NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Catherine Vallette-Kilroy recently spent a week listening to lectures during the day and studying for exams at night.
Vallette-Kilroy isn’t a college student learning about the hidden meaning of Shakespeare’s plays or debating whether the United States waited too long to enter World War II. Her focus is more practical.
The compliance officer for Black Hills FCU was learning about subjects such as the anatomy of a federal regulation and the areas of jurisdiction of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
"They keep throwing new things at us and this is a way to learn what to expect," Vallette-Kilroy said in between sessions as she sipped coffee. She was attending the event with Lona Snell, a branch manager for the $885 million credit union based in Rapid City, S.D.
It was all part of NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance School, which attracted her and approximately 180 other people to spend a week in a windowless meeting room at a hotel in this suburb of Washington, D.C.
Snell quipped that because she doesn’t spend the majority of her time on compliance issues, attending a seminar like this "proves I am something of a glutton for punishment."
Attendees who pass the exams that are given daily throughout the seminar are designated NAFCU Certified Compliance Officers.
Although the subject matter was often, by the admission of the speakers, dry, arcane and technical, that didn’t stop some of them from trying to inject a bit of humor.
When explaining the CAMEL rating system, NCUA Director of Consumer Compliance and Outreach Tonya Green said, "If your credit union is a 4 or 5 you have my prayers and sympathy, because your examiner is always in your face."
She explained that the agency’s risk-based examinations were aimed at ensuring that "credit unions aren’t in a situation where they look like a house of cards more than a credit union."
Generally, however, the instructors had a sober, though not monotonous tone, when diving into arcane subjects such as how to determine the seminal points in a regulation.
NAFCU Vice President and General Counsel Carrie Hunt explained that most regulations have six parts and they can often be confusing because they are written in legalese. Regulators often make things harder by having different definitions for the same thing in different parts of the rule.
By tackling the commentary and guidance section of the rule, you can get a better understanding of the thought processes and motivations of the regulator. Hunt also cautioned attendees to carefully examine the model compliance forms that federal agencies often issue to accompany new rules, as they aren’t always adaptable to credit unions.
She also let participants in on a trade secret: sometimes there is no shortcut to reading the entire text of a regulation. And there are even times when she and NAFCU or other regulatory specialists have to read a rule numerous times to understand it.
Lowell Stevens, president/CEO of Latah FCU, said the advice will come in handy, especially as he and his employees work to sort out the regulatory maze, particularly in real estate.
"There’s always something we have to deal with, in terms of the SAFE Act or rules about appraisals. It’s a struggle at times to keep up," said Stevens, whose $41 million credit union is headquartered in Moscow, Idaho.
During her presentation, the NCUA’s Green said when examining real estate loans, one of the areas her agency looks for is determining if there are any discriminatory trends in a credit union’s lending patterns.
She noted that the agency relies on HMDA data and also sees if there have been any complaints about the credit union in this area.
Overall, Green noted that of the approximately 10,000 complaints the agency receives from credit union members each year, the credit union was correct in about 85% of the cases. But she warned attendees that even if they are acting properly, if they don’t handle relationships with their members properly, they could endanger their reputation. This reputational risk is something that could seriously damage a credit union, she noted.
She also contrasted the relationships that the NCUA seeks to establish with credit unions with those of government regulators who enforce the Bank Secrecy Act.
"We are willing to sit down and talk to you and try to work things out. But the folks at FinCEN, you are talking about, mean, nasty folks. They will shut you down on BSA violations faster than on anything I will talk to you about today," she said.