Two Important Data Trends & Saying Goodbye

I. The history of the  overnight Federal Funds rate from 1954 through 2022 is shown in the chart below.   The sixty-eight year average: 4.62%.  The latest update for March 2024: 5.33%.

Source:  Fred.stlouisfed.org/series/fedfunds

II. Interest payments on US Treasury debt surpasses a trillion dollars in 2023.  The total interest paid last year was $1,062 billion.

From the Visual Capitalist article: “The cost of paying for America’s national debt crossed the $1 trillion dollar mark in 2023, driven by high interest rates and a record $34 trillion mountain of debt. . . As debt payments continue to soar, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that debt servicing costs surpassed defense spending for the first time ever this year.

Questions: What do these two datapoints suggest about the future level of interest rates?
On February 15, 2024 the NCUSIF Investment committee bought a six year, three month $650 million bond yielding 4.26%.  Is NCUA repeating the same IRR mistakes that led to the Fund’s two plus years of current  under performance?

Learning to Say Goodbye

A final selection from He Gets Us campaign.  The use of stories to communicate values.

How Do Credit Unions Communicate Values?

Cooperatives are designed around specific organizational principles and values.  The phrase people helping people is the classic assertion of the credit union difference.  But how can this value distinction, if real, be communicated?

Many organizations face this challenge, especially, those committed to doing “good” in society. Take the example of showing love.

Everyone has a love in their life.   In many instances this is another person-spouse, friend or soulmate.  In other circumstances it might be a longtime pet.  Or a passion so intense that it animates everything a person does-a lifetime committed to living a specific truth.

Imagine Love

The word love is used in many circumstances and about many activities.

How can this concept be communicated in art?

He Gets Us created an AI animated video with the prompt “imagine love”.  The result is a series of impressionistic heart shaped valentine-like drawings overlapping the page.

The program’s users then added a series of prompts.  These directed that love be shown the way Jesus talked about it-to feed the hungry, help the sick etc.   The result is a compelling series of tableaus that show specific scenes any viewer would recognize.

This artificial translation communicates. Some drawings may even inspire.  In these visualizations, love becomes an act, not just a feeling.

This brief video’s AI interpretation vividly contrasts the difference between belief and action.

Is It Art?

Are these creations art?  Or merely automated serial productions? Do they have meaning?

If this exercise seems too artificial, then ask, how is it you show your love?  For that is the question presented.

The AI exercise illustrates the difference between what we say and what we do.

This is a challenge all face daily, especially when leading values-based organizations.

Leaders in families, in organizations, or in life’s many daily roles know the difference illustrated in the video. For credit unions that is when people helping people is more than a slogan. It becomes the animating spirit motivating interactions with members.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUngI7QyeHY&t=3s)

 

 

https://hegetsus.com/en/featured-videos/ai-love

The Power of Story

The video series He Gets Us relies on multiple methods to communicate a vision of common humanity in an era of cultural turbulence.

It was funded by a group of Christian business leaders who were concerned about  the relevance of spiritual values in a time when even religious communities have become part of the current impulse to take sides on every topic.

The videos push against this social divisiveness.  Several were among the most watched ads from the last two Super Bowls, an effort that some felt was not the best use of funds.

They are intended to be a conversation starter. To build a bridge to a culture increasingly dubious about the role of spiritual values in contemporary life.

Unconditional Love in the Hardest Times

The group’s longer first-person, authentic life stories are memorable. This five-minute video is an example of a mother and her family’s unconditional love.   Most of us have had the good fortune to experience this relationship as either a child or as parents.  But perhaps not with the burdens this family encountered.

The video suggests our lives are not just a series of insulated, unrelated events. Human stories reveal deep truths which we may know only in  part. They sometimes “speak” to us outside our conscious awareness.

Life Is How We Affect Others

The mother’s story shows a life of purpose a goal for which many aspire.  She tells of learning the necessity of humility, “how to set aside everything we know to honor, respect and love another human being.”

In doing so, it suggests all are part of the great human cosmic enterprise. Life comes full circle for everyone.  This narrative expresses the belief that we live in a world grounded in shared meaning.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl2fxQH50_8&t=225s)

A Credit Union Cares

This is a credit union’s story of caring for a member whose life has come full circle.  You can read The Rest of the Story here.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PXPcuGnAkc&t=31s)

The Hardest Words To Say

On Monday I introduced the video series, He Gets Us.  They were created by a group portraying the relevance of spiritual life today.  The work presents pictures of our common humanity.

