If credit unions were looking for a lending panacea in 2011, it was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t for a lack of money to lend because many cooperatives were awash in funds, economists said over the course of the year.
Other external factors that stalled loan growth are expected to carry over into 2012 and beyond, forecasts predict.
“Lack of employment certainty, wealth erosion and historically low interest rates do not bode well for credit union loan portfolio expansion,” wrote Dave Colby, chief economist with CUNA Mutual Group in the latest “Credit Union Trends Report.”
The most current data shows while the total credit union loan portfolio increased in September, and this was the sixth consecutive month-only gain, these seasonal increases were not enough to bring year-over-year growth into positive territory, the report showed.
For most of 2011, for every lending gain there appeared to be a loss somewhere else. Vehicle loans, specifically used, were among the strongest performers but not enough to make up the gaps in new vehicle and real estate loans.
More than a month after Bank Transfer Day, it remains to be seen if the national switch movement brought over a groundswell of loans from new members. In his report, Colby said for new members transferring in, the only true success measure after Transfer Day is that mutually beneficial relationships were created. The biggest positive impact will come from transferred loans, he added.
Despite recently revised figures from CUNA on the actual number of people who joined credit unions leading up to Transfer Day–214,000 not 650,000–some credit unions said they were still able to bring in new and refinanced loans. Business lending opportunities are yet another area primed for fresh relationships.
Indeed, one firm is predicting credit unions will continue to ramp up business loan activity well into 2012. Biz2Credit, a New York-based firm that connects small businesses with more than 450 lenders nationwide, said credit unions had a 57% loan approval rate in November, up from 56.6% in October.
Compared to banks, credit unions and other lenders are approving more business loans. Biz2Credit reported credit unions, community development financial institutions, micro lenders and others approved 62% of funding requests in November, a rise from 61.8% during October. Loan approvals by small banks increased to 47% in November, their highest rate this year, and an increase from 46.3% in October. Approvals by large banks also rose, reaching 10% for the first time since April.
Meanwhile, be it unsecured loans, vehicle loans or home equity loans the declines are a stubborn implication that credit unions are continuing to lose consumer loan market share, according to Brian Turner, director of advisory services at Catalyst Strategic Solutions, an investment subsidiary of Catalyst Corporate Federal Credit Union in Plano, Texas and Duluth, Ga., who shared his perspective in his latest industry analysis report.
While lending news was mostly glum in 2011, there were a number of credit unions that performed ahead of their peers. The Filene Research Institute said 23 out of more than 2,200 U.S. credit unions larger than $50 million grew their new and used auto loan portfolios by more than 5% each year between 2008 and 2010.
Among the traits these top performers shared in common were an emphasis on refinancing, consistent underwriting and a focus on improving sales culture. CUNA Mutual also recognized several lending leaders at the CUNA Lending Council’s annual conference in November.
The economic environment will continue to be the driving factor on how loans will fare in 2012. If unemployment falls and the housing market actually makes a sustained recovery, members may shift their focus away from paying down debt to buying big ticket items.
In his analysis, Colby wrote, “Desperately searching for positives, I’ve regressed into proclaiming reductions in the rate of decline are good news. Although I believe we are very close to the bottom of this lending cycle, I fear we will remain near the bottom for an extended period of time.”