The First Quarter Score: 41 to 0:   Who Is Winning This Game?

This score is not the opening of an NBA playoff game.  It is the number of credit union charters given up versus new charters issued in the first three months of 2022.

What does the score mean?  Why is it so lopsided?  More importantly, are any members winning in these charter closures?

365,700 Members Lose their Credit Union

The 41 credit unions’ CEO’s and boards are transferring their 365,700 members to another credit union’s control.  These members did not choose this fate.  In fact they showed continued loyalty: total members increased by 2% and share grew by almost 11% for the year ended 2021.

These members have $3.3 billion in loans and have placed over $4.7 billion in savings  to benefit their fellow members. Collectively they have created over $540 million in common wealth, none of which will be distributed to them.  Their average ownership is $1,500 each.

There is no information that any of the members were consulted before the boards and CEO’s made these decisions.

Check the Box Explanations

The Credit Union Times article categorized  the 41 by the explanation NCUA provided when approving the  mergers as follows:

“34 credit unions that received the NCUA’s nod to consolidate for expanded services, two credit unions got the OK to merge because of poor financial condition, two for inability to obtain officials, two for lack of sponsor support, and one for loss or decline of field of membership.”

The continued growth in shares, membership and most importantly, the 47% increase in loan originations in 2021 suggest this group was more than competitive based on the latest performance data.  They ended the year with 9.9% net worth, delinquency of .55% and a collective ROA of 1.25%.

These 41 credit unions are sound performers which the members are loyally supporting.

The Largest Three

The three largest charter cancellations are the $2.5 billion Capital Communications FCU, the $612 million Global CU and $524 million People’s Trust FCU.  What they have in common is they are turning over the keys to their operations to credit unions already operating in their communities.

This means these six-decades old institutions are combining with other local credit union competitors.  The effect will be to reduce member choice, end opportunities for local leadership, close career options for employees, and extinguish the generations of earned loyalty and goodwill with members and local constituencies.

These credit union’s  hundreds of millions of collective capital will be under the control of directors the members did not elect and who will have broader corporate goals then just serving the newly acquired members and their transferred wealth.

These combinations eliminate local options and the diversity of models and service approaches that make credit unions successful.  Consolidation and concentration which reduces local competition may make life easier for managers.  It does not enhance member choice.

The most important math in credit union mergers is the 1 + 1 = 1.  There is no expansion of credit union coverage; the system did not grow market share; the members gained no immediate benefits.  But they will pay all the costs of merger including the cancelations of vendor contracts, employee benefits, and of course the help of professions who facilitate the deal making.

A Game without Rules or Umpires

Mergers of sound, well run credit unions are not benefitting members.  Rather they have become a sop for managers to game the system for self-benefit and boards who have lost any sense of fiduciary responsibility.

Writer-commentator Scott Galloway has characterized the motivations for mergers as:

Competition depends on rules, and rules depend on umpires. We should fight to protect competition — not winners. Because winners subvert the process. In the name of competition, they demand that their anticompetitive acts go unpunished. In the name of freedom, they insist on their right to shout down the dissenter’s voice.

His thesis is simple in capitalist economies:   No field sees winners try to retract the ladder behind them more aggressively than business or I might add, the CEO’s of sound merging credit unions.

The primary advantage of the credit union model is the member relationship grounded in democratic ownership.  Their unique advantage is their local knowledge and relationships that provide members a sense of agency over their lives and communities.

That goodwill, built up year by year over generations of members. is sacrificed in mergers.

NCUA requires new charters to survey potential members to demonstrate support, years of financial projections, vetting of proposed board members and employees with a process that takes hundreds of pages of documents and generally years to approve.

To give up a successful coop charter which took generations to succeed, is literally approved in weeks.  The form is perfunctory, there is no effort to validate the reasons given nor the rhetorical promises made.

The credit union system is failing the members who created it by routinely approving consolidations that mimic the activities of institutions for which credit unions were supposed to be an alternative.

At a time when individuals and communities are confronted by forces, events, private and governmental institutions over which they have no say, the credit union is supposed to be an option they  can count on.   Mergers destroy this sense of influence over events in one’s life.

The score this quarter is 41 to 0. At the moment, the members are losing this game.

Tomorrow I will provide some thoughts of others on what might be done.


Jeanne D’Arc: A 110 Year Perspective on Sustaining Co-op Success

After the first year of operations, Jeanne D’Arc reported $6,063 in total assets.  At December 2021, the number was $1.8 billion.  This is a compound annual growth rate of 12.25%.

The credit union’s history, like its namesake, is an example  of human determination and independence.  It also demonstrates a credit union continually expanding its role as a “civic trust.”

The third oldest US credit union celebrated its 110th anniversary on February 12, 2022.

How does it sustain success for five generations, through two world wars, multiple economic crises, changing technology and always competitive financial markets?