Works of Art

I believe these videos are works of art.  They have the power to evoke an epiphany. We may not know the full wisdom being offered. But one can feel the experience connecting with something inside you.

My hope is to inspire an appraisal of today’s coop messaging.  The goal is to move beyond the headlines and priorities of the current moment to  rediscover the passions that made the industry a movement.

A Second Language

Today’s selections begin with what seems a simple task, asking nonnative  speakers what are most difficult sounds for them to pronounce in English.

But then each person acknowledges the real question is about the words we find the hardest to say emotionally in human interaction.  In any language. This short introduction is the source for five longer personal stories from each.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whm_-aL9HmI&t=18s)

A Story

The final speaker is from Finland. The words he found hardest to say emotionally arose in very difficult circumstances.

They were: “I love you.”  Saying them makes us vulnerable.  A phrase repeated often by rote but still changes lives when stated.

His story sketches the growth in his understanding of this universal expression that enriches all human relationships.  It begins with a trigger warning.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWplgR3t_Ck&t=1s)

 

The Good, the Bad, & the Beautiful for the Week of April  7, 2024

The Good: 125% Risk Based Capital Ratio for a $6.6 Billion Credit Union

If you were ever curious about the difference between a state and federal credit union regulatory environment, the open public meeting of the North Carolina Credit Union Commission the past Tuesday, April 9, is an eye-opener. (It was online).

In 90 minutes a  listener received comprehensive, transparent. and timely information from multiple presenters. The topics covered state and national legislative priorities by a League representative and a thorough state-of-the industry review for all 29 state charters (ratios with and without SECU) by the Commissioner.   There were updates on the status of the state system: sixteen credit unions have the low income designation and one pending merger.

Administrative briefings on the Commissioner’s office including an examination update (one done, six in process, and 22 to go), examiner training and staff openings.

At the agenda’s completion, the chair solicited comments from the attendees. Credit union members presented concerns about the Administrator’s oversight of SECU bylaw changes. One questioned the Administrator’ support for House Bill 410 to change the  operating authority for North Carolina state charters.

The meeting showed the accessibility and transparency of the state’s regulatory environment.  All were welcome. It was an open town hall with democratic participation and citizen oversight.

An Up-to-the-Minute Market Update

One of the most interesting reports for me was  by Fred Eisel, CEO of Vizo  Financial Corporate which serves the Carolina market and credit unions in 40 other states.  His information was timely, positive, and specific.  Several of his points:  liquidity is growing in credit unions with corporate shares up and borrowing by members down.  Vizo’s financial results are strong enabling increasing returns for members. Credit union operations are stable.

However,  the number that struck me was Vizo’s Risk Based Capital Ratio at  March end of 125%–that is not a typo.

Vizo financials through February are posted on their website.   It has extensive disclosures of balance sheet and income statement details, shows total available liquidity of $6.5 billion, and includes nine measures of capital adequacy.

Fred sent me the March 2024 numbers showing  the 125% RBC ratio.

Vizo’s Multiple Capital Calculations

The NCUA’s RBC requirement for well-capitalized corporates is 10%. Vizo’s ratio is twelve times that standard. Moreover, the corporate’s total capital   exceeds 10% of assets.

Vizo CEO’s presentation of March’s final data just seven working days after month end, is extraordinary. It is a disclosure practice documented with web posting, that every credit union might model for their members. The timeliness is a tribute to the credit union’s management. It is also a standard NCUA should emulate in its reporting of the three funds it manages for credit unions.

The Bad: 

Coffee hit a 30-month high today. The commodity is up 16% so far this year. One of the reasons is a heat wave in Vietnam.

Cocoa has been soaring due to weather problems in Africa. Cocoa is up 150% so far in 2024.   (source:  stocks at Night by CNBC Pro April 11, 2024)

The Beautiful:  Eclipse Pictures

From my driveway by Luis  Escalante who was repaneling my workroom in Bethesda, MD.  Luis used my eclipse glasses to cover his camera lens.

