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 Credit Union Lesson from SVB and Regulation

In a news conference following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, President Kennedy remarked:  “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

The SVB’s failure proves this adage untrue.  The press and numerous pundits have already assigned multiple parentage: the CEO and management, the Fed’s rapid rate increases, regulatory and examination shortcomings, the external auditor’s clean opinion, the Silicon Valley customers $40 billion twitter run, Trump’s deregulation in 2018 and the Biden administration DEI policy objectives.

When everyone and everything is to blame, then no one is accountable.  Just another “black swan” event. With more investigations/hearings to come, each new revelation will just add to the piles of condemnations.  No lessons taken away.  More regulations of course, for this is the default response whenever the barn door is left open.

A Spotlight on One Factor

From all these commentaries, I want to highlight one aspect that contributed to overlooking this risky situation. This factor has just become a part of the credit union regulatory eco-system.

In responding to my analysis earlier this week, Doug Fecher, the retired CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union in Ohio, commented:

This situation makes me wonder if NCUA’s new “RBC” standards would have flagged the risks to SVB’s balance sheet. From what I can tell, much (most) of SVB’s investments were in “risk-free” treasury bonds and high quality agency securities, which in NCUA’s RBC formula would have earned some of the lowest risk multipliers.

To me it is another example of the folly of RBC-style risk management regimes … and why NCUA was wrongheaded in its pursuit of RBC.

This point of view is not limited to Doug’s observation.

During his time as Vice Chair of the FDIC, Thomas Hoenig challenged the agency’s reliance on risk-based capital requirements.  He questioned both the theory and practice, pointing to the lending distortions which contributed to banking losses during the Great Recession.

He wrote about the SVB failure in this commentary:

The regulator apparently relied on the bank’s risk-weighted capital standard for judging SVB’s balance sheet strength. Under the risk weighted system government and government guaranteed securities are not counted as part of the balance sheet for calculating capital to “risk-weighted” assets.

This allowed the bank to report a ratio of around 16%, giving the appearance of strongly capitalized bank. However, this calculation failed to account for interest rate risk in its securities portfolio or the risk of having a highly concentrated balance sheet. It misled the public, and apparently the regulators.

In contrast, if the regulator had focused on SVB’s ratio of equity capital-to-total assets, including government securities, the ratio falls to near 8 percent; and if they had calculated the ratio as tangible capital-to-assets (removing intangibles and certain unbooked loses from capital) the ratio would have fallen to near 5%.

What this would have disclosed to the world is that the bank’s assets could not lose 16% of their value before insolvency but only 5%, a stark contrast.

Had the regulator not relied on the misleading risk-weighted capital measure, it might have take actions sooner. A simple capital-to-asset ratio, tells the regulator and public in simple, realistic terms how much a money a bank can lose before becoming insolvent. The regulatory authorities need to stop pretending that their complex and confusing capital models work; they don’t.

RBC and Credit Unions: A First Birthday

RBC became the surrogate capital ratio for all credit unions with assets greater than $500 million one year ago on January 1, 2022.

Before this in a September of 2021 analysis, Why Risk Based Capital is Far Too Risky. Hoenig is quoted:

“A risk-based system  inflates the role of regulators and denigrates the role of bank managers. 

We may have inadvertently created a system that discourages the very loan growth we seek, and instead turned our financial system into one that rewards itself more than it supports economic activity.”

RBC and Asset Bubbles

Shortly after the critique of regulatory incentives induced by risk weighted assets, in Asset Bubbles and Credit Unions (JANUARY 10, 2022) the consequences from potential Fed tightening were noted:

When funding looks inexpensive and asset values stable or rising, what could go wrong?

The short answer is that the Fed’s inflation response will disrupt all asset valuations and their expected returns.

The distorted results  caused by RBC was presented in Credit Unions & Risk Based Capital (RBC): A Preliminary Analysis in February of this year.  Among the findings:

The 304 credit unions who adopted RBC, manage $822.7 billion in assets.  But the risk weighted assets total only $479 billion.  That 58% ratio is the NCUA’s discounting of total assets total by assigning relative risk weights. and,

One credit union with assets between five and ten billion dollars, reports standard net worth of 12.5% and an RBC ratio of 48.3%.  

This February analysis using June 2022 data of RBC credit unions showed that:

250 of these 308 credit unions reported unrealized declines in the market value of investments that exceeded 25% of net worth.   Four credit unions reported a decline greater than 50% of capital.  This was before the five additional Federal Reserve’s  rate increases through the end of the year. 

RBC’s primary focus is credit risk, the loss of value from principal losses from loans or other assets.  Balance sheet duration mismatch is not captured as are other common management errors:  concentration in either product or market focus, limited or no diversification of product or market, or  just simple operational mismanagement.

These common challenges become amplified by insufficiently considered non-organic growth forays such as third party loan purchases or originations. Whole bank acquisitions are an example of such risks often accompanied (disguised?} by growing amounts of the balance sheet’s intangible asset, goodwill.

The RBC proxy indicator for safety and soundness creates a distorted impression of real institutional risks.   Managers learn to game the system so that boards, members, and regulators fail to understand the institution’s total financial situation.