What can credit unions learn from the example?   Can this longevity provide perspective as credit unions evaluate multiple business alternatives today such as mergers, greater size and even buying out local banks?

I believe there is much to be gained from their history.  For the fundamentals of cooperative success have not changed because  they are embedded in coop design.

The Founding

The credit union opened in 1912 in St. Jean Baptiste Parish on Merrimack Street, in Lowell MA, to serve the Franco-American Community.   It was founded by a catholic priest adapting Canada’s Caisse Populaire financial model to serve French speaking immigrants in an area known as Little Canada.

These workers who provided the labor in in the local weaving mills were an early example of an entrepreneurial enterprise “cluster” that might today be described as a “textile silicon valley.”

From the beginning the Credit Union helped build the community as a mortgage lender.  The board voted to accept loan and mortgage applications in May 1912. Personal loans were capped at $100 with an interest rate of 6.00%; real estate loans at $2,000 with an interest rate of 5.00%. It recorded its first mortgage on February 21, 1913.

In the decade that followed the credit union closed over 252 first mortgages helping members move away from the noise of mills to resettle in the fast-developing Pawtucketville neighborhood.  Today almost 85% of the credit union’s loan portfolio is first or second mortgages.

Over the years the credit union has grown steadily as membership expanded out from Little Canada, first to the adjoining area known as the Acre, and eventually migrating to the surrounding suburbs and beyond.

The Acre was the historical entry point for succeeding waves of immigrants.  These included Greeks, Irish and more recently Cambodian refugees and Hispanics.  Lowell today has the second highest population of Cambodian arrivals after Long Beach,  California.  The credit union has always been known as a safe place for these newcomers to put their  money.

Legacy and Continuity

The credit unions roots run deep so that until 1977 all board meetings were conducted in French.  Mark Cochran is only the 7th CEO.  When he moved to Lowell from New Jersey the members would tell him stories about the credit union’s long history in the community.

At the time the credit union had begun rebranding itself as JDCU.  Mark returned to the  original name, Jeanne D’Arc, and reemphasized the credit union’s long time commitment to the area.  He set a priority that the credit union should also be celebrating its heritage in addition to members’ stories.

Today Jeanne D’Arc serves 93,000 members though eight full-service branches in Lowell, Dracut (2), Tyngsboro, Chelmsford, Methuen and Westford, Massachusetts and Nashua, New Hampshire.   It operates three fully operational high-school branches at Lowell High, Dracut High, and Nashua High School South that serve as both financial training for the students and a source for potential future hires for the credit union.

Focus on Members

Jeanne D’Arc’s focus is the foundation of every credit union, that is, it is a movement by and for people, not a financial growth machine.

The most critical outcome of this design is the trust earned with members. Their loyal relationship means the credit union can go out on a limb to help those with damaged credit or no credit at all. Paul McDonald, the cooperative’s vice president of residential and consumer lending, admits the credit union makes loans his previous community bank employer wouldn’t have, and that’s OK.

A Commitment to Community

These loans nourish the community and members’ roots with its long-standing lending priority of helping members buy homes in the local community.  “When they move in this part of the state, it is traditionally only 5-10 miles away.” says Cochran.

In the construction of its new head office, Tremont Yard, the site is on the base of the remaining historic brick foundation of the Tremont Mills Power House, dating back to the 1840s.  “We’ve got a legacy that means something,” Cochran says. “Building on this historical foundation fits our legacy.”

It was also in investment to revitalize this commercial area of Lowell.

“We’re committed to staying on the street where we were founded and giving back to this area that’s been so good to us. People are shocked when I tell them about our history. They don’t believe we’re this old and still in Lowell.” according to Robin Lorenzen, chief marketing officer.

This sense of place determines not only its branch network including those in three high schools, but also how it distributes time and money to meet local needs.

Reinvesting Resources  in the Community

In recent years it has granted $240,000 to the Lowell Development and Finance and Energy Fund, hundreds of thousands annually from its “We share a Common Thread Foundation” to over 100 local organizations as well as similar amounts directly from the credit union.

These organizations range from local little league teams, to Megan’s House-an addiction recovery center for young women; Lazarus House, a shelter and soup kitchen- to direct donations to members to pay home heating bills in winter.

Employees have volunteered almost 10,000 hours annually to make their communities a better place to live.  “We have a reputation for giving back and being visible at our local institutions and their events,” says Cochran

A Strategy Based on Legacy

The credit union’s century long record of service was implanted with its origin story.  It remains literally grounded in the communities of its members and continually reinvesting and attracting more members from  new arrivals.  It is familiar with its communities and known by its members.  It becomes their primary financial home.

Generations of Relationships

Combining this historical local focus with leadership stability enables the credit union to serve members’ financial needs for their entire life.

