Credit Unions and Liquidity Management

Managing liquidity will be an ongoing priority during the interest rate transformation now being led by the Federal Reserve.

Today  I want to show how credit unions have prepared.

Relying on a Cooperative System

Credit unions managing  74% of assets ($1.57 trillion) use the FHLB system.   To borrow from the banks, credit unions must invest in a bank’s capital with borrowings a multiple of their contribution.

As cooperatives, the banks are owned by their members, pay a dividend on the capital and offer multiple borrowing, hedging and funding options.

These 1,271 credit unions report a total of advised lines of  credit of  $288.1  billion at June 30, 2022.

The credit union funded CLF at June 30 reports total membership 349 regular members plus 10 corporate agents which have funded the CLF capital requirements for their members with less than $250 million in assets.

The total CLF capital contributions represent approximately 26.2% of all credit union shares as of June 30.

In addition the CLF has total borrowing authority of $29.7 billion but has no advised lines of credit with credit unions.  This lending capacity, if fully utilized would equal just 10.3% of the total advised lines credit unions report from the FHLB system.

Two Observations

Credit  unions rely on the cooperatively designed, privately managed FHLB with boards elected by the owners, as their primary source of external liquidity.

The CLF, specifically designed for credit unions, has not evolved to respond to credit union needs.   The CLF managed by NCUA has no credit union representation or programs to encourage credit union involvement.

There have been no loans from the CLF to credit unions since 2010.   At that time the two most significant loans were initiated by NCUA as part of their corporate conservatorships of US Central and WesCorp.  These two borrowings were for $ 5 billion dollars each, guaranteed by the NCUSIF.

In the upcoming period of enhanced liquidity management, credit unions are turning to the organizations they own and can rely on.



A Lookback: The NCUSIF Four Decades after Redesign (1985-2022)

Knowing the past is essential to understanding the present and charting the future. This is true for individuals, institutions and society.

History provides us with a sense of identity. People, social movements  and institutions require a sense of their collective past that contributes to  what we are today.

This knowledge should include facts about our prior behavior, thinking and judgement.  Such information is critical in shaping our present and future.

The NCUSIF’s Transition Story


The NCUSIF legislation was passed by Congress in October 1970 authorizing  a premium based financial model imitating the FDIC’s and FSLIC’s  approach begun four decades earlier. This multi-decade head start was how those funds achieved their 1% required statutory minimum fund balance. This reserve growth occurred  during the post-war years of steady economic growth with only modest cycles of recession.

Then the economic disruption with double digit inflation and unemployment of the late 70’s and 80’s led to the complete deregulation of the financial system established during the depression.

Ten years after insuring its first credit unions, the NCUSIF’s financial position at fiscal yearend September 30, 1981, was:

Total Fund Assets:   $227 million

Total Fund Equity:    $175 million

Insured CU assets:    $57 Billion

Total Insured CU’s:    17,000

Fund equity/Insured shares:   .30%

CUNA president Jim William told NCUA Chairman Ed Callahan before his GAC speech in 1982, the dominant concern of credit unions was survival.

Because the fund equity ratio was so far short of its 1% legally mandated goal,  NCUA  implemented the only available option  to increase the ratio.   Double premiums were assessed in 1983 and 1984 totaling 16 basis points of insured savings for every insured credit union.

However, the ratio continued to decline primarily due to increased losses from the country’s macro-economic challenges. These trends and the prospect of double premiums caused  credit unions to ask if there were a better way.

The history of the analysis of the fund’s first dozen years leading up to these changes is in this seven minute video from the NCUA Video Network.

In April 1984, NCUA delivered a congressionally mandated report on the history  and current state of the NCUSIF.  It included the development of private, cooperative share insurance options and league stabilization funds.  It presented four recommendations to restructure the NCUSIF from a premium revenue model, to a cooperative, self-help, self-funding one.

Today’s NCUSIF after 40 Years

The four decades of NCUSIF performance since 1985 have proven the wisdom of the redesign and generated enormous financial savings for credit unions versus annual premiums.

