ATLANTA (5/21/09)--Georgia credit unions are aggressively trying to educate members and nonmembers about the benefits of credit unions, especially during the recession and banking crisis, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 20). "People don't know much about credit unions," said Michael Mercer, president/CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates. "We have a great reputation, but poor awareness. We have to start telling our story more," Mercer told the newspaper. The affiliates recently released a new report that shows credit unions on average offer better rates on loans and higher returns on savings than banks. Credit unions also aired a marketing campaign last fall with radio spots and billboards promoting credit unions as strong and safe, with money to lend. The article also notes that credit union executives say the financial crisis provides a chance to grab new business. In the article, Marshall Boutwell, president/CEO of Gwinnett FCU, says the recession "has caused consumers to re-evaluate where they feel comfortable, and the big impersonal bank is less comfortable than it used to be." The $112 million asset credit union is based in Lawrenceville. Credit union lending volume in Georgia rose 14% last year while banks in the state averaged flat growth. Deposits rose nearly 10% for credit unions, compared with a 3% increase in deposits at banks. To be more convenient, credit unions have opened branches in grocery stores, launched online services, and partnered with other credit unions in shared-branching arrangements, the article noted. It pointed out that the differences in the cooperative structure of credit unions and noted bankers' bristle at their tax-exempt status. The state saw 11 small banks fail last year, while no credit unions in the state have been taken over by regulators, the newspaper said.