From “saving at school” elementary programs to educating and recruiting employees through their high school branches, to donations to senior retirement communities, the credit union connections last a lifetime.

Tying Everything Together with Culture

The credit union weaves the threads contributing to its success by creating a culture of service.

“Building a culture of service starts in the hiring process.  We seek peoples with a heart to serve,” says Cochran.

The Unique Capacity of Cooperative Design

I believe there are two additional elements in Jeanne D’Arc’s success that are often overlooked because they are inherent in cooperative structure.  The first is the belief in local ownership as the foundation for vibrant communities.  The second is continuing to mine a niche that is so well developed that even much larger competitors cannot hinder its continued expansion.

“We’ve not strayed from our roots, we’ve just changed how we do it,” observes Cochran.

This is an era when some believe the future can be secured though boundary-less markets, technology innovation or acquiring other financial institutions.

The 110-year message of Jeanne D’Arc is that dedicated consistent implementation of traditional cooperative “knitting” advantages can underwrite a resilient future.  One resulting in an annual growth in excess of 12% for over a century.

Cochran’s future goal is straight forward: “Our members will speak in glowing terms about the institution and its work on behalf of their communities.”

Tomorrow I will contrast this legacy with an interview of a CEO who retired after converting the 96-year-old credit union he led to a stock bank charter.


A Potentially Pivotal NCUA Board Meeting

Last Thursday’s NCUA monthly board agenda seemed light.  It started at 11:30 and lasted less than an hour.  But the ultimate outcomes could be consequential.

The main topic required no action: the report on the NCUSIF 2021 yearend audit by KPMG. And an extension of PCA covid waiver.

However I believe seeds were planted that could have a significant impact on credit unions and the NCUA’s management of the NCUSIF for credit unions. Here’s why.

The NCUSIF Dialogue: Planting seeds for Change

Chairman Harper opened the NCUSIF review with these words:

For nearly 40 years now, the NCUA has earned an unmodified opinion for the audits of its funds. This sustained achievement underscores the NCUA’s commitment to transparency, accountability, sound financial management, and the careful stewardship of the resources entrusted to the agency.

NCUSIF is the only federally managed insurance fund to require an outside independent CPA audit.  GAO audits the FDIC and the FSLIC– when it existed.

An important difference is the establishment of a loss allowance account following GAAP accounting standards.  The process took three years (1982-1984) for NCUSIF’s reserving process to be independently  validated by the auditors with a clean opinion.

Harper then stated: As a regulator, we need to hold ourselves to the same standard that we expect of the credit unions we oversee.

The Chairman’s commitments to “transparency” and following “the same standard we expect of credit unions” could be critical if followed through with actions on topics raised by his fellow board members.

Hauptman on Investment Policy

After noting the NCUSIF’s sound performance, he made the following comment:

The National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund is a mutual asset — both reported and controlled by the NCUA and an asset reported by the credit unions. Credit unions are required to supply the majority of the fund’s equity through a 1-percent contribution of their insured shares. Just like any credit union board, the NCUA Board has the responsibility to regularly review its investment strategy . And for the sake of transparency and clarity, to do so at an open Board meeting.

He asked questions about the fund’s current investment approach and how to respond to “critics” of recent decisions.   The NCUSIF investment policy last updated in 2013,  is  now being posted with the audit. Hauptman committed to “working with my fellow Board Members on reviewing and updating the investment policy soon.” 

I believe credit unions should also comment on the policy, especially the fund’s duration management.  In the last seven years the NCUSIF portfolio’s weighted average  life (duration) at yearend was reported as follows:

2021 – 1,306 days

2020 – 1,204  days

2019 —   971   days

2018 —   901   days

2017 —   951   days

2016 —  1,864  days

2015 —  1,815 days

Under one policy, these numbers show a 100% change from the lowest 2.5 year duration, to 5.1 years.  Staff maintains this was just maintaining a consistent ladder, not timing the market.

In 2021 the investments robotically followed a seven-year ladder that extended the duration when the interest rate cycle was at an historically low point.

Effective investment management is critical to the fund’s operational design, but also, as Hauptman noted, for credit union confidence in NCUA’s oversight of their 1% asset.  If the policy is updated for more effective monitoring and performance, this could be an important improvement. The sooner the better.

Hood on Accounting Options and Understating the NCUSIF’s NOL

In Hood’s remarks he addressed the fund’s NOL (normal operating level ratio) “true-up” at yearend and its impact on the equity ratio.  He pointed out a “timing difference” in that the 1% share deposit is from June 30, but the insured shares and retained earnings in the ratio are from December 31 numbers.

If the ratio used the same balance sheet dates, the NOL “pro-forma” would be 1.29% not the reported 1.26% at December 2021.

Each basis point (.0001%) is $166 million.  This “timing difference” understates the actual financial position of the NCUSIF by $500 million at yearend.

