Years ago before my time in credit unions, CUNA and NAFCU decided one would hold its Governmental Affairs Conference at the beginning of the congressional session and one would target the end. The lines have blurred some and lobbying receives more emphasis on the whole due to bigger issues like Dodd-Frank. CUNA, in conjunction with The Hill newspaper but not with NAFCU, held an issue forum to help escalate the member business lending expansion effort to new heights as Congress runs down the clock on this legislative session.
Word from NAFCU’s Congressional Caucus over at the Mayflower in Dupont Circle was grim. Members of Congress were quick to say they had a lot of very important issues on their plate before the session ends and then again in the lame duck. And they do.
What that means for credit unions is likely no member business lending expansion this year. It’s not necessarily that the issue is not worthy and should not get through. However, there’s more than reason at play here. There’s also politics.
Promoting credit union business lending expansion could come at a high cost politically as politicians run down the clock on their elections and every dollar counts. The banks and banking trade groups are likely to put the kibosh on that with their campaign contributions or lack thereof. CUNA has estimated that expanding business lending for credit unions could push up to $13 billion into the economy and create as many as 140,000 new jobs in the first year. These are impressive stats if we could achieve them. It would take time to set up programs, assure proper risk assessments and expertise and of course budgeting, so within the first year might be a stretch.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has in the last couple of weeks reiterated to CUNA his promise for a vote on the member business lending issue.
In the grand scheme of a $16 trillion national debt and the recent FOMC announcement that the economy may not growing fast enough to sustain the meager labor market improvements, credit unions’ contribution to bolstering the economy is pennies.
The thing about pennies though is that they add up to dollars. The credit union community took more than 100 years to reach $1 trillion because it took the slow and steady approach. While the industry has felt the impact of the economic malaise, it’s certainly has not been as crushing as it was to the Bear Stearns of the world.
Given that credit union small business lending increased 5.8% over the past year to $37.89 billion according to the NCUA’s first-quarter data, while banks’ decreased 3.7% for the same period, at $584 billion, you can see the disparate dollar amounts politicians and their staffs are mulling over. Credit unions, at this point, couldn’t possibly make up for the loss in bank lending, but again, taking it slow and steady can win that race, too. Just not too slow.
Credit union business lending has increased 53% since 2006, according to SNL Financial. Check in with some of the credit unions on the top 10 list, like Digital and Bethpage, to see how they’re making it work for them. Credit unions can grow this into a bigger picture issue.
Direct from the stage at NAFCU’s Caucus, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told credit unions they aren’t making their case very well as to the interest level in making business loan. She noted the disconnect between the need for increasing the cap and the level of business lending being done. God forbid, Congress act on anything until it’s a full-blown crisis, but that’s how it works.
Without a crisis, how can you cut through the cacophony of political rhetoric, such as Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling’s parallel of Dodd-Frank to a drive-by shooting. I’m no Dodd-Frank fan, but this language is extreme yet apparently what the member of Congress felt was what he needed to use to break through the clutter.
Some nuggets from NASCUS’ annual event that hopefully have not gotten caught up in the clutter:
- NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz announced that the NCUA would be reconsidering the definition of small credit unions. Long overdue, but I understand the agency’s had its hands full of late.
- One thing the NCUA’s hands have been full of is Jim Blaine and the SECU CAMEL debacle. Matz flat out wouldn’t answer his question about why she wouldn’t visit with the league, which was in follow up to another CEO’s question on the subject, which Matz did answer.
- NASCUS CEO Mary Martha Fortney’s opinion piece (in last week’s issue) expressed concerns over the CUSO, loan participation and or interest rate risk proposals from the NCUA due to “their sweeping preemptory nature” leaving “little flexibility for states to authorize distinct powers for their credit unions, a disturbing trend to NASCUS with respect to the long-term viability of the dual chartering system.”