Members of Technology Credit Union voted to reject a proposal to convert their institution to a mutual bank.
According to a member of the San Jose, Calif., $1.6 billion nearly 18,000 members voted in the balloting, with approximately 4,000 voting in favor of the proposal to become a mutual bank and 14,000 voting against. The credit union has about 70,000 total members.
Those figures show that nearly 26% of the members participated in the balloting, and about 78% of those who voted favored retaining the credit union charter.
“Obviously, we are thrilled with the outcome and the size of the victory,” said Carlos Rodriquez, the Technology member who kicked off the movement questioning the conversion proposal with a Facebook page and helped organize a Save TCU member group along with another long time member, Robert Marinace.
Rodriguez said the group was still reviewing its victory but felt confident giving a lot of credit for the victory to social media, which, he explained, had allowed members to organize and notify other members about the proposal and its downsides in ways that that had not been seen before. Social media, he said, enabled Tech CU members who likely never saw each other face to face to get connected with the effort to prevent the charter change.
He added that the charter conversion proposal had also helped make members more aware of what they have in their credit union and to be concerned about the way it is being run.
For its part, Technology’s leadership indicated it understood the members’ intentions behind the voting results.
“Our members have voted and overwhelmingly indicated their preference to remain a credit union,” said Barbara Kamm, CEO of the credit union in a statement announcing the results. “We respect this decision and appreciate that so many of our members weighed in on this important vote. Providing the highest level of service for members will continue to be our top priority–and we will do so under our credit union charter.”
The board of directors also shared similar observations.
“The responsibility of the board of directors and management is to consider all strategic alternatives that may be in the best interest of Tech CU and our membership as a whole,” stated Mical Brenzel, chairman. “Our board began studying some evolving trends in the credit union industry as far back as 2008. We noted the tremendous increase in share insurance assessments which credit unions must pay into the National Credit Union Administration’s share insurance fund and the continued reluctance of Congress to expand credit union lending powers. We also studied the FDIC’s insurance fund, which insures mutual savings banks, and determined that the performance-based assessment system of the FDIC would charge lower assessments for a high-performing financial institution such as Tech CU, helping to preserve our members’ capital.”
This last point appears to run directly counter to an analysis of the impact of the two insurance premiums conducted by CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel in October 2011.
Kamm also noted the frustration many members faced with the credit union’s proposal to change charters and appeared to blame NCUA regulations for not being able to explain the CU’s reasons for conversion more clearly.
“Members at the special meeting voiced frustration, saying we did not make a compelling case for charter change. We, too, are frustrated that we were unable to communicate our views effectively and in the open manner we would have preferred because of the regulatory process and the related rules that govern how credit unions can communicate about charter change with their members,” said Kamm.
“We recognize our members’ strong commitment to the credit union industry, and we dedicate ourselves to working within the credit union charter to ensure that Tech CU continues to perform safely, securely and successfully in the future,” added Brenzel. “Our members have spoken, and we look forward to the future as we remain a very successful credit union.”
Although it seems clear that Technology Credit Union will remain a credit union, it is unclear that the matter will end with the credit union announcement.
Technology’s attempt to change its charter ushered in some firsts in the charter change process. This was the first time that members utilized an NCUA regulation that required the credit union facilitate their communication with other members about the conversion, and it also marked the first time such email contained tracking software added by the credit union. The NCUA has not yet indicated whether this practice conforms with its regulations, and the agency may still want to amend its regulations further to address that. In addition, litigation stemming in part from the addition of that tracking software has also not yet been resolved.
In addition, as in many other similar charter battles, there are signs the credit union may face a significant leadership fight.
Rodriguez said the Save TCU group has launched a survey on its Facebook page to ask members how they felt about the board and whether to recall its members. Questions on the survey include whether the reader would sign a petition to recall the board, how many ballots they received and whether they would be willing to ask for signatures outside Tech CU branches.
Fourteen people identifying themselves as members commented on the board recall question on the Facebook page, as of the morning of Sept. 22 and the comments showed a variety of opinion.
Steve Baker wrote, “The board and the CEO need to be replaced by a team that wants to work for a credit union. Clearly, this team does not understand its customers and what their customers want, otherwise the vote would not have been overwhelming against their recommendation. Their interests are not aligned with their members interests. We need a board and a CEO that will work for us and with us and not waste almost $2M of our money on a boondoggle. The honorable thing would be for the board and the CEO to resign. The time is now for a leadership change.”
But Paul Deaton wanted to give the board members more time to prove their worth. “I think we should give the existing board six months. If we don’t see a better performance for the buck, then to quote a favorite actor of mine...hang ’em high.”
Technology Credit Union declined a request for an interview to discuss the next steps the credit union might take in the wake of the charter change effort.
Technology first announced it was considering a charter change in October of last year.