Today the NCUSIF is $21.2 billion in total equity giving a fund insured share ratio of approximately 1.29%.   This size represents a 12.7% CAGR since 1981 when the fund’s equity was  just $175 million.

The critical success factor  of the 1% cooperative funding model is that it tracks the growth of total risk with earning assets, whatever the external economic environment.

This was and is not the fate of the premium based funds. The FSLIC failed and was merged into the FDIC in 1994.  The FDIC has assessed an annual premium(s) on total assets every year since the 1980’s.

The FDIC’s ratio of fund equity to insured shares at March 31, 2022 was 1.23%, down from its peak of 1.41% in December 2019.   On a number of occasions, the FDIC fund has reported negative equity during financial crisis.

NCUSIF Twice the Coverage Size of FDIC

It should also be noted that FDIC insured savings are only $10 trillion (41%) of the $24.1 trillion total assets in  FDIC insured institutions at the end of the March 2022.  The FDIC  is only .51% of all banking assets.

For credit unions insured shares are 78% of total assets.  Today, the NCUSIF’s total assets are  1% of all credit union assets, a ratio two times the size  of the FDIC’s.

Five Decades of Reliable, Sound Coverage

Throughout the redesigned NCUSIF’s history, a premium has been assessed to augment the fund four times: 1991 and 1992; and 2009 and 2010.   In both situations the premiums were levied based on reserve losses expensed but then subsequently reversed in later years.

In 1985, the fund’s first full year of the redesign, NCUA reported “for the first time ever, the NCUSIF paid a dividend.”   The NCUSIF Annual Report further stated that “credit unions were returned $275 million in tangible benefits.” (page 5).  This from a fund that just four years earlier reported $175 million in total equity.

The fund continued to pay dividends including six consecutive years from 1995 through 2000, and again in 2008 when the equity ratio was above 1.3%.

These results were achieved because of a collaborative partnership between NCUA and credit unions.  The changes were based on an analysis of prior events.  Options were evaluated and based on open dialogue at every stage.  Ultimately this consensus for change was critical in obtaining congressional support for this unique cooperative solution.

The redesign included commitments by credit unions to guarantee the fund’s solvency no matter the circumstances. But it also mandated guardrails on agency options and required transparency in reporting and managing the fund’s assets.

The NCUSIF four decades of performance has also provided a valuable record for reviewing credit union loss experience in multiple economic circumstances and events.   It provides an audited account of actual losses during the many years when there are none and credit unions received a dividend.

But it also documents the actual cash losses in the four or five short recessions or economic upheavals such as the aftermath from the 9/11 attacks, the Great Recession and the most recent COVID economic shutdown.

The NCUSIF’s record is sound.  It is proven. The facts are known.   So what could possibly go wrong?

Tomorrow I will review the temptations awakened by the NCUSIF’s successful track record.





Credit Union’s Status at June 30, 2022

Last week a reader responded to my analysis of credit unions investments at June 2022. His comment was so insightful and comprehensive, I asked Mike Higgins to convert his response to a post, which follows.

Musings On the State of Credit Unions June  2022

Another quarter has passed, and the economy is behaving like a moody teenager – one day up, the next day down.  Wall Street has a slightly optimistic outlook, but the Federal Reserve has different plans.  A lot of mixed messages. This leads me to a handful of musings and situations to consider based upon second quarter credit union call report data.

  • Net interest margin finally improved this quarter (up 16 bps to 2.73%). It was driven by two items:
    1. Rising loan to asset ratio (more assets earning higher loan yield vs. lower surplus funds yield).
    2. Higher surplus funds yield (up 34 bps).

I count cash as surplus funds because I am ruthless about sloppy funds management, so if you see a slightly different number somewhere else, you will understand why.

  • Those credit unions with short weighted average maturities (WAM) in surplus funds will see immediate benefit from continued (signaled) rate hikes.
  • Loan yield barely budged this quarter.  It increased 1 bp to 4.29%.  Why?  Let’s look at where the massive amount of loan growth came from this quarter:
    1. 40% from real estate lending (1st mortgage held and commercial real estate).
    2. 35% from vehicle lending.