And when along comes a change in underlying assumptions, like the Fed’s rate increases, the previously unrecognized vulnerabilities quickly appear.

RBC creates for some institutions a theoretical capital ratio that is nothing more than a “regulatory  house of cards.”  SVB will not be the last example.

As Doug Fecher recommended in his 2016 comment letter on the proposed rule, “RBC should be a tool, not a rule.”

To his credit,  Kennedy learned from the Bay of Pigs misjudgments when the Cuban missile crisis occurred in 1962.



“The Public Purpose” of the Credit Union Cooperative System

In every new administration and most assuredly  following economic or other national crisis (Covid, natural disasters), the need to review governmental and agency responsiveness is raised.  Are changes needed?

Whether prompted by political priorities or  performance shortcomings, this is how existing policies are reassessed.

Another motivator is when market competition carries over to the political arena . Firms call out their rival’s more favorable regulatory  or tax status in their lobbying messaging.

In last week’s posts listed below, I noted the current absence of a policy framework at NCUA for the cooperative system.  I believe this leaves the system vulnerable to priorities set by others or to purely personal agendas.

The Reviews Begin

Last week the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced a review of the FHLB system.  FHFA, created in 2008, is the successor to the five person FHLB board.  This single administrator oversees the eleven FHLB’s and the conserved Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The assessment of the 90-year old FHLB’s $ 1 trillion assets is to determine if  its modern day activities fully match its original mission of supporting mortgage lending.

FHFA Director Thompson’s purpose is to ensure the banks “remain positioned to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.”  One outside observer noted: “The home-loan banks lack a well-articulated contemporary purpose.”

Similar to credit unions, the FHLB cooperatives are exempt from corporate federal, state, and local taxation, except for local real estate tax.  For individuals, all FHLB bonds are also exempt from state and local taxes.

Credit Union’s Tax Exemption On the Agenda

A month earlier on July 27, columnist David Bauman wrote how the GAO was urging the OMB to study tax expenditures,  a budget category that includes the credit union tax exemption.  Are numerous tax exempt organizations still fulfilling their mission?

Bauman points out  the Treasury Department estimated the credit union tax immunity will cost the federal government $25.3 billion between 2022 and 2031.  This issue he wrote is “part of an ongoing battle between the banking and credit union industries.”

Scrutiny Not a New Process

From 1981 through 1985, the credit union system was part of four national studies directed by the Regan administration.  These were in  response to record high inflation, unprecedented interest rates,  disintermediation, financial innovation and growing concerns with institutional solvency.  For example, the Penn Square Bank’s 1982 failure was the largest FDIC liquidation post WW II.

In addition to the normal inter-agency or industry councils such as the FFIEC, NASCUS and multiple studies such as CUNA’s CapitalizationCommission, NCUA’s Chair was directly assigned to these four government-wide  assessments.

  1. The Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee (DIDC) was a six-member committee established in 1980 by Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act passed on March 31, 1980. DIDC’s primary purpose was phasing out interest rate ceilings on deposit accounts by 1986.

NCUA Chairman Callahan was one of five federal depository regulators. Chaired by Treasury Secretary Regan, all banks and S&L’s were given until June 1987 to end all federal controls on deposits.

NCUA chose not to follow the banking group’s timetable, eliminating all regulations in one new rule in May 1982. The decision effectively gave credit unions a five-year head start in the new market-facing era for financial intermediaries.

  1. The Garn-St Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, known as the “Deposit Insurance Flexibility Act” mandated that the three regulatory agencies study their insurance funds and make any recommendations for future changes.

On April 15, 1983, NCUA forwarded its 71-page, five-chapter study containing four policy recommendations.  This study became the foundation for the NCUSIF’s financial redesign approved by Congress in The Deficit Reduction Act  signed by the President  on July 18, 1984,

In Chairman Callahan’s forwarding letter to the study he noted:  “For credit unions there are very clear answers to the issues raised by Congress.  This is because credit unions . . .have actual experience with the options and alternatives suggested. . .Our responses are based on historical facts and current operational realities rather than academic theories or untried options. The credit union experience with insurance has been substantially different from the other agencies and our recommendations accordingly reflect this unique heritage.”

  1. The Private Sector Survey on Cost Control(PSSCC), commonly referred to as The Grace Commission, was an investigation requested by President Ronald Reagan, authorized in Executive Order 12369 on June 30, 1982.

The focus was waste and inefficiency in the US Federal government. Its head, businessman J. Peter Grace, asked the members of that commission to “Be bold and work like tireless bloodhounds, don’t leave any stone unturned in your search to root out inefficiency.”

The Grace Commission Report was presented to Congress in January 1984.  The Report included this observation:   “NCUA Chairman Callahan is a role model for government agency executives.  In one year NCUA reduced Agency staff 15% and its budget, 2.5%, while maintaining their commitment to preserving the safety and soundness of the credit union industry.” (NCUA 1983 Annual Report, page 3).

  1. The Vice President’s Task Group on the Regulation of Financial Services was formed in late 1982. Treasury Secretary Regan, the five financial regulators, the Attorney General, Directors of OMB, chairs of the SEC and FTC and state regulators raised the total principals to thirteen. The Group was given one-year to make recommendations to address the challenges of the emerging financial markets after deregulation and the potential repeal the Glass Steagall Act.

