Published July 20, 2010
Volume 18, Number 7

Patelco Credit Union Membership Offers Many Services, Great Rates  

Left to right, Vicki Centeno, Ellen Chase, Karen Garza, Manager,
John Malinay, and Toiya Chang at Patelco Credit Union.

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

To call credit unions a growth industry is probably an understatement. Just a few weeks ago, an online news columnist cited a study from the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reporting that credit union membership is at its highest point ever. Last year, more than 1.2 million Americans shifted at least some of their money to a credit union. “Credit unions now have nearly 10 percent of the household savings in this country,” the study noted, adding that almost one in four Americans now belongs to a credit union.

“It is a good time to be in the credit union business,” echoes Karen Garza, the branch manager at Patelco Credit Union at 4515 Rosewood Drive.

What is behind this sudden rise in market share? The columnist attributes the migration to mass consumer discontent over the headline-capturing missteps of prominent financial institutions over the past few years.

Still, the upsurge would not be happening without some distinct advantages on the business side. Credit unions, explains Garza, exist to serve their members, not shareholders. That allows them to have lower operating costs, which in turn enables them to offer financial services like checking and savings accounts, credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages at attractive rates. “We are a not-for-profit financial institution, owned and controlled by our members. We operate for the purpose of promoting thrift and providing credit at reasonable rates,” Garza says, noting that the range of services has expanded to include financial advice and investment and insurance products. 

Founded in 1936, Patelco originated to serve the financial interests of the employees of the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co. Regulatory changes over time have opened membership to anyone who “lives, works, or worships in a city where a Patelco branch is located,” Garza relates.  “Today, we are among the largest credit unions in the country, with over $3.7 billion in assets and over 290,000 members”—and 41 Bay Area branches, from Sacramento to Santa Cruz. Thanks to intra-industry cooperation, Patelco members have fee-free access to their funds from more than 28,000 ATMs throughout the U.S.

The Hacienda branch dates back to the early years of AT&T’s presence. The move to current quarters, with an associated upgrade in security, took place almost five years ago.

Patelco is very active in mortgage lending these days, due not only to “great” rates but also to very attractive closing costs that can literally save buyers thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. “We don’t sell our mortgages, which gives us greater control, an advantage for consumers,” Garza points out. Credit card interest rates and fees are also lower, she notes. 

Another facet of member ownership is evident in the organization’s community ties. In addition to participating in events for charities from Toys for Tots to the Alameda County Food Bank, Patelco has launched educational initiatives in the form of financial literacy workshops for both youngsters and adults. The next outreach effort, a popular and informative seminar led by a representative from the Public Affairs Division of Social Security, will be held on Tuesday evening, July 27. To RSVP, stop by the Pleasanton branch or call (800) 358-8228. The credit union’s web site is www.patelco.org

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