Sundie Seefried , the CEO of Partner Colorado Credit Union, is sick of it and made it plain that she for one is not going to take the blame for hurting small credit unions.
Seefried’s sin? Her Denver-based $220 million credit union–a result of merging Eagle Legacy with Denver Water Credit Union–has firmly decided not to capitalize any corporate credit union and to take its correspondent services business elsewhere.
What followed that decision surprised Seefried. Letters and emails rolled it, so did phone calls, often from highly respected credit union leaders in the Rocky Mountains, and the message was sharp. She and Partner were sticking a knife in the back of small credit unions by abandoning this system.
“There are plenty of ways to help small credit unions. We organize free due diligence workshops for them. We mentor their executive staff, free of charge,” she said.
And those who want to place blame for credit union industry instabilities need look no further than corporate credit unions themselves, suggested Seefried, who elaborated that every credit union now is stuck with repaying their multibillion dollar losses via mandatory assessments to the NCUA’s Corporate Credit Union Stabilization Fund.
“We have not done anything to harm small credit unions–nothing at all,” said Seefried.
Seefried is not alone. She may be unique in her willingness to speak up, but throughout the industry there are whispers about mounting peer pressure to put capital into a corporate, like it or not.
Said credit union consultant Marvin Umholtz: “Thou shalt recapitalize corporate credit unions should not become the 11th Commandment in the industry. Each credit union needs to do its own due diligence.”
This triggers the question: Do larger credit unions in fact have an obligation to help small credit unions by funding a corporate? The still bigger question: Are the largest credit unions in fact deciding to commit to capitalizing a corporate?
For a first take regarding corporates, tune into the uncertainty at $44 billion Vienna, Va.- based Navy Federal Credit Union. A spokeswoman said that although Navy Federal “does not presently use the services of any corporate credit unions, we have the in-house expertise we need,” the nation’s largest credit union is currently evaluating its options regarding corporate credit unions. “No decisions have been made,” she added.
At the second-biggest credit union, the $22 billion State Employees Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C., CEO Jim Blaine said, “I don’t think any of us have an obligation to fund a corporate. The decision has to be made based on the needs of the particular credit union.”
Blaine elaborated that he is a big believer in helping out small credit unions. “If they go away, we’ll be in a big political mess. They get a lot of sympathy from elected officials.” But he stressed that there are innumerable ways to help and funding a corporate may not be the best way. “This whole system is re-setting. Let’s say there now are around 24 corporates. I wouldn’t be surprised if there soon were only 12. So what corporate would you actually be funding?”
That expectation of a probable wave of additional, major changes that are still to transform the corporate credit union system is a reason SECU has held off committing to any corporate going forward. Another reason is that “we do not want SECU’s decision to influence any other credit union’s.”
Blaine is adamant that SECU will not be a bell cow in the upcoming corporate capitalization roundups and, for now, he is holding his cards close to the vest.
Other credit unions have decided to show all their cards, however, and for the most part these are institutions that have decided to remain part of the corporate credit union system.
At the $228 million Washington, D.C.-based Department of Commerce FCU, CEO Evan Clark said, “I am running a business, not a charity. I have no moral obligation to fund a corporate. We are running banks, not churches.”
For Clark, however, his credit union also has made a clear decision about corporates. “We have decided to capitalize [Middletown, Pa.-based] Mid-Atlantic Corporate. For us, this is a smart business decision.”
More complicated opinions come from Ed Speed, CEO of the $1.7 billion Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, who admitted that following his credit union’s exit earlier this year from CUNA and the Texas Credit Union League, he was “called a person who causes disunity.” But, he insisted, “I believe in the notion of financial cooperatives. That is why, by deciding to capitalize [Columbus, Ohio-based] Corporate One, we proved who we are. If we are going to be a cooperative, our obligation is to the model and the principles. And I really believe in the corporate system.”
Meanwhile, at Alloya, the new corporate credit union that may rise out of Members United Bridge, John Fiore, CEO of $681 million Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Employees Credit Union who heads the Alloya membership drive, carefully puts forth his position.
Fiore said he is opposed to the kinds of pressures experienced by Seefried. But he also firmly believes that large credit unions owe it to the system to do their part by supporting a corporate.
“Joining helps the movement,” said Fiore, who pointed out that, corporates aside, large credit unions are frequently asked to put up cash to support the movement in many other ways, be it funding a CUSO or putting money into an ATM network. “I don’t like the words ‘moral obligation.’ But I do believe credit unions need to consider if they should make a cooperative investment. That cooperative nature is the strength of this movement.”
Fiore candidly admits that the success of Alloya going forward, with a business plan that revolves around cash flow from item processing, hinges on the willingness of the large credit unions that may not need the corporate system because they have multiple alternatives to nonetheless join the new corporate. But, he optimistically added, “We have not met with any substantial resistance. We are having good success with our larger credit unions.”
David Savoie, CEO of Metarie, La.-based Louisiana Corporate Credit Union, which has announced its intent to merge into Irondale, Ala.-based Corporate America, said he has been thinking about what credit unions owe each other.
“I don’t know if large credit unions owe small credit unions anything. They both owe it to their members to make decisions in their best interests. I think large credit unions owe it to themselves to recapitalize the corporate system. They should do it for the same reason they helped create the corporate system in the first place: to prevent the credit union industry as a whole from being at the mercy of banks for liquidity.”
“Large credit unions will find themselves just as impacted by that eventuality as anyone. But no credit union should recapitalize corporates indiscriminately. Credit unions owe it to their members to recapitalize using proper vendor due diligence, and I find it hard to imagine how one could justify recapitalizing an institution that has not proven its ability to operate outside of conservatorship as a going concern without the support of the federal government’s vast resources. Likewise, I think it requires extensive due diligence and explanation to justify placing new capital in an institution that has already cost a credit union most or all of its original capital investment, especially while it remains in conservatorship.”