Those tend to be fixed rate.  So huge loan growth, mostly fixed rate, adds little movement in loan yield.  When rates go up, the incentive to pre-pay is reduced, so duration will extend here.

  • On the funding side, we normally see price inelasticity as rates on core checking and savings are “sticky” tending to lag markets. However:
    1. The Federal Reserve is starting quantitative tightening.  Bank deposits declined this quarter, which rarely happens — the supply of funds is shrinking.
    2. Credit union deposits were basically flat this quarter.
    3. Credit union borrowings and non-member deposits increased by 36% this quarter.
    4. Deposits are becoming valuable again!  The spread between cost of funds and the yield on surplus funds is producing a high rate of return after being low for so long.

Banking Like It Used to Be

So, the tendency is greater demand for funds going forward.  Banking like it used to be  with deposit and loan spreads near equilibrium (deposit spread = surplus funds yield minus deposit cost; loan spread = loan yield minus surplus funds yield).

  • Unrealized losses on available for sale (AFS) securities now represent 12.6% of credit union net worth.  This will only grow larger with each rate hike.  I realize there is no loss on any security held to maturity, so it’s just a paper loss, but it reflects the following:
    1. Credit unions will be reluctant (or unable) to stomach losses, so they will hold the securities until maturity.
    2. This effectively converts the securities to fixed rate loans for interest rate risk purposes.
    3. Fixed rate loans held to maturity reduce liquidity, thus increasing demand for funds to support continued loan growth.  Fortunately, there is still room left in the loan to asset ratio. However AFS securities should really be viewed as a loan for ALM analysis, because they are going to model the same behavior.

Navigating to a New Normal Interest Rate Curve

How would you characterize your balance sheet today?  What concerns do you have and how do you plan to address them?

Every credit union will be in a different position, but here are four general situations I am seeing right now:

  • Nothing Changes.  Credit unions that are good at lending don’t have to worry about surplus funds management — because they don’t have lots of surplus funds to begin with.  Assuming they are following sound ALM practices, they should be just fine. Suggestion:  Stay the course.
  • Happy Days Are Here Again.  For credit unions who are not so good at lending, and as a result, have excess amounts of surplus funds, but did not chase yield in the investment portfolio, their ROA is in for a big boost from rapidly rising rates. A reasonable deposit spread has finally returned after a long drought. Suggestion: Closely monitor any outflows of deposits and increase rates on shares to avoid runoff–which should also make members happy.
  • Can You Say Liability Sensitive? For credit unions good at lending but chasing growth using price/terms as a differentiator (low yield, fixed rate), you will experience increasing liability sensitivity.  The funding side of the balance sheet will see faster increases in costs than the asset side can absorb. Decreasing net margin may cause ROA to wane.  If you have a large enough net interest margin, you should be able to ride things out; however, run some net income simulations to get a better read on P&L exposure.
  • A Forecast That May Incur Pain. Those credit unions not so good at lending, and with excess amounts of surplus funds which chased yield hard, are facing a net margin squeeze. Rapid rate increases are not a friend.  Increased unrealized losses will come with each rate hike.  Suggestion: Re-evaluate your liquidity. Your securities are like fixed-rate loans in ALM analysis.  To grow, you may need new funds since much of your liquidity is “underwater.”

Asset liability management is changing quickly now after a two plus years of historically low rates and a flat yield curve.  The current market consensus forecasts an overnight rate in the 3.50-4.00% range before the Fed pauses to let things get sorted out.

Those of you who remember banking before the Great Recession can draw upon your experience.  Those who were not in the industry at that time may want to do a little research of the interest rate cycle post 9/11 and the return to “normal.”




Mike Higgins is a consultant helping credit unions and community banks improve their competitive position through performance-based compensation.  He sees financial statements for just over 100 financial institutions every month.  He was also a founding investor in a 2006 community bank startup.


Credit Union Investments at June 2022 and the “Wisdom of the Crowd”

Wisdom of the crowd is a theory that assumes large crowds are collectively smarter than individual experts. It believes that the collective knowledge and opinions of a group are better at decision-making, problem-solving, and innovating than an individual or single organization.

