Credit unions are relatively young, only having been around since the 1800’s, but they have grown at a tremendous rate in those years. In 1921, there were 199 credit unions in the United States, but by 1941 that figure skyrocketed to 10,318 credit unions. By the peak year of 1969, there were 23,866 credit unions in the United States.
By 2014, there were 6,513 credit unions. The decline can be attributed primarily to mergers. Mergers have become common for a number of reasons: they enable expansion of services, compensate for lost sponsor or unstable field of membership and alleviate supervisory and operational concerns. Even as the number of credit unions has decreased, the number of credit union members has increased dramatically – to 101,480,027 by the year-end 2014.
The inspiration for credit unions came origionally from the cooperative activities in Rochdale, England, in 1844. Cooperatives were started there as a way to combat poverty and high interest rates, with members pooling their money to operate a cooperative store. In 1849, Germans Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich William Raiffeisen created a new organization, based on some of the ideas of those early cooperatives. They named their creation a credit society.
They were true cooperatives, however, as they depended on the charity of wealthy men for support. Later, Raiffeisen rethought the basic idea and, in 1864, organized a credit union. The fundamental principals on which his credit union was established still guide every credit union today. He believed that people – by working together and pooling their savings – could create a valuable credit resource not otherwise available to them.