A final report was issued in November 1984. The Group’s recommendations were summarized by John Shad, Chairman of the SEC, in a later speech. He closed saying:

The lines of demarcation between the financial service industries have eroded. These activities should be regulated, and permitted to compete, according to their functions, rather than outmoded industry classifications.  

NCUA and the independent cooperative system were not mentioned in the Group’s regulatory recommendations.

NCUA and credit unions thrived in this transformative period of rapid financial change and increased scrutiny by completing the institutional, regulatory and policy foundations for a separate, unique and sound cooperative system.

Why a Cooperative Policy Framework is Essential

Without a clearly stated understanding of credit union’s role, every government study above could have drawn credit unions into their macro policy recommendations.

Instead NCUA demonstrated its ability to develop, document  and implement  how the deregulated cooperative system was successfully meeting its public purpose role serving members.

The cooperative system’s soundness was based of the values of self-help, self funding, and democratic volunteer leadership.  The “moral hazard” concern from FDIC/FSLIC insurance of private financial ownership  was absent in  cooperative’s creation of “common wealth.”

Today the ability to articulate this purpose is missing.  Regulations, especially the recently imposed RBC/CCULR were defended as being virtually identical to bank capital requirements.  New charters are rarely issued raising the question of credit union relevance today.  Whole bank purchases are routinely approved by NCUA even though  this use of member savings would seem contrary to why a cooperative system was created.

Absent an awareness of cooperative history and precedents, policy pronouncements or priorities of board members may just seem  like comfortable generalities.

In Harper’ July 2022 investiture address, he reflected on his year and half tenure as Chairman:

In achieving each of these things (regulatory activities), we have followed a philosophy that should guide all financial services regulators. Specifically, we were fair and forward looking; innovative, inclusive, and independent; risk focused and ready to act when needed; and engaged appropriately with stakeholders to develop effective regulation and efficient supervision. This philosophy will continue to drive our actions in the years ahead.

Is this the regulatory understanding that credit union cooperatives are seeking?

Sooner or later credit union’s special identity will be challenged by some governmental or political process.

The cooperative system navigated the multiple reviews from 1981-1985  because NCUA and credit unions earned a reputation for trust, expertise, mutual respect, shared purpose and performance.  This achievement was recognized by the industry and throughout the executive and legislative branches of both state and federal government.

NCUA Chairman Callahan in the Agency’s 1984 Annual Report observed:  The only threat to credit unions is the bureaucratic tendency to treat them, for convenience sake, the same as banks and savings and loans.  This is a mistake, for they are made of a different fabric.  It  is a fabric  woven tightly by thousands of volunteers, sponsoring companies, credit union organizations and NCUA-all working together. (page 3) 

Should  the movement aspire for anything less in this time?



Risk Based Capital: A Timeless Analysis

This Jim Blaine classic post is an analysis of the distortion of the Federal Credit Union Act by  NCUA when imposing Risk Based Capital on credit unions. Board Member McWatters voted against the proposed and final rule stating NCUA lacked the authority for the regulation.

These critiques are even more relevant as NCUA continues to expand its interpretation by adding a CCULR capital option to RBC in December 2021.  The lack of legislative authority to do so was detailed in this analysis.

These critiques are important if future corrections are to be undertaken to credit union’s RBC/CCULR regulatory morass.  The following is Blaine’s original critique.


Risk-Based Capital: Commenting on Your Future -OVERRIDING CONGRESS!

(originally published 3/26/2014 and again July 15, 2016)
… in which NCUA moves from rule making to lawmaking!
Really can’t believe this !

Little different tack today in terms of reviewing NCUA’s member-punitive and professionally embarrassing proposed, risk-based capital (RBC) regulation.  

We have taken a look at how NCUA’s “we-know-better-than-everybody-else-despite-our-track-record” approach to RBC will 1) deter member mortgage lending, 2) damage MBL lending, and 3) severely limit safe CU investments, forcing unnecessarily lower savings returns on CU members.  All proposed with utter disregard for the new, lower RBC standards now already in place for all other federally insured depository institutions. 

Today let’s look at how NCUA has decided to independently override the U.S. Congress and federal law with the new RBC proposal.  Have always noted how proud NCUA was of being “an independent agency of the Federal government”, but it had never occurred to me that NCUA believes it is independent of Congress – and above the law.

Congress is such a bother to
an independent federal Agency!

Here’s how NCUA intends to override Congress. In Section 216 of the 1998 Credit Union Membership Act (“HB 1151”), Congress specifically and purposefully wrote into the Federal Credit Union Act (FCUA) a series of mandatory “net worth” categories and prompt corrective action (PCA) requirements.  Congress defined statutorily that a credit union was “well capitalized” if its net worth was >7%, “adequately capitalized” if its net worth was >6% but <7%, etc – five categories in all. Congress wrote into the FCUA statute a very, very clear definition of “net worth” – nothing accidental nor haphazard about what Congress meant by “net worth”, nor how it was to be used to determine CU capital levels. 