The collective judgment of a diverse group  compensates for the bias of a small group.

On September 2, Credit Union Times published an analysis by Callahan’s Jay Johnson of credit union investment trends at June 2022.  How did the industry respond to 2022’s rise in market rates?

Investments 30.5% of Total Assets

Total investments held by credit unions, including cash balances, fell 9.5%, or $68.6 billion.  But the June total $655.5 billion was still 30.5% of the balance sheet.

As reported in the article, credit union investments boomed in the past two years, growing from $389.3 billion in December 2019 to a high of $724.0 billion in March 2022, mostly by  Covid relief payments held as cash. Even after this quarter’s decline, total investments are well above where they stood at the start of the pandemic.

 Credit Unions Favor the Front of the Curve

Johnson’s analysis reported the  trends in market rates at quarter end as follows:

“The yield curve flattened after the Fed raised rates 75 bps in both June and July. Short-term Treasuries, which are most sensitive to Fed action, priced in expectations for additional rate hikes. The two-year yield increased 40 basis points in June after some dramatic intra-month swings. It settled at 2.95% at month end after reaching as high as 3.45%.

“The market struggled to price in both recession risk and more Fed rate increases at the same time, as the two forces counteract each other. The 2-year/10-year spread finished the month at 6 basis points, threatening inversion.

“Portfolio allocators took advantage of the increase in shorter-term yields and reinvested funds into securities of more near-term maturity. The one-to-three-year maturity category took in $4.2 billion from credit union investors since March, good for a 3.6% increase and enough to become the largest non-cash category.

“Investments in securities are spread relatively evenly across each of the maturity categories within the one-to-10-year range, understandable given recent changes to the yield curve. Cash comprises 28.3% of total investments.”

Portfolio Yield up 21 Basis Points

“The average yield on investments increased 21 basis points quarter-over-quarter, up to 1.12% through June. While this marked the fifth straight quarterly increase, it was the most significant change in yield since the first quarter of 2019.

“Of course, with rising yields come unrealized losses on available-for-sale securities, and these, perhaps temporary, losses now total $28.3 billion throughout the industry.”

A Crowd Sourced Benchmark for WAM and Investment’s NEV Risk

As shown below 42.6% of credit union investments are cash or under one year maturity.  Obviously it is difficult to reposition longer maturities as rates rise, without incurring a loss.   This short-term liquidity build up allows credit unions to “ride the yield curve up” as rates are taken to a new normal by the Fed in its inflation fight.

The overall weighted average investment maturity for all credit unions is 2.83 years.  Every institution’s balance sheet, cash flow and business priorities are different.

The 2.83 years is the risk profile of the total credit union portfolio.  It is based on 4,900 independent decisions about managing risk as measured by WAM at the end of June.

Individual credit union investments may have a longer or shorter WAM.  But this is the “collective wisdom” at this point in the upward rate cycle as the Fed tries to rein in the highest inflation in four decades.

Total Balance Sheet Analysis

Investments are one component of overall balance sheet risk management.  In addition to NEV calculations, credit unions use net interest income (NII) simulations to project possible outcomes for net income in changing rate scenarios.

NII is a comprehensive look at the repricing of assets and cost of funds.   The June data showed that the industry’s net interest margin  improved in the latest quarter.

Rising market rates will lead to increased cost of funds. The ALM challenge is to manage this adjustment in tandem with the repricing of both investments and loan assets.  So far, so good.

While market “narratives” about future rate hikes can vary daily, the overwhelming consensus  about future  Fed moves is “higher for longer.”

Investments are just one aspect of interest rate risk management. For this component, how would your portfolio’s risk profile and  recent decisions compare with the industry’s collective wisdom?




A Valuable Case Study of a Ransomware Attack on a Credit Union

This morning’s news started with the report of a ransomware attack on the country’s second largest school system in Los Angeles.

The warnings or reports of cyber security threats occur daily.   However, until reading the article below I had not seen an actual account of responding when this happens in a credit union.

The case study appeared  in CUSO Magazine.  It was written by Matt Sawtell, VP of Managed Technology Sales at CU*Answers who had first-hand experience with the event.