In the dialogue that followed,  the CFO said this understatement averaged 2 basis points over the last ten years, and has been as high as 6.

Hood then quoted from a memo by Cotton and Company:  the memo produced by the outside accounting firm states that the timeliness and accuracy of data is required in the Federal Credit Union Act so this provision in the law “may provide some latitude from a strict interpretation that the equity ratio must be calculated based on the financial statements amounts, particularly given the knowledge of the timing effect on the calculation of the equity ratio…. Accordingly, it may be permissible to use the pro-forma calculation of the contributed capital amount, when calculating the actual equity ratio.”

When Hood remarked that he would like to see the full Cotton memo published, the CFO replied, “Okay.”

Two Commitments for Greater Transparency

Improved investment transparency and management and better presentation of the NCUSIF’s financials would greatly benefit credit unions.   Moreover, the NOL “true up” is just one of several changes that would make the financial reporting more useful.

In 2010 NCUA changed the accounting standard for the NCUSIF from private GAAP to federal GAAP practice.   There are numerous presentation differences that make the federal approach more difficult to understand because that format was intended for entities that rely on federal appropriations.

Each of the other three funds managed by NCUA report their financial performance and audits using private GAAP.  Given Chairman Harper’s intent  that NCUA follow the “same standard that we expect of the credit unions we oversee,” changing the NCUSIF to the practice followed in its first 30 years would certainly be appropriate.

Sounds of Silence or What was Not Said

The context around the NCUSIF’s financials was all positive with the overall CAMEL ratings showing improvement.

After Harper’s opening recognition of the NCUSIF’s and credit union soundness, he ended with his obligatory theme of future fears:  Nevertheless. . .

  • If the elevated growth of insured shares continues, we can expect a further erosion of the Share Insurance Fund’s equity ratio;
  • the emergence of inflation—something many Americans have never experienced at this rate before—means that the interest rate environment is uncertain.
  • Additionally . . . in my view, the system has not experienced the full extent of the pandemic’s financial and economic disruptions just yet.

Yet despite these uncertainties none of the board members, including the chair, made any mention of assessing a premium which the board had authority to do as long as it did not raise the NOL above 1.3%.   Given Chairman Harper’s previous statements about the fund’s adequacy, this is an interesting silence.

Moreover, the board’s acknowledgement of the yearend NOL at 1.26% (or 1.29%) shows their recognition that the NOL is a range with a low end of 1.2% and a high end cap, currently 1.33%.  The NOL is not a single magic number, but rather an outcome with a “buffer” above 1.2%  that varies depending on current assessments.

This silence after so much talk in early in 2021 about a possible premium, is hopefully a recognition of the flexibility and resilience of the fund’s design.   When combined with enhanced board reporting of NCUSIF investments and a reexamination of accounting presentation, credit unions could be a much better position to understand their fund going forward.

The Board’s public commitments to transparency of the fund’s modeling, the Cotton accounting memo and its presentation options, and the investment policy enhancements would be vital steps to bring the NCUSIF into full cooperative sunlight.





Presidents and Credit Unions

There have been two noteworthy moments when Presidents have saluted the credit union movement.

One was by democrat and the second a republican president, 46  years apart.

“We might do something to push this. They are popular”

Here is President Roosevelt’s “shout out” in 1936:

From 1934 through 1940, there were 4,793 new federal charters issued.  A rate of 600 per year.

Since NCUA’s three person board was established in 1978, there have been 1,958 additional charters.  A rate of only 45 per year.  In the last decade that number has fallen to  two per year.

“I want to congratulate you. .. “

The White House,

November, 17, 1982:

Dear Ed:

I want to congratulate you on the progress  you have made as Chairman. . .

It was refreshing for me to learn of the accomplishments of the Board and the 17,000 federally insured credit unions across the country. . .there has been remarkable progress toward self-help solutions to the problems facing the credit union industry.   I applaud your efforts to meet the growing competition among financial institutions through the reduction of unnecessary regulations, decentralization, and improved communications.

I especially want to note the way your were able to guide the credit union movement toward restoration, on its own initiative, of the financial health of the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. . .  (emphasis added) This effort illustrates a basic tenent of our administration, that, given the leadership and the opportunity, individual citizens acting together can often find solutions to their problems and need not turn to the government to bail them out.

Keep up the good work.


Signed Ronald Reagan

Source:  NCUA’s 1982 Annual Report page 4

In April 1982, NCUA had completely deregulated the savings rules controlling all federal credit unions.  From 1982 through June 1987,  the credit union system’s share growth exceeded 15% annually.

In this same six years, 511 new federal charters were granted, a rate of of almost two per week.

The rules controlling bank and S&L deposit products were not fully ended until June 1987.  The April 1982 NCUA board action gave credit unions a five year head start competing in the new era of deregulation.