From the shores of Lake Ontario by Scott Patterson,  CEO Credit Union Student Choice.

His commentary on being in the moment:  Clouds didn’t cooperate to see the sun much, but we did get total darkness for a few minutes. Very eerie.  The expansive lake view let us watch the darkness line approaching across the water and then see the full daylight on land in the far distance.  A thrilling experience.

The Revolution Credit Unions Are Missing

During my college days five decades ago, the primary work-study jobs were dorm crew, dining hall or checking out library books.  Students receiving financial aid were expected to work at least 10 hours per week.

As the decade of the 1960’s progressed, the college campus atmosphere inspired by the Camelot years of President Kennedy gave way to the increasingly anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movements.

New protest groups were spawned across campuses.  These included SNCC, Black Panthers, SDS and multiple other efforts to support social and political change.

In a partial final year on campus waiting for my date with Uncle Sam, I  saw a three-day occupation of University Hall and attended a student meeting where one of the participants placed a gun on the table to demonstrate his radical intentions.

Part of this campus mood was anti-business—all kinds, not just the protests against Dow Chemical or other business seen as supporters of war. Capitalist society was deemed responsible for the multiple wrongs protestors wanted to change in US public policy and social inequity.  No one saw business, or entrepreneurship worthy of academic attention or support.

Still, students would occasionally use their university setting to develop start up ideas.  One that became very popular in the ’60’s was Operation Match, a paper based computer analysis of questionnaires to provide participants names of potential dating partners. It was noteworthy, because it was an innovation that filled an ever- present social need.

Today’s Campus Environment

For the past decade there has been a revolution in both attitude and support for students in higher education who wish to create new business startups.

All of the top universities now have on-campus organized support, including courses for students and faculty who want to start new businesses.

A February 24, 2024 article lists the 14 Best University Accelerators and Incubators for 2024.

Every listing is a top academic institution including Harvard, Duke, UT Austin to USC and UC Berkley.

Here is a description of MIT’s multi-option effort which is headlined with its $100k Pitch:

  • MIT delta v: An accelerator program that runs from June-Sept for MIT students with the ability to receive up to $20,000 in equity-free milestone funding.
  • MIT NYC Startup Studio: A startup studio in NYC for MIT students and alums with the ability to receive up to $20,000 in grant funding.
  • MIT Fuse: A 3-week micro accelerator for teams with at least one MIT student as a founder.
  • The MIT Entrepreneurship Club: A community that wants to help MIT students start companies and connect them with startup jobs. Watch my interview with them.

‍Amazon web services (AWS) now sponsors a nationwide competition for university based startups:   It’s no secret that some of the most successful startups were founded by members of the university community: from Ava Labs to Anyscale and InsightFinder, to name a few. At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we believe this is because students and faculty are often creative thinkers who are willing to take risks and collaborate with their peers—all essential qualities in a founder.”

“For current Harvard students, the Venture Incubation Program (VIP) within Harvard’s Innovation Lab fund is a 12-week program with mentoring and resources. Harvard’s Innovation Lab also hosts the President’s Innovation Challenge, where students can win funding money of up to $75,000 for a great idea. Judging criteria includes viability, empathy, rigor, ingenuity, traction, economics, and impact.”

The George Washington New Venture Competition (NVC)

Here in D.C. George Washington University sponsors an annual competition inviting students, faculty and their supporters to present business proposals and collect cash prizes and other forms of startup support and counsel.

Three finalists compete in one of four startup categories:

Consumer Goods & Services

Business Goods & Services

Social Innovation

Health Care & Life Sciences

Each finalist prepares a one-minute video of their business proposal.  There are immediate cash prizes plus additional consulting and funding support:

  • First place winners selected from these tracks will each win $10,000
  • 2nd place cash prize $7,500/track
  • 3rd place cash prize $5,000/track

Companies have one year to register as an LLC to claim the money.

To see these young entrepreneurs’ ingenuity, passion, and commitment I would encourage you to sample one or all of the 12 finalists’ sixty second  pitches which you can find here.   Several that were intriguing were Siyeh Tech’s entry to accelerate the “Speed of Peace” after conflict, In-Locater, and Goal Plus.