NCUA through a sleight-of-hand (which they hope you won’t notice!) has rewritten the Congressional definition of “well-capitalized” for CUs. 

Let’s take a look at the proposed RBC reg:

NCUA is becoming
 thoroughly Pinnochioan …

“The proposal would change the title of Sect. 702.102 from “Statutory net worth categories” to “Capital classifications”.  NCUA believes that replacing the term “net worth” with the general term “capital categories” better describes the combined “net worth ratio” and “risk-based net worth” measurements that make up the five categories listed in the statute.  Moreover, the term “capital” is generally more inclusive of all accounts available to pay losses than the term “net worth” and is more commonly used in the financial services industry. No substantive changes to the requirements of Sect. 216(c) are intended by these changes in terminology.” 

 “[Several sections of 216] of the

“It’s growing…!!

 Federal Credit Union Act (FCUA) use the term “risk-based net worth” requirement, NCUA believes that replacing the term “risk based net worth” with the functionally equivalent term “risk-based capital” in the proposed rule would better describe the equity and assets the requirement would measure.  No changes to the requirements of the statute are intended by the alternative term…”

NCUA’s RBC comes with
strings already attached…

Now I’m sure that didn’t make any sense at all to most of you, because you’re nice, reasonable straight-forward kind of folks – unlike the folks  who wrote this proposed regulation. So, let’s break it down

Under current law:  Credit unions with net worth > 7% are “well capitalized”.  Under the current risk-based net worth (RBNW) formula, if a credit union is determined to be “complex”, it may be required to hold additional capital (none of even the 25 largest CUs are required to hold capital above their statutory net worth and most are not complex under current RBNW standards).

Under the proposed reg:  NCUA unilaterally has 1) decreed that all CUs with assets > $50 million are complex! No test, no evaluation – as now required by the FCUA – to determine if a CU is simple or complex.  NCUA simply changes a Congressionally approved law to make you complex regardless of your balance sheet risk; and then since you are complex(!), NCUA imposes its new RBC regime requirements on your CU.

Weaseling Congress !
(… robustly !!)

Here’s the weasel, NCUA is attempting to change the Congressionally legislated definition of  “well capitalized” to:

“To be well-capitalized a credit union must maintain a net worth ratio of 7% or greater and, if a complex credit union, (which NCUA has defined as all CU with assets >$50 million) must have a risk based capital ratio of 10.5% or greater…”  

NCUA’s proposed RBC reg flies in the face of express Congressional intent under the FCUA. You can always spot a weasel when you read phrases like:

1. “… replacing the term “net worth” with the term “capital categories” better describes…” – That’s a Weasel!
2. “… no substantial changes … are intended…” – That’s a weasel!
3.  “… replacing the term “risk-based net worth” with the functionally equivalent term “risk-based capital”… – That’s a weasel!
4. “… the term “capital” is generally more inclusive… and is more commonly used in the financial services industry …” – That’s a weasel!
5. Changing “if you are complex” to “you are complex”… – That’s a weasel!
6. “… no changes to the requirements of the statute are intended…” – That’s a weasel!

Shouldn’t we – on behalf of our 100+ million member-owners – demand that Congress make changes, if necessary, to credit union statutes, …

… and not have to deal with these weasels?


The Supreme Court,  The Administrative State and NCUA’s RBC/CCULR Rule

The new RBC/CCULR net worth rule is the most comprehensive, intrusive and costly regulation ever passed by NCUA.

The agency’s staff’s initial estimate of the funds now restricted from increasing member value is over $24 billion. From  their December 2021 board presentation:

Under the CCULR, if all 473 credit unions opted into the CCULR and held the minimum nine percent net worth ratio required to be well capitalized, the total minimum net worth required is estimated at $111.8 billion, an increased capital requirement of $24.3 billion over the minimum required under the 2015 Final Rule. 

This is a minimum 30% increase of capital, restricting its use for members, and imposed just nine days after the rule’s printing in the Federal register.

RBC/CCULR is both procedurally and substantively deeply flawed. Instead of implementing the  legislative intent that PCA be applied to a limited number of “complex” credit unions, the regulation passed covers 85% of all credit union assets.

But what can be done especially as the NCUA board composed of different philosophies approved the rule 3-0?

A Future Opening

The recent Supreme Court 6-3 ruling in the West Virginia v. EPA case suggests there is another opportunity to withdraw the rule or to challenge its validity.

The EPA case is about much more than regulating pollution.  The 89 page opinion is here.

As summarized in a New York times article:

It . . . signals that the court’s newly expanded conservative majority is deeply skeptical of the power of administrative agencies to address major issues facing the nation and the planet.

Chief Justice Roberts, employing the phrase for the first time in a majority opinion, said it applied in cases of unusual significance and was meant to address “a particular and recurring problem: agencies asserting highly consequential power beyond what Congress could reasonably be understood to have granted.”

Another account of the decision in The Hill explains the broader significance of the Court’s reasoning:

In reaching its conclusion, the court relied on the controversial “major questions doctrine.” The major questions doctrine is a relatively new interpretative maxim that directs courts to presume that Congress does not intend to vest agencies with policymaking authority over questions of great economic and political significance.

