North Bay credit unions have record deposit growth in Q1, while loans grow 13%: report

A snapshot view of nine credit unions in Sonoma, Solano, Napa and Marin counties shows double-digit increases in key measures such as deposits into savings accounts and loan activity through the end of March.

According to the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, which is the Ontario-based association representing the financial institutions, $4.5 billion was dumped in members’ savings accounts at nine credit unions in the greater North Bay area. This was a record savings of 119% over the same period last year.

Deposits in checking accounts dropped by 62% in comparison to the previous year.

Jay Prag, a clinical professor of economics and finance at the Drucker School of Management in Claremont near Los Angeles, told the Business Journal that credit union members were likely transferring money dumped into their checking accounts and saving it instead of spending those dollars.

“There’s a ton of money in the system waiting to be spent,” Prag said.

Much of that money came in the form of government relief programs designed to keep people afloat during economic restrictions because of the pandemic. With that kind of government spending, that money could lead to other outcomes that economists are keeping their eye on. Prag warned the rate of inflation may climb to as high as 6% by next year if remained unchecked.

“The (Federal Reserve) is blowing it off, but it’s going to get worse, and we’ll start to see those cash balances going away because prices are going up,” Prag said.

The other lingering trend economists and financial executives are watching is loan activity. The credit union collective processed $8.4 billion in loans, marking a 13% annual rise from 2020.

First mortgages led the way with a record $4.3 billion in lending funneled through these credit unions — a 29% lift from last year. All loans totaled $8.4 billion — a 13% increase.

Low interest rates contributed to this result. As long as the rates remain low, prospective homeowners and existing residents refinancing will see the need to take advantage of the lending bonus, Prag said.

Albeit good news for borrowers, the low rates may serve as a bane and blessing.

“This is a delicate situation for a membership organization. Members could be glad at first but sad later,” Prag said, explaining how low rates are good for loans but bad on savings rates. Members who seek larger returns may find the rate of savings is tougher.

“They’ll have half their members unhappy, trying to find a rate of return (on accounts),” he said.

The figures show customers made the choice to improve their returns by placing their funds in money market accounts, which showed a 242% increase with a record $3.4 billion among the area credit unions. The enthusiasm for these types of accounts offset an 18% drop of $1.1 billion in certificates of deposits.

A homegrown success story

“You can yield more liquidity with money market accounts,” Redwood Credit Union Chief Financial Officer Ron Felder told the Business Journal.

Felder said his Santa Rosa-based credit union has shown no signs of slowing down with its progressive trends coming out of the pandemic.

For the half year ending June 30, this Sonoma County financial institution reported more than $6 billion in savings account growth — up by 24% compared to 2020.

“What we saw members doing is taking their money and saving it,” he said, listing the rounds of government stimulus, unemployment bonus benefits and loan deferrals as contributors.

With that, membership growth went up 7% — which edged out the 4% of the nine credit unions’ average. All told, a record 26,000 new members were added to their rosters.

Local credit union first-quarter results

Membership: 607,000, up 4%

Loans: $8.4 billion, up 13%

First mortgages: $4.3 billion, up 29%

New auto loans: $1.2 billion, down 5%

Credit card lending; $389 million, down 12%

Business loans: $585 million, up 8%

Deposits: $10.9 billion, up 28%

Savings accounts: $4.5 billion, up 119%

Checking accounts: $1.4 billion, down 62%

Money market accounts: $3.4 billion, up 242%

Certificates of deposit: $1.1 billion, down 18%

Source: California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues

Leagues local members: North Bay Credit Union, Redwood Credit Union, Sonoma Federal Credit Union, Silverado Credit Union, Befit Financial Federal Credit Union, Solano First Federal Credit Union, Travis Credit Union,Marin County Federal Credit Union, and Community First Credit Union

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, biotech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or

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