Volunteer compliance with new NCUA rules on financial literacy, which become effective this Thursday, has generated a new round of training and education programming across the U.S. One CUNA audio session last week drew 2,000 participants.
The heightened concern among CU boards about what kind of knowledge is required on income and balance sheet statements and even whether directors might be forced to step down if they flunk were all topics aired in the in-person sessions and online webinars conducted by leagues and vendors.
In answer to the question about volunteers being asked to quit "or whether they would have to undergo a test," the answer was no, said NCUA officials.
Still, there was widespread consternation about how to judge director competency under the literacy rules, which allow CUs six months to bring directors up to speed on financial terminology.
At the same time, there was also private and public criticism of the NCUA rules as demeaning of volunteers and a development that will discourage competent directors from staying on CU boards or dissuade prospective directors.
"This is a direct attack on volunteers," complained one Michigan CU executive who asked for anonymity.
The NCUA has, however, insisted its rules are put in place to ensure directors have a better understanding of the areas of risk common in CUs and the ways those CUs are attending to these risks.
"NCUA has had a number of conservatorships over the last year, and it may be the agency found financial competency lacking" in deciding to implement the rules, offered Anthony Demangone, NAFCU's director of regulatory compliance.
The NCUA may have detected "a level of unsophistication" on those boards and is now counting on the rules to correct conditions, but the rules themselves don't even require training, said Demangone.
Nonetheless, CUs "need to develop a battle plan for upgrading director education" though the problem remains on how to determine exactly which directors do possess the knowledge and which don't and the certificates being offered by NAFCU and other groups do support that goal.
Demangone said also he has not seen much written about the full scope of the financial literacy rules, which stipulate volunteers are versed "in all applicable laws" governing CUs and that means employment, lending and other areas that can put a huge burden on directors.
One speaker, CPA consultant Tim Harrington, participating in CUNA's Jan. 13 session, said the basic NCUA goal remains in getting directors "to have a better understanding of the areas of risk common in credit unions and the ways their credit union is attending to these risks."
Harrington, head of his own Tucson, Ariz. agency, Team RESOURCES Inc., said many CU directors in the audio feed asked how the NCUA would measure compliance. "The answer was primarily through education sessions taken, and so if a director has taken an education session of adequate length on balance sheet and income statements, on risk and risk mitigation, on internal controls to monitor risk and on asset-liability management, they would fall into a safe harbor."
There was also some discussion, he said, that the education had to be recent, perhaps in the past three years.
Paul Peterson, NCUA's associate general counsel and also a participant in the CUNA broadcast, said that documented training on financial literacy by CUs would create a three-year safe harbor but that board training needs to be documented by a certificate of completion.
"Can examiners ask volunteers questions?" was one query posed during the audio session.
Yes, they can, with examiners recommending training "if the volunteer cannot adequately answer the examiners' questions," said CUNA.