Some Bright Spots Shine Through the Economic Gloom
Take for instance The Summit Federal Credit Union in Rochester, N.Y. CEO Mike Vadala said his $425 million credit union is concerned about whether his members will be able to continue to pay their loans after some local job losses, but generally speaking, Rochester has experienced little of the economic problems that are making news. A look at The Summit's financials supports that they haven't had much to worry about. Loans, shares and membership are up, while delinquent loans are an enviable 0.36% of total loans as of June 2008 and cost of funds is down. Return on assets is above peer average and growth in net worth, market share, assets and membership at The Summit bests its peers. Vadala also explained that the Visa initial public offering gave his bottom line a boost.
At the same time, kudos goes out to the credit union for continuing its charitable giving efforts and never having made staffing cuts.
Similarly, $4.4 billion America First Credit Union in Utah has not seen many of the problems that beset a down economy, but Executive Vice President John Lund added that there could be a lag time before troubles hit Utah. Here, too, NCUA reports back the executive's statements: delinquencies are at 0.86%, on par with its peers, yet ROA is nearly double its peers at 1.16% as of June 2008, and membership growth has soared over the last year. America First's membership growth was more than 7% each of the last three quarters of 2007, slipped some to 5.53% in the first quarter of 2008, but is back up 7.05% for the second quarter.
All this forward momentum came despite fairly recent restrictions in Utah state laws. That change caused it to switch to a federal charter only to subsequently lose the new field of membership it wanted to gain from a federal charter after a legal battle between the NCUA and the American Bankers Association. Lund said the situation was unfortunate and credit unions "need the ability to grow and progress."
According to Lund, America First's No. 1 concern is to keep its products in line with member needs. The credit union has made the wise move of adjusting payments for some deserving members and will be sticking by their members should they hit a rough patch.
Part of the credit union's service strategy includes the recent opening of the credit union's 80th branch, the first mission of which is to serve existing members then probe for new members. Aside from all the talk of Gen Y's tech savvy, the branch is not a dead venue. Yes, the younger generation wants to be able to do a lot online, but they also want to speak face-to-face with human beings at times. They want it all.
True, American First, one of the nation's largest credit unions, has vast resources, but smaller credit unions might find it an opportune time to invest in branches now while construction and land costs are depressed in many areas.
In addition to the economy, the corporate credit unions have been on the receiving end of some negative press as well this year. Still U.S. Central Federal Credit Union, despite the capital markets keeping the corporate's corporate extremely busy, is finding time to help out natural person credit unions beyond its primary liquidity function. U.S. Central is beefing up its work on the correspondent services side and partnering with mega-bank JP Morgan Chase. (U.S. Central did look at all their alternatives rather than dealing with a bank but noted that Chase and the credit unions don't operate in competing markets.)
Right now, the wholesale corporate is pushing through the process of educating credit unions on how easy it can be to engage the unbanked. U.S. Central is hoping this will assist credit unions in growing their share of the burgeoning Latino market, while providing more affordable services to the underserved.
The exposure could also prompt the unbanked using these services to trust their financial institution with more than just wire transfers back home. Not only are credit unions providing a safe haven for their paychecks and a financial education among the immigrant population, but credit unions stand to gain a bumper crop of members into the future.
The move also has a positive political impact. Credit unions can proudly don their white hats on Capitol Hill and in their home state capitals if they demonstrate how they are serving the underserved, and doing so at a steep discount from other providers underscores the purpose for their tax exemption.
Partnering with CUSOs can also expand a credit union's reach, leading to more business development opportunities. What could be more cooperative? And CUSOs are looking to expand credit unions' opportunities to serve their members and grow as well. For CU On-Line, the focus is technology with expansion beyond core processing to helping credit unions outsource some responsibilities (and expenses) like compliance, risk management, and disaster recovery. CUOL is looking at risk-based lending software, automated loan decisioning, e-deposits and providing an interface to online loan applications, among other things. All these can help credit unions to better serve their members and demonstrate their value.
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