Only Congress’s “clear statement” that it did intend to confer the claimed authority can overcome this presumption. When a court employs this maxim, it reads statutes narrowly, stripping the agency of the power to address the major question that the statute, on its face, gives the agency the authority to address.

Unsurprisingly, the main focus of the media, scholars and the public is on the consequences of the court’s move for the size and contours of the federal administrative state.  . . 

The impact of the court’s ruling on federal agency authority and power cannot be overstated.

A lawyer friend when asked,  opined: “what I’ve read about it suggests the Court is going to take a very restrictive view when assessing agency claims of regulatory authority (effectively dispensing with Chevron deference).  When the authority to regulate is clear, I have no idea how much discretion the agencies will be afforded when exercising that authority.  I’m not sure what category the RBC rules fall into.”

The  RBC/CCULR rule’s flaws include the following;

  • The agency provided no “substantial objective evidence” that the system’s capital levels were inadequate under the existing RBNW rule. Staff admitted that only one troubled credit union in the past ten years would have been subject to RBC’s higher net worth ratio.
  • The agency wrongly applied the “comparable” standard to implement a clone of bank regulations. This approach clearly contradicted the statutory intent that RBNW cover only an identified small number of “complex” credit unions that presented unusual risks. As staff confirmed in its board action memo: A special note that most, if not all, of the components of the CCULR are similar to the federal banking agencies’ CBLR.
  • There was no statutory authority for a CCULR option which Congress, in legislation, authorized only for banking regulators.
  • Nine days for implantation violates the “reasonable period of time” statutory requirement for a change in PCA capital levels.
  • The rule imposes significant financial harm to members by reducing the value they receive,  beginning with the $24 billion staff estimate. That is just the initial number. It will grow every year.
  • The compliance burden is unreasonable. It mandates a one-size-fits-all mathematical capital formula for every credit union independent of hundreds of individual risk circumstances.

A Way Out of the RBC/CCULR Morass

Credit unions can sue the agency for the substantive violations noted.  But that takes years and the harm done members will just continue in the meantime.

The most feasible course of action will be for a more informed NCUA board, responsive to the needs of credit union members, to use this Supreme Court precedent to withdraw the rule entirely.

That will require leadership, courage  and insight from current or future board members.   The first test is to ask the sitting members their views on this deregulation opportunity.

What would Hood, Harper and Hauptmann say in response to this Supreme Court interpretation?

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.








Subdebt: The Fastest Growing Balance Sheet Account for Credit Unions

Outstanding subdebt (subordinated debt) for  credit unions grew 51% in 2020 to total $452.1 million.  In 2021 the increase was 109% and with credit unions reporting  $938.9 million.

The number of credit unions using this financial option grew from 64 in 2019 to 104 credit unions at December 2021.  The total assets of these credit unions was $96 billion or about 5% of the industry’s yearend total.

A Product with Many Facets

This financial instrument has many characterizations. Subdebt is reported as a liability, that is a borrowing, on the credit union’s books.  But because of the structure of the debt, NCUA considers it to be capital when calculating net worth for RBC-CCULR and all low-income credit unions.

Subdebt can be sold to other credit unions as well as outside investors. Purchasers perceive it to be an investment, but technically it is a loan to the credit union which makes  it as an eligible “investment”  for credit unions to hold.

“A Watershed Moment”

Earlier this month Olden capital announced the largest placement yet: a $200 million borrowing sold to 41 investors including credit unions, banks, insurance companies and asset managers.

The process as described in the release required: The coordination of a team that included leaders from the credit union, investment bankers, lawyers, other consultants and service providers. . . Olden labelled it “a watershed moment, notable for its size and breadth.

Certainly considering size that is an accurate statement.  This one placement exceeds 40% of the total of all 2021 debt issuance.  Credit union demand is certainly picking up and more intermediaries are getting into the business to arrange transactions.

Olden did not name its client, although the purchasers were aware that it was Vystar Credit Union.

Why the Rapid Subdebt Growth?

This borrowing is a form of “Buy Now, Pay Later” capital for credit unions.   The terms of the debt are generally ten years with no repayment the first five, and level amortization of 20% each in the remaining years.

The interest paid is based on several factors including market rates and the credit union’s overall financial position.

Traditional credit union capital comes only from retained earnings. Maintaining well capitalized net worth means that comes only  from earnings means the process places a “growth governor” on a credit union’s balance sheet.

By raising subdebt this organic “growth governor” is removed in the short term.  Some credit unions have been bold to say that their intent is to use the newly created capital for acquisitions.  Both VyStar and GreenState ($60 million in subdebt) have been active buyers of whole banks.

The overnight increase in the well capitalized net worth category from 7% to 9% by NCUA on January 1, 2022 is also causing credit unions to look at ways to comply with this higher requirement.

Others believe it will help them accelerate investments that might otherwise be spread over several years.

Getting into the Leverage Business

Because subdebt has a price, unlike free retained earnings, and its function as capital is time-limited, its use requires increased asset growth to be cost effective.

It refocuses credit union financial priorities from creating member value to enhancing financial performance through leverage.   This leverage requires both increased funding and  matching earning assets to achieve a spread over the costs of these increased funding.  Buying whole banks is an obvious strategy to accomplish both growth goals at once.

