Industry Leaders Study Service Alternatives Following Corporate Shakeup
*This article follows on Credit Union Times' special supplement Beyond Black Friday: The Future of Corporate Services.
The quandary of just how credit unions grapple with the new corporate structure and ensure service access from providers occupied the highest levels of industry leadership this week.
There was both optimism and gloom over just how industry segments could or will come together with plans to merge or recapitalize the weaker corporates, organize CUSOs or seek out new payments solutions.
CUNA announced that it will host a one-day, high level summit in early November to bring together a broad spectrum of industry interests and organizations ranging from healthy corporates and state leagues to NAFCU and CUNA councils to help chart the future of the corporate system.
Stressing the urgency in developing solutions together, CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney said a Midwest site, possibly Chicago, was being considered to develop a coordinated industry stance. NAFCU said it would join CUNA's summit as it presses to ensure products and services CUs receive from the corporate system continue to be available.
Both CUNA and NAFCU have said the ultimate determination of the size, scope and extent of the corporate system should be determined by CU member-owners.
While that discussion continued with ongoing appeals by CU public figures to avoid making "hasty decisions," healthy corporates and outside provider firms continued to make their case.
For instance, Bank of the West, one of California's largest and a longtime CU servicer, said it now stands ready to pick up any slack CUs might encounter as a result of the corporate restructuring.
"Bank of the West has been uniquely supportive of credit unions for more than 30 years," said James Kennedy, executive vice president of the $71 billion San Francisco bank. He emphasized that CUs benefit by having "alternatives to the large corporate credit unions, especially those which have recently been seized by NCUA."
The Texas Credit Union League again appealed for methodical calm and avoiding industry fragmentation as CUs consider myriad service options relating to Southwest Corp.'s future as a "bridge" corporate.
Dick Ensweiler, TCUL president/CEO, issued a statement saying that the NCUA and Southwest Corporate are wasting no time moving the process along and have demonstrated a commitment to transparency while a timeline for action is pending.
The NCUA and its newly appointed Southwest management team said an advisory panel comprising top CU leaders is being formed at the request of Southwest members, and so far 140 executives have volunteered.
John McKechnie, NCUA's director of public and congressional affairs, stressed that the Southwest panel is "not mandatory and will have no oversight" over operations.
Still, the league said the surprisingly large number of volunteers demonstrates the intense level of concern.
"Anyone who has spent any time in Texas will tell you that there's considerable passion around controlling one's destiny," Ensweiler said.
McKechnie said the Southwest leadership team would develop a plan "to integrate this council and establish a vision for Southwest services."
Asked if other bridge corporates would be following Southwest's lead in establishing advisory panels, McKechnie replied that both Members United and WesCorp may be doing the same. "Such a decision is between the corporate leadership team and the members," he said.
While the high-level discussions continued among the trades and the viable corporates, CUs themselves appeared to be cautiously moving ahead with their own plans. Many said they had taken steps month ago to switch item processing, funding and investment services out of both healthy and beleaguered corporates to other providers.
William Spearman, president/CEO of the $700 million Mid-Hudson Valley FCU of Kingston, N.Y., said while Mid-Hudson Valley maintains a deposit account at Mid-Atlantic Corporate, the paid-in capital requirement prompted his CU to seek out other providers. He signed up with Financial Services Inc. of Glen Rock, N.J., for item processing and other services.
Because of its size, Spearman's New York CU was able to negotiate good pricing on its clearing and investment business with vendors like FSI, he said, but smaller CUs are facing serious problems resulting from the Members United conservatorship and its altered structure.
"I am a director of the Credit Union Association of New York, and this is obviously something I am concerned about in ensuring the financial health of the small credit unions in our state," Spearman said.
That is why "collaboration is so important as we look to the work of our task force," Spearman said, referring to the formation of a CUANY panel last month to consider corporate options. Announcement of that task force, as well as one set up by the California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues, came within days of the NCUA Sept. 24 conservatorships.
A spokeswoman for CUANY said the panel's work has been preliminary in nature with the first meeting scheduled for Nov. 10.
"The task force is being charged with finding a cost-effective solution/strategy for replacing the essential services historically offered by corporate credit unions," she said. "To achieve that goal, the group will initially consider three alternatives: forming a CUSO that would handle day-to-day processing and provide investment counsel through an independent vendor, chartering a new corporate credit union, and negotiating a beneficial arrangement for credit unions with an existing corporate."
The guiding principle, she continued, is "unity among credit unions, preservation of the movement's cooperative structure, and adherence to the credit union mission and philosophy."
Other league managers from the East Coast and across the South said in the ensuing weeks they would be monitoring developments surrounding CUNA's summit and would communicate with members on what is taking place.
On the other hand, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association said it has no need to set up a task force since it has been well served by a healthy corporate, Mid-Atlantic of Middletown.
"Our members are pretty happy, and though they had to lay off some people and do some streamlining, they are in good shape," a PCUA spokesman said.
Elsewhere, however, the need remained to start looking at service options. As Paul Trylko, CEO of Amplify FCU in Austin, Texas, put it, "Most Texas credit unions are now immersed in their due diligence. We are all looking at potential solutions, while being cognizant that an industry wide solution may be in the offing."
He continued, "This is not always the most exciting aspect of the process, but it's definitely the most important. So, while NCUA and Southwest are beginning the advisory council process, we are reviewing our individual credit union's needs and what solution can best serve them."