The Value of “Look Backs”

Part Two of Community Capital Race, Equity and the Credit Union Movement is a case study of the abrupt liquidation in 2010 of a $750,000 credit union founded by the historic black fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi.

The story is told from the viewpoint of the credit union participants. Co-author McCray presents eleven historical documents in the Appendix.  These  include the minutes of NCUA’s closed board meeting approving the liquidation and a 32 page transcript of the November 5, 2010 US District Court hearing in which the credit union challenged NCUA’s action.

Reading the documents along with the author’s descriptions presents two very different versions of events.  Ultimately the Judge in November ruled in favor of NCUA’s actions.

What is unusual in this case is the credit union’s perspective.  Rarely if ever do the board members and leaders of a credit union which is the target of an NCUA takeover, ever speak out.

Speaking Out

So what is the value of reviewing this event  14 years later?

As noted in the final excerpt below, the credit union raised a fundamental constitutional question about NCUA’s summary liquidation action that may have relevance today.

The details of the story and in the official record of both parties’ actions are not pretty.  NCUA examiners were at times arbitrary–for example going in and unilaterally changing the credit union’s 5300 call report for June 30.  The agency was informed of the approval of a $100,000 CDFI grant for the credit union, but acted before the funds could be disbursed.

NCUA’s characterizations of the credit union were uniformly negative, often with a factual basis, but absent any context or recognition of the credit union’s unique business model and the founders’ commitment.  The conflicts became personal-on both sides.

This story is a unique first hand account of regulatory and credit union failure.  When a credit union ceases operations, it is a shared responsibility by both NCUA and the coop. In this situation, the effort to merge the credit union with HOPE FCU  is apparently not even considered by the agency.

In every failure there are lessons that may lead to future improvements. However because NCUA is intimately involved in failures, before and after, the bureaucratic instinct is to get rid of the problem as quickly as possible to avoid any regulatory embarrassment or accountability.

The agency will then bring up these unexamined failures as “object lessons” when proposing new rules or as precedents for new authority over credit unions.

Most recently at last week’s NCUA board meeting  a new incentive compensation rule was justified by board members asserting such incentives had contributed to WesCorp’s and a California Credit union’s failures 16 years earlier.   Both references were at best misleading if not irrelevant to the actual problems causing each credit union’s demise.

For example, the fact that NCUA had a full time corporate examiner on site for years at WesCorp monitoring every aspect of the credit union and sending reports back to head office, went unmentioned.

When failures occur,  the regulator’s goal is just to move on.  In past open board meetings all three members  supported a look back at the agency’s management of the Corporate liquidation events.  But nothing has been done to learn from the largest NCUSIF losses in credit union history that in retrospect were based on dramatically erroneous projections of potential investment shortfalls.

Without independent review of regulatory actions and objective “look backs” with the benefit of known outcomes, the credit union system will continue to pay the costs of past failures with future ones.

Whatever one’s assessment of McCray’s description of the closing of Alpha Kappa Psi FCU, all should be thankful he and his colleagues made their points of view public.

The Due Process Arguments

A final excerpt from the Alpha Kappa Psi FCU liquidation-the legal appeal from pages 216-217:

Due process requires that legal proceedings must be carried out fairly and under established rules and principles. In the banking industry, courts have held that due process was satisfied by a post-deprivation hearing. However, the question here was, “Does being heard after the liquidation has already taken place satisfy Fifth Amendment due process requirements for a natural person credit union?”
Are the due process protection considerations the same for corporations as distinct from individuals in membership cooperatives?

Thus, this was a “case of first impression”—that is, a legally significant case that could establish a legal precedent because it was the first time this factual scenario would be considered by a federal court.

There are two fundamental differences between banks and natural person credit unions—individual association versus corporate form, and initial capitalization levels. Banks and credit unions differ greatly. First, banks are for-profit commercial enterprises, while credit unions are not-for-profit associations.

Second, banks are corporations. Natural-person credit unions are unincorporated associations of individuals. Third, the courts have long held that constitutional protections differ between corporations and individuals. The courts have only held that corporations are entitled to First Amendment protections. Hence, post deprivation hearings (i.e., after an action has resulted in loss of life, liberty, or property) do not violate banks’ due process rights since courts have not held that corporations are entitled to Fifth Amendment due process protections at all.

However, natural-person credit unions, as cooperative associations of individual members, are different. They have full constitutional rights and are entitled to individual due process protections. Thus, a post-deprivation hearing did not satisfy individual Fifth Amendment due process protections.

Therefore, KAPFCU believed that the NCUA liquidation and dissolution order was unconstitutional because it was based on a closed-door meeting, and because a post-deprivation hearing could not satisfy individual Fifth Amendment due process concerns as a natural-person credit union. KAPFCU believed its due-process rights were doubly violated.



“Rush to Judgment”

An excerpt from Chapter 14 of Community Capital Race, Equity and the Credit Union Movement.  Co-author Michel McCray continues telling how NCUA closed  Kappa Alpha Psi FCU in 2010. (fourth in a total of five selections)

“The NCUA board members refused to dissolve KAPFCU at first,” I said. “They recognized that cash basis vs. accrual accounting increased expenses and created our net worth ratio problems.”