All of these business ideas are either conceptually complete, if not already in beta.   George Washington’s New Venture Competition is one of many in the higher education community.   This is not only an “educational” institution responding to students’ interests; in some the university benefits from partnering as startups go to scale backed with venture capital.

These competitions are not standalone events such as a campus springtime arts festival.   These programs are supported by courses, different “labs,” seminars and lectures on the art of pitch preparation and visits by university alumni speaking on their business success.

These educational innovations are helping to spark an ever-renewing stream of new business ideas with support systems intended to foster success. Students are encouraged to jump into the capitalist world and perhaps reap fame and fortune.

Simultaneously a parallel change for venturing has developed for college athletes. They can now receive income from their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) endorsements by private businesses.  Caitlin Clark is not only Iowa’s leading basketball player, but she also appears in commercials while her games are being broadcast.  She may be the first million dollar undergrad student-athlete.

And Credit Unions?

Unlike my era in college, higher education is an active participant in American enterprise.   What does this have to do with credit unions?

Cooperatives are missing in action.  Students are not learning about personal finance from credit unions.   Credit unions which have students in their FOM’s often see them as a secondary market opportunity.

Every company, professional sport franchise, consumer product, auto manufacturer etc. must resell its brand to the next generation of users.  Or face the prospect of going out of business. Product loyalty, like religious observance,  is not easily passed down in a family in today’s society of instant access and social media.

If credit unions miss this generation of college students, will they ever catch up as they move on in their careers and families?

In the 1980’s, NCUA played a very active role supporting new student led credit unions as described in this post.  That effort is missing today.

Credit union’s absence from college and university campuses feels like a missed opportunity for attracting this generation of self-help innovators and strivers.  How do coops become part of  this new enterprise engagement by student entrepreneurs?

A Valuable Source for Your Morning Economic Briefing

I recently subscribed to Reuters’ free daily Morning Bid U.S.  

It is a succinct summary of key rates, economic announcements for the day and selected articles about important events.  Today’s is the JOLTS report.

You can sign up here. It is one of 18 Reuters briefings.   The latest market updates are short and the commentaries accompanied by clear graphs.   Today also looks ahead tp Friday’s nonfarm payroll report for March.

A useful 60 second brief before reviewing the financial priorities in your credit union.

 

Easter Transformation

Before

My Easter Dove 

by Henrietta Cordelia Ray

There came a dove, an Easter dove, 
       When morning stars grew dim;
It fluttered round my lattice bars,
       To chant a matin hymn.

It brought a lily in its beak, 
       Aglow with dewy sheen;
I caught the strain, the incense breathed, 
       And uttered praise between.

It brought a shrine of holy thoughts 
       To calm my soul that day;
I caught the meaning of the note,
       Why did it fly away?

Come peaceful dove, sweet Easter dove! 
       Above earth’s storm and strife,
Sing of the joy of Easter-tide,
       Of light and hope and life. (1910)

After

Easter’s Freedom

In a famous passage of Paradise Lost, Milton’s God acknowledges that He could have created Adam and Eve without freedom. But what would there be to praise? “Not free, what proof could they have given sincere / Of true allegiance, constant faith or love, / Where only what they needs must do appeared, / Not what they would?” (Source: Legalizing the Resurrection)

Two Biblical Stories and Human Nature

Today is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. The day of the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in the Garden  of Gethsemane.

Events on this and subsequent days include two intense examples of human motivation not limited to strictly spiritual contexts.  Rather the story shows how any individual might react to events in their own life.

Prophets and Honor

Every social system has ways of recognizing the successful and the benefactors of their profession. In credit unions a major event is the Herb Wegner dinner, the occasion for presenting lifetime achievement awards to honor selected leaders.

These traditions salute individual’s values and/or performance that fulfill the goals of the industry: profit, service, innovation,  growth or even longevity.   Some goals are very tangible, others more qualitative.

Those Without Honors

But whose contribution does not get honored?   The topic is raised at least twice in the New Testament:

In Mark 6:4 Jesus said to the crowd, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”

And, in Luke 4:24 (English Standard Version 2016): “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”

Why this disbelief?  Does familiarity breed contempt?  Are we skeptical of any special insight let alone prophetic wisdom from persons we know well, have worked with over years. and who seemingly share the same experiences as everyone else?  Why should one peer’s views be trusted over another’s?

