The nation's 100 largest credit unions boosted net income and membership last year twice as fast as their industry as a whole.

As credit unions remained under fire by banks-and under pressure from the courts-because of their expansion outside their original membership bases, the largest continued to report solid, and sometimes exceptional, growth.

The top credit unions reported that aggregate net income increased 11.38% from 1995 to 1996, compared to an increase of only 5.09% for all credit unions, according to an annual ranking by American Banker using call report data from Sheshunoff Information Services, Austin, Tex.

The membership bases of the top 100 credit unions grew 6.84% in the same period, compared to only 3.48% growth for the credit union industry.

The growth of the top 100 came despite a year of turmoil and defeat for the nation's 3,600 federal credit unions. Last July, a federal court in Washington handed the industry its first loss in the continuing battle with banks over field of membership.

In a case involving AT&T Family Federal Credit Union in Winston-Salem, N.C., the court ruled that the National Credit Union Administration had improperly allowed the $470 million-asset institution to accept members from outside its original common bond.

The ruling prevented federal credit unions from adding customer groups, while a subsequent injunction barred the institutions from adding members from existing groups. The latter was suspended in December.

The court decisions didn't much affect 1996 industry growth, because they came in the second half of the year. In fact, AT&T Family still had the 25th-highest growth in assets among the top 100.

Also, the July injunction prompted credit unions to intensify their efforts to penetrate their original fields of membership, according to Wendell "Bucky" Sebastian, president of a subsidiary at Callahan & Associates, a Washington credit union consulting firm. Credit unions typically attract only about half those eligible in a given employee group.

However, "I suspect that membership growth this year will be less than last year because of the effect of the injunction," said Bill Hampel, chief economist at the Credit Union National Association in Washington.

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