NCUA’s Apocalyptic New Year’s Surprise for Credit Unions

On December 23, 2021, NCUA filed a new rule, RBC/CCULR, in the federal register. It took full effect just 9 days later on January 1, 2022. This rule is the most consequential ever passed by NCUA, and the most damaging.

The change immediately affects 83% of 2021 yearend credit union assets.

Using a purported rationale of improving the safety of the system, the rule will result in the opposite outcome. It significantly handicaps the ability of credit unions to make decisions about how best to serve their members using their own experiences and judgments.

This catastrophic new burden will accelerate the merger of sound, well-run credit unions approaching the $500 million starting line for CCULR/RBC.  It will  energize this culling of hundreds of successful medium-sized local institutions now facing an overnight  fundamental change in compliance burden.

The New Year Shock

Credit Union 1, Rantoul, Illinois, wins the award for the first credit union to publish its full 2021 Annual Report including year-end financial data and ratios.

The President’s Report  by Todd Gunderson, CEO, contains the following upbeat assessment:

CU 1 loan portfolio growth was 15% as we extended $ 916 million in loans to our members throughout the year—an increase of 43%–and $276 million from the 2020 year.  The additional loan interest income helped CU 1 achieve a record net income amount for the 2021 year, bringing net capital rate or our rainy-day fund up to 8.71% of assets.  This keeps CU 1 well in excess of what regulators call a well-capitalized credit union, defined as 7% net capital.   

CU 1’s total assets had increased to $1.226 billion or by 4.8%.  At the same time, it raised its net worth ratio from 8.21% in 2020 to 8.71%.

Chair Bob Eberhert was equally proud of CU 1’s regulatory standing:   “. . . our future . . .is about having the trust of membership by being a sound member-oriented financial institution that propels CU 1 to be awarded the highest rating that can be bestowed upon a bank or credit union by  banking supervisory regulators.

These statements were accurate for exactly one day, December 31, 2021, when the books were closed.

CU 1 is the first of hundreds of credit unions that entered the New Year believing their past performance was at the highest standard.  They will now find they are in a literal regulatory net-worth “no-man’s land” where no coop has ever been.

Enter Three Capital standards

Every credit union over $500 million in assets saw their minimum ratio for “well capitalized” raised from 7% to 9%, a 29% increase, on January 1, 2022.

No phase in, no transitions, no analysis of the consequences, and imposed despite no demonstrated need at the individual credit union or system level by NCUA.

From one simple, easy to compare century-long standard, these institutions are now subject to three interlocking capital requirements.  These rules entail multiple options for calculating the numerator for “capital reserves” under the three standards.

The denominator, or “total assets,” now requires hundreds of specific math calculations as well as evaluating alternative methods. These factors include whether the asset is on and off the balance sheet, multiple time periods for determining “average” assets, and every asset’s relative risk calibrated precisely to a government mandated and calibrated formula.

The chart below presents this new tri-part capital era. The system has gone from the left column of clearly understood and applied net worth of 7% with five gradations, to the completely open-ended 500+ page-RBC/CCULR formulas and criteria.

Capital Options Table

A Direct Member Tax

The rule handicaps credit unions from spending money to lower fees (eg. overdraft charges), offer better savings or loan rates or even initiate critical programs such as cyber security or ESG initiatives.

Instead, this income must now be put into reserves where the amounts already set aside have proven more than sufficient through every previous financial crisis.

Every one of the 100 million plus members in a credit union subject to, or nearing this rule’s reach, will pay the direct costs of this regulatory tax in higher fees, lower savings or higher loan rates.

The members most affected will be those at the margin, with lower credit, just starting out after leaving school, or returning to the labor force; that is those traditionally perceived as higher risk.

Hundreds of Credit Unions Impacted

Hundreds of credit unions like CU 1 now find their “well-capitalized” regulatory standing downgraded overnight.  From understanding and complying with a capital standard proven over 100 years, they are immediately thrown into  a regulatory purgatory.

RBC/CCULR is a purgatory of changeable definitions and formulas in which every asset decision is now subject to a government-dictated risk rating.

Every credit union over $500 million in assets (83% % of total assets) can now be whipsawed between two different capital standards.  NCUA reserved the authority to impose the capital model they want,  regardless of the credit union’s choice.

No more respect for credit unions’ four-decade track record of demonstrated risk management honed in the marketplace since deregulation.

These two draconian rules of 500 pages are in effect now. No phase in, no transitions, no analysis of the consequences, and implemented with no reference to the actual capital soundness of the industry.

It is a regulator taking an action because it can. The traditional due processes and institutional checks and balances, at the board level, failed.

Uncertainty  About Cooperative Soundness Undermines Public Confidence

The agency gave itself the authority to micro-manage every asset decision made daily by 5,000 credit unions.  It is the most extreme example of an independent regulator asserting control over every aspect of a credit union’s operations.

