CFOs Perched on Hot Seat
By HEATHER ANDERSON
Credit union chief financial officers are being asked to provide more reporting and education these days, often to the point that it gets in the way of their ability to actively manage their positions, said Pam Finch, CFO at Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union and chair of CUNA's CFO Council.
Industry losses have put CFOs on the defensive because regulators are asking for more detailed information, including metrics to support decision making.
"For some CFOs, this can be frustrating because we've been doing our job well for years," she said. "Rather than witness that we're managing risk in the financial reports, regulators now want to be shown that we know what we're doing."
That regulatory scrutiny has spilled over into supervisory committees and boards, which have significant reporting responsibilities of their own. Some volunteers weren't "tuned in" to financial reporting before the economy turned south, and others simply didn't understand it, she said.
Regardless, concerned board and supervisory committee members have turned to CFOs for reassurance and a source of education. Because credit union boards are representative of their membership, it's difficult to even find qualified volunteers that have the experience, education and background required to perform at the level expected today, she said.
Most CFOs welcome increased attention from board members and the chance to provide financial education, Finch said. However, these days CFOs are already stretched to the limit meeting the demands of regulators, CEOs and their own division's employees and middle managers.
The heat isn't hot enough to keep CFOs out of the credit union kitchen, though. Finch said she hasn't heard any financial executives say they fear for their jobs or worry about the legal ramifications of fiduciary responsibilities. However, she said she has noticed an increase in open CFO positions in credit unions and said that while some may have lost jobs due to performance, other financial executives are making career moves.
"The hot career tracks really depend upon the times," Finch said. "It used to be marketing, then it was lending, and now CFOs are the go-to people for CEO positions now. We're the ones who dig into and understand risk, and the more we know, the more we're looked to. It's both a blessing and a burden."
Credit union legal veteran Randy Moore said he has taken some calls from credit union clients concerned about their legal responsibilities regarding fiduciary duties and losses in the wake of the lawsuit against current and former employees and directors of Western Corporate Federal Credit Union. However, the partner in La Jolla, Calif.-based law firm Moore, Brewer, Jones, Tyler & North said he hasn't seen or heard of situations other than the WesCorp or U.S. Central FCU lawsuits that "suggest we have anything to be concerned about."
Directors aren't automatically on the hook for credit union losses, said Moore, who was formerly CUNA's Washington counsel. Even at WesCorp and U.S. Central, he said there wasn't anything different that happened there that didn't happen all over the rest of the financial system.
"The only two differences were that [WesCorp and U.S. Central] were the two largest elements of the credit union marketplace; and, I don't mean to suggest anything, but perhaps something happened there that triggered the NCUA to take control of them and not the other corporates," he said.
Credit union attorney Chris Robbins said his clients are requesting far more help in default proceedings against borrowers than defending their balance sheet strategies.
Fiduciary responsibility is "probably a concern" these days, he said, but it's more of an economic phenomenon than a legal issue.
"It's very simple. When times are good, members don't complain, but when things turn south, you typically see an increase in complaints against executives and officers in every industry," Robbins said. "It's just human nature that people get upset when they don't get the results they had hoped for."
Robbins, a partner in the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based firm Robbins Equitas, said he performs DNO insurance reviews annually for his clients, but they haven't requested purchasing additional coverage nor have insurers asked for more.
"It's still the same problem as always, still the same risks that have always been there," he said.