Investment Program Reconfiguration Fueled by Stabilization Frustration
What is clear, especially with retail investment programs, is the potential strain on the hiring of new representatives to keep pace with an increase in brokerage customers who have turned to credit unions for their financial planning needs, said Pete Snyder, president of Roseville, Calif.-based Snyder Consulting Solutions LLC, a firm that helps credit unions integrate investment and insurance service programs.
"Based on the input I'm getting, it goes without saying that the NCUA assessment has caused a significant amount of frustration at the organizational level because they say 'we didn't do anything wrong,'" Snyder said. A big piece of that irritation stems from strategic targets and budgets set in the fall for the upcoming fiscal year that now may need reconfiguring, he added.
"With this curve ball coming in, 70% to 80% of net income for 2009 is gone," Snyder said. "So, organizations have an extremely limited amount of flexibility to adapt."
In his conversations with credit union CEOs, Snyder said some are concerned about their ability to serve members effectively as result of the NCUSIF premium assessment. During a recent meeting, Snyder asked a CEO, "So, does this mean you scrap your [investment] program?" His answer was no, but it didn't alleviate any of the frustration he felt about hard choices that may have to be considered.
"Investment programs are not the kind of service you can unplug and plug," Snyder explained. "Credit unions knew this before going in, whether it's a managed program or dual program. It's not like adding a bell and whistle program."
The demand for more hand holding and longer financial planning sessions has called for an increase in the hiring of associate financial consultants, commonly known in the industry as junior reps, Snyder observed. Often, these staffers follow up on new referrals and are given client accounts that are less complex, allowing senior reps to maintain the current book of business, he said.
"One of the keys to viability for an investment model is the retention of existing accounts because it produces recurring revenue. Credit unions do that better than some brokers-retention."
As credit union trade groups and others pitch alternatives to the NCUA's plan to assess a share insurance premium to help fund a stabilization plan for corporate credit unions, Snyder said keeping an eye on the big picture is critical. The economic downturn has led to an increase in the hiring of investment reps at credit unions, Snyder added. Ironically, for some, service and support staffing tends to increase during a financial slump. To scale staff back now would close a window of opportunity for credit unions to bring in new business from former brokerage firm customers.
Indeed, there has been a noticeable demand in members paying more attention to their finances, which is a good thing, said Alison Chamlet, vice president of wealth management and retirement services at $1.2 billion Arizona State Credit Union. An uptick in the migration of Washington Mutual and Wachovia customers, some who are members of the credit union but didn't know an investment program existed, has presented a host of educational opportunities.
"We always focus on what is best for the members. I don't see [the corporate credit union stabilization plan] affecting the investment program," Chamlet said. "If anything, the economy will have more of an impact. We're doing a lot of hand holding. We're seeing such a great resurgence in credit unions."
Chamlet said David Doss, president/CEO of Arizona State CU, is among those who have been to Washington lately to show support for alternatives to what the NCUA has proposed to restore the corporate credit union system.
Meanwhile, Snyder said credit unions are hunkering down with the understanding that there may not be much wiggle room should something occur that could significantly impact their operations.
"There's very little flexibility. They're saying they may have to go into additional capital just to be able to meet their obligations or original targets. And, then the [assessment] is taking 70% to 80% net income right off the bat."