The Unintended Consequences

The use of subdebt as a source of capital was provided as a sop to help credit unions meet NCUA’s new higher and much opposed RBC capital standards.

The irony is that its use will entail a more intense focus on balance sheet growth to pay the cost of this new source of net worth.  Unlike retained earnings, the benefit is only for a limited period.

The event will impose a new set of financial constraints or goals that have no direct connection with member well being.  It converts a credit union’s strategy from “member-centric” to maximizing balance sheet financial performance.

In later blogs I will explore some financial model options for subdebt, the transaction costs and other factors in its use.

One of the most important needs at the moment is for greater transparency for individual transactions.

These are ten-year commitments that may exceed the tenure of the managers and boards approving the borrowings. The financial benefits and impact on members will  not be known for years.  This is  especially true when the primary purpose is to acquire capital as a “hunting license” to  purchase other institutions.

This rapid and expanded use will have many consequences for the credit union system, some well-meant, others unintended.   It is a seemingly easy financial option to execute that the cooperative system will need to monitor.

RBC Update: 257 Credit Unions in NCUA’s “Hotpot”

In two weeks, credit unions will be able to calculate their newly imposed capital ratios.  Three different calculation requirements are now in effect.

Using yearend 2021 data, there are 212 credit unions over $500 million that will likely have to use RBC (risk based capital) because they had net worth below 9% at December 31.  Another 45 credit unions between $400 and $500 million reported net worth below 9%.  They will be subject to RBC when their total assets exceed $500 million.

This total of 257 credit unions is probably the minimum number as credit union share growth is usually seasonal, concentrated in the first four months of the year.  That is, assets will increase faster than capital can be earned at the same pace.

RBC’s Impact

RBC has still not hit home for some. These credit unions are telling members they are well capitalized because they exceed the 7% net worth level. Those so doing often fall short of the new 9% minimum.

The impact of RBC is best described with the boiling frog analogy.  A frog put in boiling water will immediately jump out. But put the frog in a pot of cold water, slowly raise the temperature and the frog will hot-pot to death.

Many large credit unions view RBC similar to  a pond Kermit.  As the RBC multiplex calculations slowly engulf quarter by quarter many will find themselves in unfathomable amounts of  creeping normality.

Some will immediately jump to the seeming sub debt life preserver to stay above the 9% threshold.   Soon they will realize that  option itself requires more leverage just  to  breakeven.  Sub debt  just made the water deeper and harder to jump out of the pan.

RBC and NCUA’s Record of Risk Analysis

In an April 30, 2010 speech to the Illinois Credit Union League 80th Annual Convention Chairman Matz  offered these remarks on the corporate crisis:

“Let me start by assuring that I fully recognize the legitimate anger many of your feel.  The anger has come through loud and clear. . .I have heard directly about the pain you have felt. I know that many of you blame NCUA: After all, two examiners were on-site at US Central and WesCorp.  NCUA definitely shares some of the blame (and then comes the big qualifier) but there is plenty of blame to go around.”

What she forgot is that the regulator’s role is because crises are to be expected.  And when they occur, to be managed prudently.

The Irony of the RBC rule which is supposed to “protect the insurance fund” is that NCUA is often the source of the problem.  As one veteran CEO observed:

“All the losses -excluding a relatively low level of cu management  fraud – that NCUA has incurred is the result of errors in risk analysis by NCUA. They don’t like to acknowledge that fact, but the logic is inescapable.

By decreeing that most assets are now in complex credit unions, the industry is far more subject to the whims of a less than stellar team of NCUA executives who are increasingly enthralled by the “predictive” accuracy of astrologically and phrenologically based statistical models.”

The most catastrophic error in risk analysis is the Corporate crisis referred to by Chairman Matz. NCUA is now projecting a minimum of $5.7 billion in recoveries from the corporate AME’s.  Over $1.2 billion is still due shareholders of the four corporates.

This is the exact opposite result projected for years after the conservatorship when total costs of $13.5 to $16 billion  were estimated by NCUA.  The agency never revealed their analysis always referencing the results of their “engaged securities expert, Black Rock.”

 Learned Helplessness and the Actions of Others

With RBC it is easy to slip into a state of “learned helplessness.” That is  behavior exhibited when a person is repeatedly exposed to negative stimuli beyond their control.  Think regulatory burden.

The term describes experiments in which humans subject to loud noises, did nothing. seemingly helpless to change.

Not all the human participants responded the same way. Many blamed themselves for “failing,” but others blamed the way the experiment was framed. They knew it set them up for failure. In other words, not everyone is equally susceptible to learned helplessness.

Those who do not become passive when confronted with apparently uncontrollable situations are because they see others act with courage, overcoming difficult odds.  These leaders actions inspire others not to give up.

There is an initial segment of 257 credit unions who will be subject to the sophistry and real burden of RBC.  Some will throw in the towel, some will try to comply, and others will look for an “out” such as RBC or shrinking the balance sheet.

The hope is that most will have the courage and resilience to persevere until wiser heads prevail in Alexandria.