“That’s good.”

I explained, “Region IV officials convinced the NCUA board to liquidate KAPFCU based on a series of lies and false representations in an ex-parte proceeding.”

“Which is total bullshit.” Victor said, “We need to demand a personal meeting with Debbie Matz or get a hearing before the entire NCUA board.”

“They ain’t gonna listen to us, Vic,” I said. “They’re trying to screw us.”

“Well, if they won’t listen to us, then we need to get [Representative] Eddie Bernice Johnson,” Victor said, “and the whole freaking Congressional Black Caucus to reach out to NCUA on our behalf.”
“If that doesn’t work, Vic, we need to take them to court ASAP.”

Victor nods. “Who do we know in Washington, D.C.?”

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) wrote a letter to Debbie Matz requesting a meeting or emergency hearing for KAPFCU. NCUA officials ignored the emphatic request from a distinguishedCongressional Black Caucus member.

They also ignored KAPFCU’s frantic meeting request in a last-ditch effort to stop the surprise liquidation.

I issued a press release announcing KAPFCU’s decision to sue NCUA. If successful, KAPFCU v. NCUA could be the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case of the credit union movement.(pages 201-202)

Tomorrow: the Court Hearing



Confrontation: An NCUA Examiner and Credit Union Leader

In Community Capital Race, Equity and the Credit Union Movement co-author Michel McCray tells the story in Part 2 of the closing of Kappa Alpha Psi FCU in 2010.

He creates first person accounts and reconstructed dialogue of some of the events from the participants.  The following excerpt is from a quarterly  meeting between the NCUA examiner and Victor Russell who was leading the credit union.

Confrontation  (From Chapter 12, Alice in Wonderland)

An angry sun glared off the tinted glass of a small law office in Richardson, Texas. I waited for my cousin, the proprietor, to return. Tall in stature but slight in height, Julius Thompson is a brilliant attorney who is the general counsel for KAPFCU. He provides legal expertise and guidance to the fraternity enterprise. He also offers his offices, file cabinets, and conference room to support the KAPFCU effort.

Friends and family call him the “Godfather;” Julius Thompson, the bald barrister with a caramel coffee complexion. Julius has a knack for networking and connecting people. He also recruited me to assist KAPFCU with government relations and community development expertise to help grow the fledgling credit union. . .

At 6:02 p.m., an alabaster male with stern, square cheekbones and thin lips walked into the conference room at Julius Thompson PLLC to conduct the quarterly examination of KAPFCU, the only federally chartered Black-owned financial institution in the state. He wore a dark conservative suit, a busy patterned tie, and polished leather shoes. He was clean-shaven with amber hair and piercing cobalt eyes.

NCUA Supervisory Analyst Tony Rausch personified the Texan view towards minority-owned financial institutions. Privileged, aggressive, and assertive, his demeanor was best described as “typical Texan,” exuding his white male privilege. Empowered as a federal official, he was assertive regardless of whether he was right or wrong. Ultimately, being a “Fed” means that you never have to say you’re sorry.

A loud commotion erupted inside the conference room of the small legal office and real estate title plant. Tony Rausch, a “good ‘ol boy” from Texas, versus Victor Russell, a fast-talking hustler from Chicago. They congealed like oil and water. However, Victor had transformed from Chicagoan to Texan, donning ten-gallon hats and ornate belt-buckles with Italian suits—even Black people do rodeo in Texas.

During the regular quarterly examination, Victor Russell described the current operations of KAPFCU and his plans to increase revenues by origination fees for residential or commercial mortgage transactions. Tony’s eyebrows rose. “Slow down, Victor, before you try to jump into high finance. You guys are just sitting on your deposits. If you want more money, make more loans to your members.”

Victor sat upright, interlocking his fingers. “We are trying to mitigate our risk. In banking, we say, ‘know your customer.’ We know our members and make loans to individuals we know will pay us back.”
“Very good, because that’s the only way you can legitimately make money to generate revenues,” said Tony.

Victor argued that KAPFCU was not issuing or holding mortgages on the credit union’s balance sheet. Instead, KAPFCU would only make referral fee income by finding qualified borrowers for other financial institutions. Rausch balked at this and declared that KAPFCU could not generate mortgage fee income because of real estate risk. “I will not let you do that, Victor.”

“What do you mean, you won’t let us do this? You don’t run our credit union—we do!” Victor bellowed.
“That’s not how small credit unions operate.” Tony replied, “You must grow your loan portfolio. Make your money from member loans.”  (pages 180-181)

The Most Significant Challenge to NCUA’s Authority

July 30, National Whistleblowers Appreciation Day, is the publishing date for Community Capital Race, Equity and the Credit Union Movement.

Clifford Rosenthal and Michel McCray are co-authors. The book’s detailed case study is in Part Two.  In an earlier post, I quoted Rosenthal on its significance even today.

