The NCUA announced its budget increase at the last board meeting much to the dismay of the industry that supports it financially. While some acknowledged additional spending might be necessary to handle problem credit unions and the corporates, others were downright-I'll clean it up-mad.
The day after the board meeting, NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker sent a letter to the NCUA that "seriously questioned" whether more than $1 million worth of paintings, furniture replacement and bathroom upgrades were 100% necessary at a time when credit unions are so badly hurting. He also pointed out that the NCUA has a higher ratio of examiners to assets than the FDIC, which supervises more complex institutions.
The 2011 NCUA budget equals approximately 2.1 basis points. That is on top of the anticipated 20-35 basis point assessment for 2011. Credit unions' ROA according to the NCUA's own third-quarter statistics was at 45 basis points. How can credit unions survive at this rate?
One element that would be helpful is a return to public annual budget hearings. The agency is always free to do what it wants, but at least with the hearings, industry representatives had a chance to be speak. Sometimes changes were even made because the board and staff took into account the public input.
The NCUA was required to give its employees who are part of the National Treasury Employees Union a 6.1% pay increase. "At a time when the country is at war and the soldier who just won the Medal of Honor for risking his life to save his comrades can only look forward to a 1.9% pay raise, it is outrageous that the NCUA is raising salaries at a higher rate," Becker said.
The NCUA-NTEU is at the end of its three-year lifespan. Perhaps more appropriate arrangements can be made this time around. Particularly as report after report has been coming out of the NCUA's inspector general criticizing the agency on everything from WesCorp to computer security to the losses at 10 failed credit unions.
The IG wasn't picking out obscure details either. Recommendations in this last report included improving guidance to examiners on assigning CAMEL ratings to credit unions that implement revised business plans and reemphasizing the examination guidance for third-party relationships. If the NCUA and state examiners had been more aggressive in their oversight of 10 failed credit unions, losses to the NCUSIF could have been stopped or mitigated, according to the IG's report. Those are credit unions' funds being paid out, too.
Every organization can improve, but this is a lot of major problems. By the time you'll be reading this, Chairman Matz will be testifying before Congress on these matters.
What might help the agency with the budget concerns is President Obama's proposal last week for a two-year federal government employee pay freeze. The FIRREA agencies are not typically required to follow regular government pay guidelines, but the NCUA and others may choose to present a united front with the rest of the government. Chairman Matz is of the same political party as President Obama and may be wise to curry favor with him. The agency isn't confirming anything until details are released by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management.
It also would not hurt agency relations with credit unions to trim a million or two from the budget. I'm not suggesting the agency should do anything simply to improve relations with the industry it regulates; it just would be a potentially positive byproduct.
Another big chunk of the NCUA budget is the addition of more than 70 employees for 2011. Federal credit unions pick up that tab whether the agency fills all these positions or not. When I asked if the agency had filled all of the more than 70 new positions created in the 2010 budget, I did not hear back from the agency.
Meanwhile, the agency has been traversing the country explaining its legacy assets plan to ensure it is understood and how important the timing is. Chairman Matz said last week on Credit Union Times ON AIR that so far there hasn't been a run on the corporates, which has been a positive.
There's been more than a slow trickle too, judging by the stats. According to statistics from CUNA 7.2% of credit union surplus funds are in corporates as of September. That's down from 13.9% a year ago and 19.7% in 2007.
Interestingly at the same time, credit union funds in banks have increased from 8.4% in 2007 to 13.4% as of September. Government investments have benefitted too. But the point is credit unions need to balance out whether going outside the system is worth possibly being shut out later, which was the reason corporate credit unions were started, WesCorp founder Dick Johnson said at the California-Nevada Credit Union Leagues annual conference. Going outside is certainly an option but maintaining an intra-system solution is also a wise idea but the effort must be led by the credit unions and no one else.
The banks have enough business. Credit unions have touted all the good work they've done over the last couple of years as the banks retrenched. There's no denying credit unions have saved their members gobs of money or their cars when they needed refinancing out of a bad loan. You'd think credit unions would be gaining market share. Credit unions nonrevolving loan market share decreased from 13.0% in September 2009 to 12.4% in September 2010 while banks were up from 30.8% to 33.3%.