The President and NCUA Board Members Provide their States of the Union

Today’s post includes excerpts from the speeches of the three board member at the GAC conference in DC this week.

At the same time President Biden gave his administration’s agenda update, NCUA board members were given the opportunity to share their leadership perspective with thousands of credit unions in person at CUNA’s GAC.

Whether their remarks are described as a “state of the industry,” “regulatory update,” or even a “future vision,” I thought about topics they might  address.

My focus was on issues that would most directly affect credit unions and their members.

Will their remarks offer insight?  Will they enhance the credit union brand? What are their priorities? Their tone: concerned or upbeat?  Words to be remembered or quickly forgotten?

How might the extraordinary role of credit unions with members during the two years of the Covid economic crisis be celebrated? And the movement’s political standing enhanced?

Below is my “listening” list with any relevant comment by a board member.  The link to their speeches are on NCUA’s website.

My GAC Topic Checklist

  1. Why the Board decided to implement the new three-part RBC/CCULR capital requirement within days of being posted in the Federal Register. The rule immediately restricted use of over $26 billion in credit union reserves and required $4-6 billion more in additional capital to avoid the RBC regulatory burden. What was the evidence of a capital adequacy shortfall in the system?

Board Member comments:

  1. What are board members’ views of mergers of long standing, well-run, and well-capitalized credit unions that result in fewer choices for members and reduce the movement’s financial diversity?

Board Member comments:

  1. Do board members believe that members’ collective savings compiled over decades should be used to pay off bank owners at premium prices in whole bank purchases? If yes, what should members be told in advance about this expenditure of their reserves?

Board Member comments:

  1. What do board members believe will be the consequences of low-income designated credit unions’ (LID) increasing reliance on subordinated debt from outside investors to comply with higher new capital requirements and for “acquisitions”?

Board Member comments:

  1. How will the agency’s two-year experience with remote exams and work from home impact agency costs and effectiveness? Will future staffing needs be lessened?

Board Member comments:

  1. Is there a special role for the not-for-profit, tax exempt $2.2 trillion cooperative system in American finance? If so what is it?   Or should credit unions be part of a level regulatory playing field?

Board Member comments:

  1. When will the credit union shareholders of the four corporate AME’s  $1.2 billion surplus, receive their final payment as the NGN program ended in June 2021?

Board Member Comments:

  1. Would board members encourage an enhanced democratic member governance role in cooperatives especially at the annual meeting’s election of directors? Would NCUA consider developing a cooperative scorecard, with the industry, to enhance awareness and better implementation of the seven principles?

Board Member comments:

  1. As individual board members frequently voice a commitment to transparency, when will details of the NCUSIF NOL modeling and the Cotton accounting memo be public so credit unions can understand the logic behind NCUA’s financial decisions? Both are subject of FOIA requests.

Board Member comments:

  1. Are there any areas where the agency is willing to work collaboratively with credit unions to develop better solutions such as a wider role for the CLF, a more supportive new charter process, or even succession planning resources?

Board Member comments:

  1. Please share your vision for the future of credit unions given the their record setting performance during the Covid economic shock and recovery?

Board Member comments:

My Summary

Obviously my list and board member priorities differ.   None commented on any of these topics directly.

The themes from the talks included fintech partnerships, crypto and block chain’s future, and an important insight from Chairman Harper:  Leaders of this industry, like all of you gathered here today, should prudently use your hammers to positively affect the financial prospects of all your members.

Harper did not explain the credit union hammers he was referring to.  He made clear the agency would use its hammers for increased consumer compliance. “However, the logic that credit unions do not discriminate because they are owned by their members is a dangerous myth and one that should end.”

If my topics for board members are not yours, it just shows every person has their meat or their poison.   Skim the talks.   They may respond to  your interests or not.

They do however provide an insight on each board member’s view of the industry and his role as a regulator.  And maybe you should go out and buy some hammers!




RBC/ CCULR: “The Fruit of a Poisonous Tree”

One commentator on the rule which went into effect on January 1, wrote me:

“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. . .

Increasing the regulatory capital erodes competitive positioning opportunities and makes it harder for credit unions to fulfill their chartered mission.

The other factor is the low interest rate environment.  You can’t accrete capital fast enough by just growing assets anymore. . .   This regulation is a death warrant for credit unions between $400 million and $1 billion.  . . .”

How much is this initial tax to be CCULR compliant?

Between $30-40 billion  of sequestered existing reserves or required new capital to be at 9%.  That assumes no capital buffer is added.  This total will be approximately double the industry’s total net income in 2021.

Two others wrote after reading Three Strikes a RBC/CCULR Should be Out:

Why didn’t someone sue?

I’m not hearing a peep out of CUNA or NAFCU over this change.

The Grass Roots Effort in 2015

The December 2021 RBC/CCULR rule was the fifth formal rule-making effort spanning an eight-year period.  The initial proposal was so badly put together the agency concluded that: After carefully considering the comments of stakeholders, Chairman Matz in September (2014) announced that the agency would make significant structural changes to the proposal and issue a revised proposed rule for a second comment period.” (NCUA 2014 Annual Report pg 12)

The final rule was proposed in January 2015.  At that year’s GAC convention, credit unions were urged to Raise Their Voice in opposition to the rule.