The story of Kappa Alpha Psi FCU and its abrupt liquidation in 2010 is recounted in five chapters by McCray with frequent observations from participants and referencing key documents from NCUA.

This excerpt from Chapter 12, Alice in Wonderland, presents a core issue.

Regrettably, NCUA evaluated KAPFCU as if it were a mature credit union, defined as being ten years old with $10 million or more in assets. The accounting rules and regulations are entirely different for these small, new credit unions—but KAPFCU was improperly evaluated based on the much higher standard by NCUA examiners.

Ignoring the improvement in KAPFCU’s NWR to 3.67% by June 30, 2010, NCUA opted to move forward with liquidating the credit union. KAPFCU challenged NCUA’s action, bringing the case to the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

Ironically, KAPFCU’s court case may be the most significant challenge to the NCUA’s authority in recent memory. This tiny African American credit union was contesting the constitutionality of the Federal Credit Union Act and NCUA’s rules and regulations themselves. KAPFCU’s chief complaint was that it had not been afforded the full flexibility allowed under NCUA rules, regulations, and supervisory authority for credit unions of similar size and character.  (page 178)

Tomorrow:  the clash of personalities and backgrounds.

The Ultimate Coop Advantage

Every organization will face moments or periods of crisis.  These events can cause leaders to question the sustainability of their enterprise.

Sometimes the challenges are internal:  succession, mismanagement, poor leadership, or loss of confidence and purpose.   External threats seem  never ending from unrelenting competition, extraordinary climate events, and even the constant probing by criminal or ransomware bad actors.

What is the ultimate defense against these dual sourced  tests?   Some would say it is the level of capital (net worth ratio);  others, capable tested leadership; and finally some credit unions will reference the fact they are NCUA insured.

The irony of this last assurance is that NCUA has clearly demonstrated that it is not in the business of protecting credit union charters or even granting new ones.   Their approach is purely administrative: to note the steady passing and decline of  industry charters in quarterly updates.

The Strength in All Seasons

I read this mission-like purpose statement recently:

Our purpose is to manifest unity as:

We experience, practice and pursue community;

We share resources willingly to benefit one another;

We know and respond to other’s burdens;

We encourage, admonish and support each another;

So that together we achieve greater economic justice and individual well-being for this and generations to come.

Too idealistic?   Almost religious in tone?   Yet it captures the most important foundation of cooperative strength:  the support and belief of the member-owners working together, that is “community.”

When member confidence in a credit union is not the primary goal of every transaction or service, sooner or later, the owners will see that the organization as just another financial option.  It will have lost the unique cooperative foundation-the loyalty and belief of its members.

This confidence should be the principal responsibility of the board, to be visible and available in all seasons—the good and the challenges.

Because credit unions are in the financial business, it is tempting to assure success in purely financial numbers or goals.  However that has never been the credit union advantage.  Rather it is the relationships with members.  That is an outcome earned over months and years, not achieved with a branding or inventive marketing effort or even offering the latest technology.

Credit unions are organized on one of the most important aspects of life—what we seek is  relationships that reflect our values and priorities.

What matters to you in your activities and professional endeavors?  The $ signs or the relationships?




A Preview for July 4th, 2024

American Commerce and the Declaration of Independence

The 4th of July is every person’s chance to celebrate the nation’s birthday and honor our collective vision.

Among the Declaration’s unalienable Rights is “the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Commercial Spirit

This pursuit of happiness has become entwined with America’s commerce. In the post WW II federal highway infrastructure project, the car became a symbol of this open-ended personal adventure.

In 1976, Chevrolet was the most popular car in the USA. General Motors crafted a slogan with video declaring that Chevy and the USA were the same: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.”  The company even tried to appropriate baseball’s 7th inning stretch to celebrate its brand leadership.

Today, crowds stand to sing God Bless America. A triumph of ideals over markets?

Independence and Credit Unions

Credit unions are an expression of America’s founding document.  Their self-help character demonstrate what makes American freedom and enterprise so powerful.

Credit unions embody more than the Declaration’s goals of life and liberty.  Cooperatives exemplify how the document’s spirit is to be realized in application. The last sentence reads:

And for the support of this Declaration . . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This mutual pledge is every credit union’s founding ethos. Moreover, like America’s political democracy, the cooperative system depends on individuals’ character and their adherence to the principle of self-rule.

The first generation of credit union pioneers. like the founding fathers and mothers. understood both the ideals and challenges of self-government.   Credit unions are started and sustained by volunteers.  They shared funds and a commitment to address needs and common purpose.

The initial dimes and quarters may have been small, but their impact on lives was real.   Like the political colonies, these economic revolutionaries knew each other.  They joined to spread their vision of financial self-rule across America.

The Challenge

While the Declaration’s truths may seem self-evident, the democratic process is an ongoing experiment.  Today almost all credit union founders have passed on—will their basic principles be sustained?

As professional leaders take over, will their institutional ambitions for growth and size replace common purpose for members?  Will the pursuit of happiness instead become the happiness of pursuit?