A Devastating Regulatory Burden- “The Juice is Not Worth the Squeeze”

(part 2 on NCUA’s new capital proposal)

The new capital proposal’s complexity and burden is evidenced in that eight senior staff were required at the board presentation. If the agency needed eight, how many senior credit union employees will have to be involved to respond and implement it?

The new rule is 126 pages on top of the 424 pages of the 2015 RBC rule. 530 pages in total.

This proposal imposes three different plans: the 110-year old simple leverage approach for credit unions below $500 million. For credit unions over $500 million, some will have a choice between the not implemented RBC or the new CCULR. An untold number would not qualify for CCULR under the reg, so they will be forced to use the untried RBC.

Mandating $24 Billion Addition to Restricted Reserves

The CCULR alternative raises the well-capitalized minimum to 9% on Jan 1, 2022, and 10% on Jan 1, 2024. The 117 credit unions below the 9% level would have just months to raise an estimated $3 billion to be at 9% or fall under RBC. No estimate was given for the net worth shortfall for these 117 at the 10% level.

The rule also states: Subordinated Debt would not be eligible for inclusion as capital under the CCULR framework unless the complex credit union is also a low-income designated credit union.

NCUA estimates complex credit unions eligible for CCULR must hold approximately $24 billion more as regulatory capital than the total under the RBC proposal. So why would a credit union not opt for RBC?

Regulatory Coercion

NCUA’s logic is that the “simpler” CCULR calculation will cause credit unions to opt for it since 48% of complex credit unions now have total net worth exceeding 10%.

NCUA offers this regulatory “alternative” for credit unions to avoid the burden and unknowns of RBC. All that is required is to reclassify 3% of assets now in net worth from unrestricted retained earnings to the rule-mandated legal reserves, a 43% increase.

Vice Chair Hauptman explained the tradeoff this way in his opening statement:

. . .all of that (prior wording) is an (admittedly long) way of saying that a simpler-yet-higher capital standard isn’t just useful because it saves time and effort. It’s also a way of protecting the system from the problems inherent in any risk-weighting process.

This is not choice, but regulatory blackmail. Here’s one example of how NCUA says this coercion will be applied:

While a qualifying complex credit union opting into the CCULR framework, is required to have a comprehensive written strategy for maintaining an appropriate level of capital, such strategy may be straightforward and minimally state how the credit union intends to comply with the CCULR framework, including minimum capital requirements and qualifying criteria. In contrast, complex credit unions that do not opt into the CCULR framework will be required to have a more detailed written strategy. The NCUA intends to review the written strategies during the supervisory process.

A Lack of Respect for Process and Credit Unions’ Track Record

Springing a completely new capital requirement to augment one that has yet to be tried with at best a 90-day implementation timeframe, is regulatory autocracy. It shows total disdain for credit unions’ proven record of capital management.

Throughout this rule there are many movable definitions and unexplained criteria. The definition for “complex” has no meaning other than asset size. Even that simplistic approach has moved from $50 million, then $100 million and finally to $500 million to define what “complex” means.

Using this superficial asset criteria, NCUA throws its complex blanket over every large credit union. Even the $5 billion State Farm FCU with minimal products would be included.

The proposal uses two different definitions of net worth in the numerator of the capital ratios: one for CCULR and a different one for RBC. (Page 49 proposal). Net worth means one thing and then another. This overturns GAAP accounting by whatever the regulator puts in rules.

Both capital options provide four ways to calculate average assets. This makes intra-industry comparisons at best uncertain.

Even the illusion of capital choice is incorrect. Credit unions can move from one capital plan to another within the same quarter in one part of the rule. However, in another section, NCUA can stop that. Under a new Reservation of Authority, NCUA can prevent a credit union going from one standard to the other.

Credit Unions’ Capital System Is Fundamentally Different from Banking Options

Banking regulators ended the RBC requirement in 2019. The rule requires only a simple tier 1 leverage ratio which is exactly the historically proven credit union practice for measuring capital adequacy.

NCUA has kept RBC and added another banking solution overlooking fundamental differences when comparing the two systems’ capital options and purpose.

The cooperatively funded NCUSIF can provide capital assistance if that is the best solution to address a problem.

This NCUSIF’s role supporting member owned cooperatives is very different from the FDIC’s. NCUA is authorized and has used capital injections and other support (208 guarantees) to return credit unions to self-sufficiency. The FDIC cannot assist privately owned firms to restore their financial solvency.

Banks have two primary equity sources: share capital and retained earnings. Generally, the two are split about 50/50. Bank equity comes in many forms: preferred shares, subordinated debt, public and private common equity. Moreover, there are different organizational structures: bank holding companies and stand alone to increase capital flexibility.

$1 of Credit Union Capital is Worth More than $1 of Bank Equity

Moreover, $1 of credit union retained earnings is much more valuable than $1of bank earnings. The taxation of bank earnings means that each firm must earn $1.25 to $1.50 to retain $1 in reserves. Also, shareholders expect to be paid dividends on their shares or see appreciation in their stocks’ market value.

Credit union capital is Free in all respects. All sources of bank capital have requirements that do not make them “free” when choosing options.

Action Needed Now

When Board Member Hood asked staff if the majority of credit unions opposed the 2015 final RBC rule, staff replied:

“Yes, a majority of the comment letters opposed the proposal in its entirety, and many suggested the rule be withdrawn.”

So why can this comment outcome be different? I think two factors can lead to the withdrawal of this rule:

  1. The rule lacks any data, objective criteria or historical analysis as the rationale for increasing the risk based net worth ratio. There is zero objective evidence for the rule.

When commenting, must show the history of their capital details to demonstrate the credit union’s record in managing risk. Include capital plans and other documents to demonstrate your competence.

  1. Hauptman and Hood are open to listening and learning. If they are to object to this dramatic extension of regulatory micromanagement, they must be armed with information to counter the unproven assumption that credit union capital is not sufficient.

Hood closed his Board meeting statement:

The world has changed since 2015. The reality is RBC should be a tool — not a rule. If it is effective in identifying risk, put it in the examiners’ toolbox, but the last thing the NCUA should do is impose it on credit unions as an operating model. The juice just isn’t worth the squeeze for risk-based capital because this is a regulatory burden with limited benefit. Again, we already have a risk-based net worth framework as required by law, so this is not needed.”

I would add one thought, what if there is no juice? How many credit unions faced with a 500-page new capital rule will just give up and close?

Credit unions rarely fail from too little capital. They fail because their leaders’ spirits are broken. This could be the final straw for many boards and managers.

One Reply to “A Devastating Regulatory Burden- “The Juice is Not Worth the Squeeze””

  1. Net worth is a tax on growth, plain and simple. NCUA just raised the tax rate on asset growth, taking more from members and requiring higher ROAs to sustain growth. It’s stifling the industry.

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