 million institution.

Nader Moghaddam, president/CEO of the $710 million Financial Partners Credit Union, said his credit union over the last two years has gone through expenses with an even finer tooth comb than previously. The credit union was ranked fourth in California for return to member by Callahan and Associates and 35th in the nation in first quarter 2008. Despite trimming staff 14% and increasing fees, Financial Partners has countered this cuts with extreme service and achieved its highest net promoter scores ever.

Barbara Bean, CEO of the $11 million Cal Poly CU, advised that making smart hiring decisions and moving members to e-statements have been great efficiencies for her. She also collaboration to tap into existing resources.