There is an inherent caution to see those among us, whom we know well, as having special insight versus merely expressing a different opinion.   Persons, often outsider who focus more on the message, are often more inclined to listen to these singular views.

Ordinary people can have extraordinary wisdom.  Sometimes their outspokenness make them unpopular with those in authority or leadership.   The “prophetic voice” is uncomfortable.  It challenges current shortcomings often with a passionate hope for a different future.  For those who are being challenged, this passion feels like anger.

I am not referring to the purveyors (often consultants) of innovation who promote operating improvements. The prophet’s concern is more deeply rooted in fundamental meaning and purpose.

The question for credit unions is, are there any prophetic voices challenging local or national priorities today?  Who might they be?  What is basis for their critique?

And if we can name none, what does that say about the state of our “movement”?  Has consensus trumped wisdom?

The Thirty Pieces of Silver

A second example routinely pulled from Maundy Thursday is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the Garden for 30 pieces of silver.

Think of how often this metaphor is used to accuse someone taking an action for monetary or other rewards seemingly to betray their personal beliefs.

Rev. Megan Brown takes a more nuanced view of Judas’ motivation:

“Judas was not a peripheral bystander, but one of the twelve, the inner circle of disciples who had accompanied Jesus in his ministry and in a shared, communal life together.

Surely Judas knew the implications of his actions. Surely, he knew that the chief priests and the elders were growing weary of this rabble rouser, Jesus, and that they wanted him gone. This exchange, and the kiss that follows later are ominous moments in the life of Jesus and his followers. They leave one wondering about Judas’ motivations. “

Judas was a believer. Some have interpreted his action as driven by deep disappoint that Jesus was not radical or bold enough in his Jerusalem journey.  The march from the Mount of Olives to the Temple should signal a rebellion against Roman rule, not a pacificist call to turn the other cheek.

Or, maybe he sensed that the multiple political forces mobilizing against this upstart rabbi from Nazareth were becoming too strong; so he decided to go to the other, more likely “winning” side.

Perhaps he was emotionally confused by the historical intensity of the Passover remembrance, the increasing crowd appeal of Jesus and the growing immanence  of a life-making choice.

What we know is that Judas deeply regrets his actions, attempts to return the silver coins and commits suicide.

Judas shows us the very human side of intense hope and belief. Is this a movement that will go in the directions I believe it should? Is there another option to this leader’s course of action? How does one express dissent if convinced current directions are not the best?

How many initial “reformers” give up their quest from exhaustion,  just to get on with life, and be comfortable with their peers?

Whether Prophetic Voice or Judas?

All movements have both personalities in their adherents.   We all might cite leaders who took courageous stands or whom we believe compromised their duty to their followers.

That is what makes leadership so critical, and often controversial.   It is also what makes public dialogue so vital.

We live in an era where there is continuing reinterpretation and debate after millennia about faith, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or just a value-centered life.   While many believe that truth, when proclaimed, is universal; even some would challenge that assumption.

The one common approach that all faith and other “movements” followers have ultimately taken to succeed, is to pursue these issues in community. People aligned with one another agree to listen and learn together how their differing perspectives can arrive at common purpose or priority.

The Necessity of Community

Scott Galloway has put the power of relationships in a much broader context in his precent post Mammal.ai.

“Within and across species, relationships are essential to surviving and thriving. . .

“Humans have speedballed the power of relationships. Physically we are weak, slow, and fragile, with mediocre senses and absurdly long infancies. Yet, thanks to our superpower of cooperation, we’ve dominated our environment and become the apex of apex predators. There are more birds in captivity than birds in the wild. . .

“We are wired to seek and sustain relationships and cannot survive without them. The future of the human race won’t turn on space travel or climate tech, but on our ability to attach to others. A sense that we matter, that we can call on and be called upon by others to ease burdens and celebrate joy.”

It is not coincidence that the last moments of Maundy Thursday’s Biblical events were spent in community.   Christians call it The Last Supper.

Music for Holy Week

Stabat Mater, by Antonio Vivaldi (1712). There have been many beautiful settings depicting the scene of the Mother of God standing in sorrow at the foot of the cross.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQpWwMkGtj4&t=228s)