On June 12 I described NCUA’s May 17, 2019 conservatorship of Municipal Credit Union in New York City. The critical point was who will be the conservator? What will be the plan? Will NCUA’s chosen leader knock the place down or build it up? We now have an answer.
In less than two months on the job, the conservator recorded a June 30, second quarter loss of $125 million. This results in a reduction of net worth from 7.60% (well-capitalized) at March 30 to 3.41% (under-capitalized) at June 30.
The conservatorship was initiated by New York regulators in June 2018 by removing the full board and appointing an administrator, who was then let go earlier this year. New York then appointed NCUA conservator.
In late June several “unnamed sources” placed a leak in a CUToday story saying the credit union had a large underfunded defined benefit plan in an amount of over $100 million. NCUA declined to comment on the story, continuing a pattern of silent neglect throughout the entire conservatorship.
But the loss was a lot more than a benefit funding issue for a credit union which had reported a $3 million net income in the 2019 first quarter. The conservator’s total expenses in the quarter of $168.6 million were more than three times the first quarter total of $49 million. Of this increase, $130 was added to personal expenses, $19.1 quarterly increase in office operations, $8.9 million spent on professional services and $9.3 million in loan loss provision. This loss provision increased the coverage ratio from 147% to 177% even though there was no increase of delinquency at .76% of loans.
Who is Acting in the Members’ Best Interest?
The clear answer is nobody. For any so called expert to come in and wipe out half of a credit union’s net worth in less than 45 days on the job shows an inability to look at options, identify alternatives and develop a plan to sustain operations. An underfunded pension obligation is not a new situation for both public or private organizations. Defined benefits are paid out in decades to come and funding plans similarly are long term. Multiple options are available to manage underfunding which is why actuarial assessments are a normal part of a plan’s annual review. The only time cash in full is required is if the plan is to be terminated immediately which can result in every plan member being 100% vested in full whatever the plan’s actuarial cash requirements might be.
The lack of any explanation, public discussion or consideration of alternatives plus the abruptness of the action, suggests kick-the-barn-down strategy to justify a merger of this $3.0 billion credit union chartered in 1916. For cashing out the plan, if that is the reason for the expense, would leave any subsequent leader with no options and with having to develop a new retirement benefit for employees.
Silence and quiet leaks to the press are not patterns of accountability. NCUA board members may make speeches about all sorts of future risks and opportunities but fail to speak to the immediate needs of 588,000 members who have seen a complete breakdown of regulatory responsibility and accountability.
Every year NCUA and the state have examined the credit union. The credit union must have a CPA annual audit which would include an actuarial assessment of the benefit plan. And yet no action was taken until the CEO was found to have embezzled money. Compounding the failure to address the defined benefit funding (if it was an exam issue) is choosing a conservator with no ability to develop a plan for sustainability. Conservatorship becomes nothing more than preparation for a fire sale.
The members have no voice, they have been denied any role in their CU’s future. The credit union has a 22 branch network and a sound and diverse $2.0 billion loan portfolio and over $660 million in cash. Shares are up 6% and loans over 8% from June 2018, during a full year of conservatorship. And the reward for their loyalty and patronage is to be tossed aside as the regulators attempt to cover with silence their repeated failures to address issues that were clearly disclosed previously.
The Cooperative Advantage
Two factors provide credit unions a major advantage when problems occur. The first is the member relationship, loyalty and trust. The second, derived from the first, is patience when resolving problems.
There is no public pressure on stock price to divest of problems and move to new markets. With the right leadership in place credit unions have survived the most severe crises.
In the June 12 article of NCUA’s actions, a line from Hamilton states, “you have no control, who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” There are only two sources for help—can the members mobilize to assert their rightful role? Will credit unions demand accountability from a regulator whose absence from the fray is a stunning dereliction of duty?