Facts are given and lessons learned.  I would urge anyone in this area of responsibility to read this account.

The Anatomy of a Ransomware Incident (And What We Learned)

Following a trend that has been developing over the last ten years, cybersecurity is a topic that is no longer reserved for the dimly lit, garden-level, IT-dwelling teams to consider. It is a topic that is on the minds of those in the boardroom.

As events have garnered ever more concerning headlines, from the Colonial Pipeline incident, which was settled for around $5M in Bitcoin, to the various Microsoft incidents, to the hack which saw thieves lift approximately $33M from over 500 user wallets back in January, it’s hard to imagine that no credit union has been affected by an incident in the last few years.

The target that financial institutions have on them is especially large. The attackers believe FIs have the dollars to pay and they possess sensitive member information, which has its own value and adds leverage to a potential payout.

In the last year, we have had the experience of participating in the response to one of these attacks on a credit union. The experience reaffirmed the importance of solid cybersecurity plans and operations as essential, and we gathered some takeaways for others as we worked through the event.

The event unfolds

Friday afternoon, nearly the close of business, our support team received a call from a credit union asking some questions about why their access to data on the network wasn’t working. We followed our normal troubleshooting and escalation protocols. Shortly after digging into this troubleshooting, the bad actor reached out to the credit union to say they had exfiltrated member information out of the credit union and communicated the ransom. Our team escalated this to management, who then advised the credit union to shut down systems and to contact their cybersecurity insurer to begin assisting with the incident.

Cybersecurity insurance is crucial

You have cybersecurity insurance, right? Believe it or not, we have run into organizations recently that do not. We view this as very important coverage, not just because of the financial aspects but also the incident response and forensic and legal resources these insurers can bring to bear in order to minimize the impact of an incident like this.

In this instance the response was swift—a forensic team and case manager were assigned from a firm that specializes in that work. They would quarterback the incident from here through the end. The lead had extensive experience working for a federal agency responding to just these kinds of incidents.

Be diligent, there is a pattern of timing with these events. If you look at the recent rash of events, it seems like the news often breaks on a Friday afternoon, weekend overnight, or before a major holiday. The bad guys know they may have a better go of it when we may have relaxed our guard a bit.

The mitigation work begins

From the initial contact Friday, the case manager was working with multiple parties and coordinating that work on daily (sometimes multiple) calls with all involved. The groups included the forensic team, legal team, negotiator, cybersecurity firm, our CUSO, and the credit union.

We were tasked with a few things at the start, such as determining if we had good backup copies offsite and getting the credit union an alternative way to do some of the daily processing and member work that was needed while the network was shut down. Thankfully, the online and mobile banking systems and audio response were unaffected by this outage so members could still do many of the transactions they needed.

The forensic team was digging in and looking for indicators of compromise (IOCs) as well as any information that might point to a known group of bad actors that pulled off the attack. They used tools, requested hard drives be pulled out of equipment and sent for inspection, and on a daily basis made progress in unraveling the who, when, and how details.

The negotiator was busy interacting with the bad actor and working to negotiate down the initial $5M ransom request. This if nothing else would buy time to decide what the options were over the coming days. The updates from this individual made the whole event seem like a spy movie as much as a cyber incident.

The cybersecurity company utilized tools to start monitoring behavior on the network, process and traffic analysis, and ingress and egress.

The credit union had closed itself to the membership for over a week following the start that Friday. They were present for every call and update, and ultimately made decisions on how all parties would proceed with the work they were doing. In the meantime, they also needed to figure out how to communicate with their members, regulators, law enforcement, and other stakeholders.

Do not overlook a communication strategy

Communication is key. When you have an incident, it is a stressful time. We have all witnessed companies that do a good job of communication and manage the incident well and we have also seen those who… leave room for improvement.

Take for instance the Colonial Pipeline incident. If you lived in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area during this incident, you witnessed panic fuel buying almost overnight. Communication between the pipeline company and the government was not forthcoming where it could have been to calm and inform the public.

