WASHINGTON — Comparing her agency to a police officer that prevents bad drivers from hurting good ones, NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz said the agency's strong enforcement saved the insurance fund about $1.5 billion.
She said the efforts, including more frequent examination and more use of letters of understanding and agreement, are the ‘tough part of tough love and don't win is any popularity contests."
But she added, in a speech at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference, that as a result of those policies "worst case scenarios became just that, scenarios."
Matz said the agency’s recent efforts to increase the frequency of examinations and make them more rigorous was needed because even credit unions with CAMEL 1 and 2 ratings can see a quick change in their fortunes because of problems with the economy or poor decisions by management.
She also said that her agency’s use of more prescriptive letters of understanding and agreement has helped some troubled credit unions improve their financial performance.
Continuing the highway patrol analogy, she said her agency has "only had to pull over a few reckless drivers."
During his speech to the conference, NCUA Board Member Michael Fryzel said that the difficult decisions made by the NCUA and credit unions during the financial crisis paved the way for a future for credit unions that is "even better than their distinguished past."
Matz added that she always knew credit unions were strong, but the last year has shown that they are resilient.
She also noted that while her agency has had to increase its enforcement activities, they have also tried to expand opportunities for credit unions. She cited her efforts to persuade Congress to approve an increase in the cap on member business loans and the right to raise supplemental capital.
During her speech at the conference, NCUA Board Member Gigi Hyland endorsed a proposal that would require regulatory agencies to eliminate a regulation every time it issues a new one.
Hyland said that idea, which is contained in a bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), would result in a pay as you go regulatory system that would "discourage agencies from continually churning out new rules."
She added that her regulatory philosophy balances a need for the agency to strike a balance between strong oversight and not stifling innovation.
She also called on the NCUA to update its regulatory review process. Among the changes she would like to see the agency change its definition of small credit unions. Currently, credit unions with assets of less than $10 million are considered small and Hyland suggests changing that threshold to $50 million.
Hyland also reiterated her support for capital reform that includes the ability to raise supplemental capital that counts toward the prompt corrective action net worth requirement. She called for a more robust risk-based capital system because the current system is too rigid and takes a one size fits all approach.
She also urged attendees to continue to find ways to increase their collaborative efforts.
Whether this is done formally or informally "collaboration, in all its forms, is a necessary part of the future of credit unions. We all need to adapt to that reality sooner rather than later," Hyland concluded.
Fryzel also noted that despite the problems facing the economy and some credit unions, the public's support has grown because credit unions put a premium on helping people.
But he conceded that many of those credit unions have been angry with his agency.
"Big problems demand bold actions, and these are bound to be uncomfortable," he said.
Fryzel said we are "still binding up the horrible wounds of the financial crisis of 2008."