This rule is  the worst kind of regulatory putsch possible. It is an assumed authority run amok.

It throws the credit union system into a public relations debacle.  For credit union leaders it creates a compliance wonderland of uncertainty about the rules of the game.

Will all CAMEL 1 rated credit unions below 9% now become CAMEL 2?

Will this incentivize the sale of subordinated debt with members paying the added cost of capital to be compliant?

How does anyone– the regulator, the members, the public– compare credit union performance with three very different ways of measuring “well capitalized”?

Will this intrusive regulatory grading of every asset decision override credit unions’ learned experience? And inhibit serving members and making investments required to stay competitive?

In upcoming posts I will show why RBC/CCULR is “the fruit of a poisonous tree.”



Finding Qualified Employees-A Case Study

The $10.6 billion Alaska USA FCU operates branches in four states to serve its 712,000 members (September Call Report).

The distribution of operations includes 27 locations in Alaska, 12 in the greater Phoenix area, six in California and 22 in Washington state.  Total employment (FTE’s) is 1900.

Currently its web site lists 240 openings for credit union jobs.   Twelve pages with 20 positions each.  That is a vacancy rate of 12%.

The number of openings poses questions such as: What is the impact on member service?  How do these vacancies affect its current capabilities?  Are the open positions in one area or throughout its network?  Is this just another example of labor shortages across the broader economy?

A Simple Truth

In the credit union’s web site “About” section, their origin story begins:

In 1948, fifteen civil service personnel gathered in Anchorage’s Alaska Air Depot, pooled their savings and their conviction in one another, and formed a member-owned credit union.

At the heart of that decision was a simple truth—local financial institutions simply could not or would not support the credit needs of the personnel who had been recently transferred to Alaska.

This “truth” raises another possibility:  As Alaska USA’s operations  expand beyond Anchorage  throughout the Western United States, has this lessened their “local” advantage for  attracting employees?  What will be the impact of going Global?

The Critical Difference in Bank Capital Versus Credit Union Net Worth

At September 30, the credit union system’s net worth was  10%, or 300 basis points above the 7% well capitalized level.

Bank’s simple core capital ratio at June 30 is 8.83%.  But comparing these two ratios is extremely misleading.   For $1 of credit union reserves is much more valuable than $1 of bank capital.

Here’s why.

Credit union reserves (equity) is from retained earnings which is free in two senses of the term.  Unlike banks, credit unions pay no taxes on their earnings.  Whereas banks are subject to whatever their marginal tax rate is on each $1 of earnings.

As of June 30 banks pretax ROA was 1.67 for the first six months, but actual ROA was 1.31 after tax.   It takes a $1.27 of net income, on average, for a bank to add $1 to retained earnings.

For credit unions, every $1 of net income adds in full to reserves.  The same $1 in bank net income will, on average, convert to .78 cents of additional equity.

Banks have multiple sources of capital options.  Of the second quarter’s $55.3 billion increase in bank capital, 40% came from additional stock and 60% from retained earnings.

But simple share capital comes with a price and longer term expectation.   The price is whatever the dividend paying practice is for the bank. That is, the bank pays rent to use their owner’s capital.

At June 30, banks paid 51.9% of their earnings in dividends.  Credit unions have no such “dividend” requirement, so it is “free” or no cost, in this second meaning as well.

Moreover, bank owners expect to see the value of their shares appreciate over time, a factor easily monitored by the daily stock price.  Or through comparisons with multiple bank stock indices.

If a bank’s stock price falls below these industry indicators over time, investors can sell, sometimes to owners who will seek better returns or new management.

False Comparisons

So when anyone starts to equate credit union reserve levels with bank capital ratios as an industry standard applicable to all, it is a false comparison.

The purpose of cooperative design is to provide financial services in the member’s best interest.   One of the advantages credit unions have meeting this goal is that there is no conflict between the returns to owners and the benefits offered consumers.  They are one and the same.   In banking this tradeoff occurs continuously.

Credit union’s capital advantages versus banks are real and measurable.  False comparisons not only mislead credit unions and the public; but it has the paradoxical consequence of causing some to lament the absence of capital options used by banks.

What these advocates miss is the costs of these alternatives and the tensions in allocating income between the returns required by capital providers and consumer benefit.

The Ultimate Advantage

Credit union’s simple leverage ratio has worked as an all-sufficient measure of capital adequacy for over 110 years.  But its most conclusive advantage noted by one observer is something more: “It’s the genius of simplicity. Any fool can get complicated.”


Missing Voices


          NCUA’s New Logo

“I wish I had kept the phone numbers and emails of CEOs that are now gone from view.  Ex-CEOs that could tell me what they had wished they had done when they faced downward curves on the way to the end.