On the other side of that are incidents like the Kaseya zero-day from 2021, where the CEO was out in front with regular updates, clients were informed and given IOCs before they were in the news, and the credit union provided transparency and clarity about what to do next.

As a financial institution, one thing to consider is having your incident response strategy and even sample messaging ready to go in advance. Have it cleared through your legal team, management team, and board; keep them in the know on the details and approach. Most importantly, understand that in some cases sharing too little, too much, or speculating publicly can do more harm than good.

You can take this a step further even by conducting tabletop exercises where your team will role-play out various scenarios in order to prepare. Finding someone with experience is a great way to guide the conversation and get the most out of one of these exercises.

Backups and the ensuing recovery

The forensic team started to make headway with their analysis. IOCs were found and pointed back to a foreign group that specialized in gaining access to business networks in the west. They could not tell when that original compromise had happened, but the method they used was sophisticated and had been found at other companies that had similar intrusions.

One of the most interesting things they found was that the state-sponsored group had likely sold access to the credit union network to another, likely an organized crime group that specialized in ransomware. This approach we are told is more common these days as the groups then specialize in their respective areas.

In the meantime, we had validated that offsite backups were not contaminated and could be used to help rebuild the credit union network. The cybersecurity firm had a standard process to create a new, separate, air-gapped network and slowly move machines from the dirty network to the clean one after they had been sanitized. This was painstaking work and took many days to complete. We worked very closely with them and at their direction to ensure the details were followed for each system.

While this was happening, the negotiator continued to haggle with the bad actors over the dollar amount requested. The bad actors had also given proof that they were able to exfiltrate member information, including an AIRES file, from the credit union and were prepared to sell that information on the dark web if their demands were not met. This is a newer tactic to add leverage in the hope of getting a payout.

The credit union was closed for this week while all tech was sanitized. Given they had good backups, and there was no guarantee the bad actors would return the exfiltrated member data, they decided not to pay the ransom, which at this point had been negotiated down to approximately $2.5M. The members who wanted to do in-branch transactions were starting to get frustrated, so re-opening as soon as was safely possible was the highest priority.

A more common and costly occurrence 

Ransomware events of several years ago were not nearly as sophisticated or as costly as they had become. Ransomware events were often slow to propagate the network, easy to detect if they had already been in the wild by traditional endpoint security software and the ransoms were in the tens of thousands, not millions of dollars.

The involvement of both states sponsored and organized criminal groups point to how effective a revenue generator this has become for groups that are sheltered in countries that either directly support or turn a blind eye to their activities. Think about the number of companies you have read about that publicly disclose this because they must…then think about the many multiples more that do not.

The end of an incident

Thankfully, this incident had as good an outcome as could be expected. The following week the credit union reopened its doors to members. The credit union retained most of their members, for whom they were providing credit monitoring for the next year. They opted to retain the cybersecurity firm to supplement their efforts after the incident concluded. The remediation and recovery was an effort that required over 1,000 hours of work from multiple teams. Our Network Security team had over 400 hours in the recovery alone.

What are the key takeaways for your institution?

  • Have a solid plan. It is best to prepare in advance and avoid trying to come up with a response in the stress of the moment. Prepare communications, understand and have contact information for the key players on your incident response team, and make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand the technology and security you have. It is difficult to assess cybersecurity risks and gaps if you do not understand both what your team is doing, what your third parties and partners are doing, and what they are not doing. Make sure you have gone through a detailed assessment of this and that you are comfortable with the residual risk based on your approach.
  • Align with the right partners. Consider seeking out specialized partners for things like 24×7 monitoring through a security operations center or a managed detection and response service. Make sure your insurance coverage is appropriate for your organization.
  • Test, prepare, and practice. People are key in cybersecurity effectiveness and incident response. Make sure you’re training your team on the threats out there, how to use tech safely within the organization and to report suspected incidents as soon as possible. Conduct tabletop incident response scenarios to practice what an event might look like with your team.



85% of Credit Union Assets Subject to RBC/CCULR at March 31, 2022

In December 2021 the NCUA Board passed a completely new regulation of over 500 pages to imposing a new RBC/CCULR net worth requirement.  The rule took full effect on January 1, 2022, or just 9 days after posting in the Federal Register.

