SECU Touts its CAMEL Score
If nothing’s wrong, there should be nothing to hide, CEO Jim Blaine said of his credit union’s decision to publicize its CAMEL score.
News Updates Jan. 13, 2012 - NCUA Orders Two Exams a Year in NC in Response Feb. 8, 2012 - Matz Says NCUA Regulator 'Violated the Trust' Feb 9, 2012 - Blaine Says NCUA 'Declared War on Innocent' Feb. 10, 2012 - NCUA Says Dual Exams Over, For Now
After clearing it with state regulators, the $23 billion State Employees’ Credit Union of North Carolina announced last week that it has a CAMEL score of 2 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the best.
The rating system is used by the NCUA and most other regulators–including the North Carolina Credit Union Division–to evaluate the health of credit unions.
SECU said it sought permission to disclose its individual CAMEL score, which are confidential, and the 2 score was in its June 30 audit report from state regulators.
The move by the nation’s second-largest credit union is all about transparency, its senior executive said.
“Shining a little sun under the rock never hurt anyone,” Blaine told Credit Union Times. “If a credit union has a problem with its CAMEL rating being revealed, perhaps there’s a deeper problem there, something going on that managers need to address and members need to know about.”
Blaine said that he thought such information should be publicly available on a routine basis but added, “That’s up to individual credit unions and the regulators to decide.”
The NCUA regularly releases information about CAMEL scores without identifying individual credit unions and announced in August it would begin sharing ratings of federally insured state-chartered credit unions with state regulators.
As for the move by SECU, the agency “does not release CAMEL codes or any other confidential supervisory information. The CAMEL information released is not NCUA's CAMEL rating of SECU,” a NCUA spokesperson said.
In its statement announcing the move last Wednesday, Mike Lord, the Raleigh-based credit union’s senior vice president of finance, said, “State Employees’ Credit Union is identified by its member-owners as a trusted provider of financial services. At a time when so many other large financial institutions in the marketplace are not viewed as trustworthy, SECU wants to uphold its positive reputation through full transparency.”
In the interview, Blaine noted that his credit union is one of three (along with Navy Federal and PenFed) that have over $10 billion in assets and thus fall under the purview of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“As institutions get larger, it becomes harder for members and customers to really grasp the organization that they trust their money to. We think more should be expected of large institutions like us,” Blaine said, adding that SECU approached Tarheel State regulators and “asked to be the test subject.”
The CAMEL ratings themselves are complicated and not something members would necessarily know about, much less understand. To counter that, SECU said it has posted an “unqualified audit opinion rendered by the CPA firm of Clifton Gunderson” on its website. It said that the CAMEL 2 composite rating “has been typical for SECU over the past 10 years.”
Explaining CAMEL is also something SECU will be doing through its network of more than 3,000 volunteers on committees and in its 200 branches, said Leigh Brady, senior vice president of education services.
“That’s always our best marketing, word of mouth, and we’ll keep our volunteers informed on this so they can spread the word,” Brady said.
Blaine, meanwhile, said SECU’s move is a step toward the transparency is needed for effective reform in the nation’s financial system and that credit unions should “lead the way.”
“I’m uncertain who’s being protected by not revealing or publishing this stuff,” he said.
“Isn’t it a heck of a lot better to have an informed membership than having people occupy Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue?”