I worry that lessons lost and archived outside our industry are what is needed now.

What did we miss when we justified the NCUA or regulators’ actions to end an organization?  What did we miss when no owners really dug into a vote to end a charter?  What did we miss when the life-cycles of leaders and volunteers were more important than CUs needing young blood?

What did we miss when we followed models based on scale that left local communities and individuals on the sidelines?  What did we miss that are the keys to turning a losing streak back towards winning?

Some might say we missed nothing, we witnessed progress and the natural march towards an industry’s maturation.  But that sounds to me like short term winners talking.” (Randy Karnes, 2018)

Tens of Thousands  Fewer Voices

NCUA was converted to an independent agency with a three-person board in 1977.

The results include 12,000 fewer charters and the elimination of  12,000 CEO’s and volunteer board’s leadership platforms.   Their employees  lost independent career opportunities as these organizations were shuttered. 

The movement’s human capital–enthusiasm, insights and entrepreneurial spirit–has been lessened.   

Communities have fewer options.  As charters are pulled up by their roots, the movement becomes less diverse, less democratic, more concentrated and remote.

Credit unions are being depleted.   No movement can sustain itself built on subtraction rather than addition and multiplication.

In the end there will be no need for an NCUA or logo.


NCUA’s 2021 Year End Forecast for Credit Unions

At the September Board meeting, CFO Eugene Schied presented the forecast for the NCUSIF’s year end NOL.   The ratio he gave was 1.28%.    The slide showed the outcome  and the formula, but not the numbers used to calculate the ratio.

NCUA’s public affairs officer Joseph Adamoli has provided that data.

Large Slowdown in Share Growth Last Six months of 2021

NCUA staff projected yearend insured shares totaling  $ 1.597 trillion.  This would be an 8.8% growth from 2020’s yearend total of $1.468 trillion.

Since we know the midyear insured shares were $1.580 trillion, this indicates NCUA believes credit unions will add just $17 billion more in the second half of the year.

The 2020 yearend share growth was 20.9%;  the 12-month growth at June 30, 2921 was 15.4%.    Therefor NCUA foresees a significant decline in new deposits from these actual double digit  trends.

Net Income for the NCUSIF

The yearend retained earnings are estimated to be  $ 4.701 billion which would be a decline from the NCUSIF’s  July report of $4.739 billion.   In other words, NCUA projects an operating loss for the final five months of approximately $38 million versus a positive net income through July of $118 million.

There was no information to explain the decline in net income. Since monthly investment income more than covers all operating expenses, the agency must be projecting an increase in  the insurance loss expense.

2021 NCUSIF Equity Ratio

NCUA’s two yearend forecasts of $4.7 billion of retained earnings and insured shares of $1.597 trillion, results in the fund’s equity ratio of .294%, or almost at the 1.3% historical NOL level.

This forecast shows the importance of the NOL cap.  For if retained earnings exceed the NOL, then any overage must be paid in dividends to credit unions.

If instead of negative net income for the final five months, the NCUSIF were to report a gain of just $52.8 million, the equity ratio would be right at .3%.   Even that result would be less than half the net reported in the first seven months.

Transparency and Responsibility

No matter how close NCUA’s estimates prove to be, the first conclusion is that this will be a good year for the NCUSIF, even if share growth ends up higher than the forecasted 8.8%.

The estimates also demonstrate the importance of resetting the NOL based on actual historical performance versus hypothetical scenarios with no objective validation.

We don’t know if there will be an NCUSIF update during today’s Board meeting.   If there is, the credit union owners have the data necessary to track performance which is one of credit union’s most important responsibilities.

For if the owners and contributors of the 1% perpetual underwriting show little interest in the NCUSIF’s performance, the prospect of a dividend or effective use of the fund’s investments, then the  accountability for oversight built into this unique  co-op model will break down.

The transparency from NCUA is helpful, but only if credit unions use it to monitor the fund and provide comments  to the board.   For the next big NCUSIF decision will be setting a new NOL level (currently 1.38) at one of the two monthly board meetings remaining this year.




What Can We Learn from the Oldest FCUs?

An S&P 500 company was projected to last for more than 60 years in the last half of the 20th century. Today that lifespan is down to  18 or fewer years.

Many believe this shortening  of business’ existence is  merely the accelerated playing out of economist Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction, i.e. the free market at work.

However there is another way of looking at business sustainability by asking which are the oldest business still operating today.  What can their stories tell us versus the inexorable extinction  that seems to be the market’s dominate outcome?

Several articles trace the origins of these Methuselah-like firms that have existed for centuries.  Their commonality is that they provide products or services that people always need: wine making or breweries, inns and hotels, weaponry/foundries and mints,  and personal services such as Shore Porters or an Istanbul Turkish bath.

