As citizen frustration continues as demonstrated by the growing Occupy Wall Street movement, credit unions may be presented with another chance to show how they can help middle-class Americans meet their financial needs.
CUNA Mutual Group Chief Economist Dave Colby offered that theory as protesters become more vocal over their aggravation with Wall Street firms and banks that they believe are the culprits behind the country’s financial woes. Others cite a lack of jobs and indifference from political leaders as reasons why an economic recovery has not gained sustained traction.
“At some point, people get so darn frustrated. We should take notice,” Colby said.
While many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are young people or college students, Colby believes the anger cuts across all demographics.
“Whether it’s retirees with CD rollovers and [financial institutions] saying we’re only going to pay less than 1% or even though there’s an explosion in student loans, and some have gone back to school to get a master’s degree, but they still can’t a job after graduating,” he said. “It’s people who may have been paying on their house faithfully but can’t get it appraised.”
With the protests, threats of a double-dip recession and fears stemming from financial defaults in other countries, Colby pointed to a line in the Serenity Prayer, which he cited in his September “Credit Union Trends Report.” “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“The only constant is your members, and how you make their lives better,” Colby said. “Do what you can and don’t worry about what you can’t control.”
Colby advised credit unions to lend as much as they can and even take on a little bit more collateral risk, even though the NCUA might not agree with the latter, he pointed out. If a member has been making steady mortgage payments for seven years and wants to refinance, be flexible, he added.
“At some points, credit unions have to start growing loans. They can’t grow assets and manage the capital ratio while expenses continue to grow. The only solution is to grow loans.”
Meanwhile, depending on the analysis, some consumers may not be feeling worried about the state of the country’s economy. Dan Geller, a trend forecaster with Money Anxiety Index, said signs are still fuzzy on whether another recession will occur.
As proof, he pointed to his Money Anxiety Index, which measures various economic indicators and factors associated with consumers’ level of financial worry and stress. Geller said MAI measures how economic indicators are impacting consumers’ behavior rather than how consumers say they feel about the economy.
Geller said September’s MAI was adjusted to 98.4 in lieu of revised economic indicators from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Among them was the final revision of gross domestic product by the Bureau of Economic Analysis to an annual rate of 1.3% in the second quarter of 2011 from a previously estimated growth rate of 1.0%.
The increase in GDP in the second quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from nonresidential fixed investment, personal consumption expenditures exports and federal government spending, Geller explained. Additionally, there was a net upward revision of job creation over the prior two months of 99,000 jobs.
The October index level of 98.4 is an improvement over the most recent peak of 99.5 in June of this year, he said.
“It’s too soon to tell if the downwards direction in the Money Anxiety Index since June of this year signals a trend or just a temporary hiccup,” Geller said. “If the index will continue to decrease over the next few months, the probability of another U.S. recession is very low.”
Still, anti-bank feelings continue to build, prompted in large part by a recent announcement from the Bank of America to charge its customers a $5 monthly fee for debit card use.
The Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental advocacy group, has launched a campaign encouraging BofA customers to close their accounts. The “not one more dollar” pledges will be bundled and presented to executives in protest of the bank’s funding of coal, the country’s number one contributor to climate change, the group said.
“People are fed up with Wall Street banks foreclosing on their homes, laying off workers, hiking consumer fees and bank rolling industries that are destroying our planet,” said Amanda Starbuck, director of Rainforest Action Network’s energy and finance program.