No Frills Approach Spawns Niche Market Success

Whitefish Credit Union in Montana ($563m) offers minimal services -- no checking accounts or credit cards. Yet last year it experienced 20 percent asset and 29 percent loan growth thanks to its successful strategy.


Whitefish Credit Union in Montana ($563m) is proof that success for credit unions is not directly correlated with broad product offerings. Last year, Whitefish CU experienced 20% asset, 29% loan, and 19% share growth while maintaining a 0.8% expense/average assets ratio. Yet it does not offer checking accounts or credit cards and has only one share account.

Whitefish CU has a "plain vanilla" approach, only offering one share account, free check cashing services, debit cards and bill pay. It focuses its efforts on core competencies to enhance members' return on dividends. The menu offerings are strategically simple to increase member value. For example, it does not offer a credit card program because of the associated fees. It also does not require an application or closing fee for loans outstanding.

The success of Whitefish CU is attributed to its community involvement and consistent operational approach. Both factors have helped attract new and retain current members, as well as generating consistent growth.

Strong Community Involvement

Since Whitefish CU is heavily involved in the community, it has not advertised since April 1984. It relies on strong performance and quality customer service to draw new members.

Whitefish CU has expanded its original membership of railroad and lumberyard workers over time to 45,000 residents out of a field of membership of 150,000 with only 58 employees. It has a community charter to serve Whitefish, Mont., and surrounding areas within a 50 mile radius.

Twenty-nine active volunteers with diverse backgrounds serve on the board of directors and various committees for Whitefish CU. Charles Abell, president of Whitefish CU, said he often takes ideas from these committees and enjoys being involved in the community. Abell speaks at local high schools about personal money management and the role of credit unions in students' lives.

Consistent Operational Philosophy

Whitefish executives closely monitor cost expenditures on new programs to remain competitive in its local area and maintain aggressive dividends on share accounts. They also make sure that new programs are consistent with their operational philosophy.

Since 1934 when Whitefish CU was founded, it has focused on returning the most value possible to its members. Excerpts from its operational strategy illustrate the foundation of this:

The Whitefish Credit Union will operate in the traditional credit union fashion; providing the basic credit union services of shares and loans, offering but a few limited services beyond those.

We do not wish to become a bank or bank-like in operation, function or appearance. We will follow the historical purpose of a true financial cooperative, treating all our members as equally as possible.

To hear more in detail about how Whitefish Credit Union and other exceptional credit unions are determining their niche markets, Callahan & Associates, Inc. is hosting a webinar on Unique Credit Union Strategies on November 16th.




Nov. 8, 2004


  • Are they truly serving their members' needs or the credit union's? Not offering checking accounts forces their members to use another bank or CU.
  • Interesting. Thought we were basic.
  • Sounds a lot like an old S&L...but that is coming from the largest FULL service credit union in the state...Missoula Federal CU.
  • Are they just an investor's club or are they a credit union? Not offering checking is not serving their members' needs.
  • 19% share growth sounds like their serving their members' needs - plus I'd suspect that some of that share growth is the result of better dividends. Members have a funny way of showing approval with their money. Goes to show that any strategy can be effective if executed properly.
  • Checking accounts can be very costly. Even Whitefish CU has a checking acct with a bank. When banks are paying .5% on a savings acct, WCU (Whitefish credit union) is paying 2% + (lowest it has been ever I think). When was the last time you saw a bank pay that on a saving acct (not a CD). I looked around at some local banks and saw that to get the same yield at bank I would have to put the money into a 2 year CD. At WCU if I need my money it is right there. Plus, if I'm late on a loan payment all I have to pay is the interest, not a huge late fee and all that. Also, if I have a question, I speak to some local, not someone in another country or on the moon. The credit union is just what I need, not perfect, but better than the rest. (BTW-They do have a debit card and bill pay)
  • i love you no frills and i want you 2 marry me but this article is off the charts plz forgive me babe
    frank oliveira