With a booth encouraging action:

Despite widespread, continued credit union opposition, the Board approved RBC in a 2 to 1 vote  in September 2015 with McWatters opposed.  Ironically, NCUA’s 2015 Annual Report’s theme, “The Year of Regulatory Relief” was a PR fantasy.

So onerous was the rule that implementation was deferred  for more than three years until January 1, 2019 to: provide ample time for affected credit unions to choose to generate more capital while continuing to maintain their current portfolios, reduce risk, or execute some strategic combination of the two.”

In October, 2018, the Board approved a one year further delay in implementation. It raised the definition of complex in the rule from $100 to $500 million in assets, removing 1,026 credit unions from its requirements.

In 2019 the Board passed another delay of two years until January 1, 2022, described as a “win for credit unions.

The fifth time was the charm.  By a vote of 3-0 in December, 2021, the board passed RBC and CCULR with only a nine-day lead time before becoming effective on January 1, 2022.

The Illusory Truth Effect

One of the realities of public discourse is that when something is repeated often enough, people begin to think it is true.  Especially if the misstatements are by persons in authority.

Credit unions filed 2,056 comments in opposition to the 2014 proposal. They filed just 21 responses to the new CCULR/RBC rule.

Was the low response due to regulatory fatigue?  Did NCUA just outlast the widespread industry opposition? Perhaps.

I believe the pattern of reissuing, modifications and extensions all created the impression that the rule was both necessary and legal.  It was neither.

It is an example of an “illusory truth effect” created by NCUA’s off and on again eight-year rule making campaign.

The agency had five different chairs in these eight years with no consistent policy process. This elongated effort created a regulatory “myth” distorting credit unions’ true capital adequacy and  full compliance with  PCA requirements.

Under 22 years of RBNW guidance, the agency summoned credit unions’ self-determined capital management,  The  result was a 3.5% average net worth ratio above the 7% minimum.  RBC/CCULR imposed a new, higher 9% standard by fiat.

The New Rule’s Failings

  • The agency provided no “substantial objective evidence” that the system’s capital levels were inadequate under RBNW. Staff admitted that only one failed credit union in the past ten years would have been subject to RBC’s additional capital.
  • The agency wrongly used the “comparable” standard to implement a clone of bank regulations. This approach clearly contradicted the statutory intent that RBNW cover only a select small group of credit unions that represented unusual risks. As staff stated in its board memo: A special note that most, if not all, of the components of the CCULR are similar to the federal banking agencies’ CBLR.
  • There was no statutory authority for a CCULR option.
  • Nine days for implantation violates the “reasonable period of time” requirement for a change in PCA capital levels.
  • Harm to members will be real. Over 500 credit unions will now be burdened with immediate RBC compliance.  They must limit asset growth or charge members more to take the so-called CCULR “off ramp.”
  • The compliance burden is immense. Completing the final five pages of information in the revised 32 page quarterly call report is required to compute this one RBC ratio.

Who Will Raise the Issue Now?

Credit unions’ initial response could be to give up any effort to change.  Just attempt to live with it.  Or merge.  The reporting and tracking burden is so intense that NCUA has launched a 90-day period of  industry webinars, examiner training and printed guidance.  It has waived late filing fees for March.

At a time of rising interest rates, inflation, cyber worries, members’ economic uncertainty and continued technology disruption, credit unions are learning to fill out a new form.  Five pages of data to calculate a single ratio.

Once this one ratio result is known, credit unions must then decide how to conform all of their decisions to this rule that rates the risk of every asset choice they make.

This rule was a leadership failure from the top down. To change will require action from the grassroots up.

First Stop: GAC

A rule promulgated  to enhance the future viability of the credit union system will have just the opposite effect.  It reduces competitive options immediately.

Every credit union attending GAC can inform and rally peers, trade spokesmen, congressional contacts and the press about this unwarranted burden.  Examples are critical; do the homework. Know your ratio and the choices you now must make to counter the rhetorical myths others may use to support the rule.

Press your case publicly-see the booth picture above.  Privately, ask NCUA board members to see the consequences and change the rule before more harm is done. Board members Hood and Hauptman stated their responsibility for the rule’s consequences:

Hauptman: The Board intends to monitor the impact of CCULR and RBC on credit unions and the Share Insurance Fund going forward. I look forward to working with my Board members next year and the year after on quantitative analysis on a cost and benefits of our current approach to RBC and CCULR.

Why not begin this year?

Why This Matters

One of the unique features of credit unions is their democratic governance. Whether in the oversight of the credit union via the board or in interactions with the regulator, democracy is fragile.  It requires constant practice, renewal and involvement.

This rule is so obviously wrong from  many perspectives that it is hard to understand how it got this far.  But the internal appeal of governmental authority is strong, especially clothed with good intent.

The authority asserted in this rule is total, every asset and maturity decision now comes with a regulators’ risk rating.  NCUA staff and board seem blissfully unaware of how this will impact credit unions.  Somehow it is supposed to make the insurance fund stronger!

Changing this outcome will require an all hands and all voices effort.  But then democracy was never meant to be a spectator sport.

And I will continue to do so!