Navy Federal Credit Union sees growth in Washington state

Navy Federal Credit Union, which opened its first branch in Thurston County late last year, has more regional branch openings on tap through the end of 2016, the president and chief executive of the credit union said Monday.

The credit union, the largest in the country with $59 billion in assets, opened its first branch in Lacey on Galaxy Drive in December, then opened a branch in Puyallup in February. Up next are branches in Tacoma, east Bremerton, Lynnwood and possibly Gig Harbor by the end of 2016, President and Chief Executive Cutler Dawson said.

A typical branch starts with 10 to 12 employees, Dawson said. Companywide, which includes international branches, the Virginia-based credit union employs 12,000.

Navy Federal is not new to Washington state. It already has branches in Bremerton, Silverdale and on Whidbey Island, but it’s also a slightly different credit union today, he said. Navy Federal at one time catered exclusively to those in the Navy and the Marine Corps, but six years ago the credit union opened its doors to all members of the military, active duty or retired, and their family members.

“We cover a lot more people that way,” he said.

Navy Federal, formed 81 yeas ago, has 5 million members.

The credit union operates 247 branches throughout the country and is still a long way from being “over branched,” Dawson said, with plans to open another 60 branches over the next three years throughout the country. Some of that growth is targeting Army bases in Kentucky and Georgia, but he also sees more branches in the Seattle/Tacoma area. Washington state is home to several Navy bases as well as Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he said.

There are also those customers who prefer to do their banking in a branch, and the economy is improving, Dawson said.

Dawson visited the Lacey branch in May.

“We see good things in the Northwest,” he said. “The real estate market is coming back and we’re making auto loans out there.”

“You don’t know how good you have it out there,” Dawson added.

The national economic picture has improved, too. The credit union did 300,000 auto loans last year and is on pace to exceed that this year, he said.

“It’s a signal that we see consumer confidence coming back,” Dawson said.

Auto loans fell below 200,000 during the worst of the recession, he said. The credit union also did 50,000 mortgages or refinancings last year. Of the new mortgages, 57 percent went to first-time home buyers, Dawson said.

Dawson also is aware of the competition in Washington state. His wife is from Seattle so he is familiar with Boeing Employees Credit Union and Washington State Employees Credit Union. There’s also America’s Credit Union, a federal credit union which serves Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Dawson, 66, served in the Navy for 35 years, retiring as a vice admiral. He last assignment at sea was commander of the second fleet based in Norfolk, Virginia. He has been with Navy Federal for 10 years.