Reflections on December’s NCUA Board meeting

No exact count is available, but close to 1,000 pages of staff material including BAM’s, budgets, proposed rules and other supporting material were provided NCUA  board members for December’s meeting.  The material was for decisions having, I thought, great moment for credit unions’ future.

Discerning what matters in such an output in the 5-10 working days when staff’s final versions are delivered is an impossible task.  Decisions are made and priorities set, not by rational debate or objective facts, but fatigue overload.

The so-called “bipartisan” vote is cast because there is no way to develop alternatives. Process overwhelms the participants unless you’re the one in charge of the process.

Here are two reactions about the meeting’s outcomes:

From a longtime colleague:

The slow but steady March to oblivion continues.

There were 18,000 credit unions when I started. Are we under 5,000? And over 1/3 of them are under 50 million.  It used to be 80% of the assets in 20% of the credit unions. Is it 90/10 by now?

You’re 77, I’m 70. The question is “will credit unions outlive us, or will we outlive credit unions?” I’m going to eat well and go to the gym to increase my chances.

By Elon Musk:

Rules and regulations are immortal. They don’t die. And if more rules and regulations are applied every year and it just keeps growing and growing, it just takes longer and longer and it’s harder to do things. (from WSJ interview).

If I heard correctly during the meeting, one part of the new RBC rule dealing with goodwill has a 2029 expiration date. In this case immortality is only ten years.

If Only in My Dreams

My first reaction to the meeting was deep disappointment for both credit union leaders, their members and NCUA directors.  Decisions were disconnected from reality and relevant data.  Political agendas set half a decade ago were now being imposed by fiat, not need.

During this time of year in 1943 during WW II, one of the most popular songs was Bing Crosby’s  I’ll be Home for Christmas. It begins:

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents by the tree 

The final stanza:

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams

The melody is memorable; however, the meaning is quite somber. The reality longed for will be just a dream.  Until the bigger events involved are over and life can once again be lived on terms we are free to choose.

In our life’s most earnest commitments, usually work or family, we continue to long for the best. That “feeling of being at home” gives us satisfaction and meaning. We use our creativity to achieve this sense of purpose, where we truly feel comfort.

I slowly realized my and others’ disappointment with the Board’s actions were from my thinking NCUA was “home” for credit unions.

A Mortuary Is Not a Home

The “home” credit unions pursue is their side-by-side journey with the members. It is not a set of rules promulgated by a government agency.  NCUA is no home for credit unions.  Its primary role today is as the mortuary for credit unions.

Looking to NCUA to understand the aspirations of credit unions, their members’ longings and the power of cooperative design is “only in your dreams.”

Hope is intrinsic for life to have meaning.  That is what credit unions at their very best try to deliver in every member relationship.

My error was believing that NCUA leaders might also share that same goal. The meeting was a slap of cold water in my face, an important reality reminder.

For that I am grateful.  It is credit unions that bring members the “wonderful life” this time of year, and all year round.  As the angel Clarence says to George Bailey: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

NCUA’s primary capacity is creating  holes.

Credit union’s strength is because members believe this is their own financial home which they can trust.

That financial reality is not based on new rules, budgets or even a guardian angel fund.   Instead, it is created from loyalty and relationships built over decades, or what, at this time of year, we call Goodwill.

3 Replies to “Reflections on December’s NCUA Board meeting”

  1. “The [NCUA] bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding [NCUA] bureaucracy” – Oscar Wilde

    Chip, it can’t be too challenging to be a regulatory critic, when you have the whole NCUA working hard to help you out with material.

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