The Oldest Federal Credit Unions

NCUA’s June spread sheet of all 5,032 federally insured credit unions gives everyone the chance to analyze FCU charters by longevity.  The latest financial performance information is laid out in charter number order. Starting with charter #1 Morris Shepard Texarkana to # 24,927 Credit Union of New Jersey, a conversion from a state charter founded in 1943.

While some FCU’s conversions from states are much older than their indicated by their fed charter order, the vast majority listed through the early 1980’s are an accurate indication of institutional longevity.

While most credit union adherents know the first charter was from a state, St Mary’s Bank in 1909, the evolution of the federal charter is less documented.

Of the initial 100 charters granted by NCUA, 22 are still active. These are listed below.

These initial charters were granted in 1934/5 during the Great Depression, immediately following passage of the 1934 Federal Credit Union Act. These startups have persevered through nine decades of economic cycles, WWII, financial deregulation, competitive reconfigurations, and technology changes unimaginable by their founders.

Their survival rate, 22%, is almost double that of all FCU’s which is 12.6% (3,146 active charters and 24,927 issued). What can we learn from these long- serving charters? How can their stories provide insight for today’s credit unions? Is there a reason they have twice the sustainability as FCU’s generally?

Initial Observations on Sustainability

I am not familiar with any of these credit unions, however reviewing the data here are some initial thoughts along with questions that might be interesting to  pursue.

The 22 are diverse in size, number of members and geographic location. From $2.4 million to $5.3 billion in assets, they demonstrate the diversity and flexibility of the coop charter.   It serves all institutional sizes, towns and cities and geographic regions.

Of the eleven states where these credit unions operate, four are in Connecticut. Why? Was there not a state charter option, and therefore the initial credit unions were all federal?

Many of these initial charters served persons working in the public sector: firemen, postal workers, teachers, state employees and a university. Even Morris Shepard, charter #1, initially served the city employees of Texarkana. These public sector sponsors still exist and in many cases have expanded.

Is the relative stability of their public employment a key to credit union sustainability? For example, Long Island Postal Employees reports only 244 members and $2.5 million in assets. But it is still supported by these  members with an office in the basement of the Post Office.

Credit Union History Still Present For Us

Understanding credit union history is about more than honoring longevity. Their experiences can be instructive for present day prognosticators.

Cooperative design is intended to be perpetual.   Privately owned firms rarely transition beyond their initial founders.  Public companies including banks can be bought and sold in the open market at any time.

Coop capital is paid forward to benefit future members.  While every credit union is subject to the forces of a competitive market, outright failures are rare.

However there are a number of seers who routinely offer their view that coop design is not sufficient for longevity.  In their foretelling what is required  is size (scale), the latest technology and  “innovative” strategies which emulate their competitors.

While several of these long-timers might validate these tactics, most do not.   Rather the common factor that seems to sustain is what created the credit union in the first place:  the  service to and loyalty from the members.   Morris Shepard FCU’s origin statement on their website says it  clearly:

As a member-owned, not-for-profit financial cooperative, Morris Sheppard Texarkana FCU will continue to uphold its fundamental responsibility to actively serve people within our field of membership, which consists of the employees of the City of Texarkana TX, City of Texarkana AR, Bowie County and their spouse, children, and grandchildren. We will continue to deliver a range of low cost products and services to the diverse economic and social makeup of our members and potential members.

They continue to celebrate their first in the country creation:

Our History

Morris Sheppard Texarkana Federal Credit Union was named in honor of U.S. Senator Morris Sheppard, who represented Texas in the Senate from 1913 to 1941 and was one of the credit union movement’s greatest supporters in Congress. Senator Sheppard drafted several pieces of credit union legislation in the early 1930’s. But it wasn’t until 1934 that the passage of a Federal Credit Union bill appeared likely, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Sheppard and another Texan who had become convinced of the bill’s importance, Congressman Wright Patman. Our local credit union chapter, an affiliation of credit unions, is named after Congressman Patman.

What These 22 FCU’s Help Us See More Clearly

I’m not sure what is in the cooperative DNA of these credit union managers and boards.   But it might be worth learning more about.  For if their attitude and efforts had been shared by the entire FCU system, the could be as many as 2,338 more credit unions active today.   They would not necessarily be a State Employee or a Long Island City Postal, but they would be serving  a perpetual need human need with an institution they own.

Today credit unions rarely close due to external forces or financial failure.  Rather leaders of sound institutions  at the close of their tenure merge their credit union to reward themselves with an additional cash payment.  Unfortunately, credit unions are not exempt from personal cupidity.

One of the lessons these 22 and the oldest commercial companies provide:  the needs for these services does not go away.  That alone should be enough to keep the lights on when the harbingers of combinations issue their predictions of inevitable consolidation.

And the enduring need for values based, honorable leadership of these organizations.