It instantly raised the minimum net worth ratio to be considered “well-capitalized” by 29% that is, from 7% to 9%.

All credit unions over $500 million in total assets were immediately placed under this new capital standard.   As of March 31, 2022 these 701 credit unions manage 85% of the industry’s total assets, or $1.809 trillion.

No CCULR “Off-Ramp” for 193 Credit Unions

Those subject credit unions with less than a 9% net worth ratio must comply with the Risk Based Capital (RBC) computation.  It takes five pages of call report data to calculate this one ratio.

As of March 31, there were 193 credit unions with $345 billion in assets that reported less than 9% net worth.   For them there is no CCULR off-ramp.

They are thrown into a financial, accounting and classification “wonder-land” of arbitrary ratios, regulatory accounting decisions and almost 100 distinct asset classifications.

Following the RBC requirements is a complicated mess.

For example, individual credit unions have at least four options for calculating the net worth ratio. They can use average daily assets for the quarter, or the average of the three-month end quarter balances, or the average of the current and preceding three quarter end balances, or the quarter end total.

NCUA doesn’t even try to present the industry’s total net worth in this multiple manner, just asserting that the 10.22% is the industry average even though many other calculations are authorized.

Depending on which denominator a credit union chooses to determine the ratio, the outcome may or may not be a net worth over 9%.   Net worth comparisons become much less informative for members and the public without full disclosure of the methodology used.

Changes in the ratio, higher or lower,  may reflect nothing more than different calculations, not actual soundness.

RBC’s Reach Goes Beyond the $500 million level. Another 123 credit unions with total assets between $400-$500 million are within range of the $500 million RBC/CCULR tripwire.  46 of these have net worth below 9% and hold 37% of this segment’s total assets of $55 billion.

(Data update:  324 CUs completed the RBC ratio, and reported a value on the 5300.  324 minus the 193 under 9% is a difference of 131.  These completed the RBC ratio despite qualifying  for CCULR, or they may have failed one of the tests.

This suggests credit unions want to know their requirements under either net worth option to make the optimum decisions about which to follow.)

The Members Will Pay

The increase in regulatory net worth is a tax on asset growth. It requires resources be directed to reserves held idle on the balance sheet, instead of being used for investment in credit union products and services or higher returns on savings and lower fees.

Credit unions must choose to slow deposit and asset growth to build their net worth or increase their ROA by paying less or charging more.  Whatever financial choice is made, the members will pay the cost for this additional capital.

This burden occurs at a time when members are coping with a rate of inflation not experienced in 40 years.  Instead of serving members’ needs, credit unions must first serve the regulator which provided no factual basis for the rule.

A Unnecessary Rule Not Authorized by Congress

The passage of the RBC/CCULR capital regulation met no objective safety and soundness need and contradicted the express language imposing PCA on credit unions under the Credit Union Membership Access Act in 1998.

When presenting the rule, NCUA staff stated  their analysis of credit union failures for the past decade showed that this new requirement would have established a higher capital threshold for just  one problem credit union over $500 million.

The last minute addition of the so called CCULR off ramp in 2021 was defended as a way to reduce the acknowledged new and enormous burden of RBC.   Congress passed legislation permitting banking regulators this CCULR exception.  That statue did not include NCUA or credit unions.

The fact that credit union CCULR has no Congressional authorization is just one of many improper steps NCUA took when imposing this regulatory monstrosity affecting every asset decision made by a credit union.

The regulation  is the Fruit of a Poisonous Tree failing at least five explicit requirements of the PCA legislation and the Administrative Procedures Act.

So why didn’t credit unions sue?  Why did two board members go along with this deeply flawed regulation and process to make the passage unanimous?

What options are now possible to overturn a regulation  that injects the federal insurer into literally every specific balance sheet and asset decision made by credit unions?

Tomorrow a new approach to eliminate this rule, take away the burden, and return responsibility for the management of the credit unions to the members and their board and managers now appears possible.

Note:  Additional details of this flawed regulation can be found in these articles.








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.