State of Affairs: Rhode Island Credit Unions Flounder
Despite shedding jobs, cutting pay, trimming benefits, curbing services and expanding the tax base, the state of Rhode Island is in deep financial trouble, and credit unions there are doing their best to stay afloat.
Rhode Island’s credit unions reported a soggy 38 basis points worth of profit during first-quarter 2012, according to the NCUA’s Quarterly U.S. Map Review, well below the national ROA average of 86 basis points. But in spite of the gloomy outlook, things aren’t completely underwater in the Ocean State.
“We have a lot of challenges in this state,” said Karl Kozak, president/CEO of the $1.3 billion Pawtucket Credit Union in Pawtucket, R.I. “Tough times are still in our face, but we have a good charter and we’ve had some positive growth this year. We’re hopeful.”
With an ROA of 0.70% as of June 30, Kozak is steering his credit union forward and opening new branches, two in 2011 and one more this year. Surprisingly, with the state’s unemployment rate at 10.7%, PCU hasn’t had any layoffs ever, and the credit union was recently awarded first place, for the second consecutive year, in the Providence Business News best places to work in Rhode Island survey. “This program is the gold standard for recognizing businesses that value their employees,” Kozak said. “In our 85-year history, there’s never been a layoff. We continue to expand and that has a lot to do with our employees. Our employees are our most valuable asset.”
Pawtucket’s delinquency rates have improved from 0.14% as of June 30, 2011 to 0.05% one year later. The credit union also boasts a 12-month loan growth of 3.97% as of June 30, mostly as a result of positive real estate lending, commercial lending and indirect boat lending, Kozak said.
“I don’t have a magic bullet, but we have a strong collection department and a strong loan and share ratio,” Kozak said. “We’re going to find ways to get through this.”
Charge-offs among Rhode Island’s federally insured credit unions was 0.46% as of June 30, well below the national average of 0.75%. Delinquencies are below national averages, with Rhode Island reporting 0.92% of total loans delinquent as of June 30 compared to 1.2% nationally, according to the NCUA’s latest statistics. That’s heartening news because the smallest state in the country is still struggling big time with the highest foreclosure rate in New England.
During the 12-months ended July 31, Rhode Island reported 2,664 foreclosures, according to CoreLogic, the Santa Ana, Calif.-based real estate data firm. Rhode Island’s foreclosure inventory was 2.9% during July, compared with 3.2% in July 2011.
Turning Rhode Island’s economy around, erasing the state’s rating as a bad place to do business, and finding innovative methods to attract job creators to this New England state is going to take time.
“Rhode Island continues to struggle with one of the most challenging economic climates we have ever faced,” said Gov. Lincoln Chafee. “Rhode Islanders are hurting, struggling to make ends meet. We knew, however, that problems decades in the making would not be solved overnight.”
Although Rhode Island continues to face daunting challenges, the governor said he is confident the state’s our ability to make the right decisions, no matter how difficult. We want to make forward looking investments that will bring about a brighter future for our great state,” he said.
For the $1.3 billion Navigant Credit Union, an ROA of 0.34% does not exactly spell recovery. Contributing to a low ROA is Navigant’s loans-to-assets ratio, which at 65% as of June 30 is lower than the state average of nearly 69% but higher than the peer average of 59%.
“Navigant has a larger investment portfolio, and this results in lower income,” said Navigant President/CEO Gary Furtado. “Navigant prides itself on its high-touch personal service model, which translates into a higher cost structure.”
Delinquencies rates have gone up since last year, from 0.95% as of June 30, 2011 to 1.03% one year later, but Furtado said that on the positive side, Navigant doesn’t have any sub-prime loans on its books.
“We were not adversely affected at the beginning of the recession. Rhode Island has had, and continues to have, a very high unemployment rate of roughly 12%,” he said. “The prolonged unemployment is now affecting our members and their ability to repay.”
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin last month announced a $1.6 million grant that will help prevent or delay foreclosure on an estimated 1,800 homes in the state.
The grant for Rhode Island Legal Services came from the state’s portion of a national mortgage settlement between five of the nation’s largest mortgage providers and attorneys general nationwide. Rhode Island Legal Services can assist homeowners facing foreclosure in bankruptcy court, provide housing and foreclosure prevention counseling, negotiate with lenders on loan modifications and file lawsuits against predatory lenders.
Kilmartin said the money is essential because many Rhode Islanders cannot afford to hire a private attorney to help them fight foreclosure. He said more grants from Rhode Island’s $8.9 million portion of the national settlement will soon be announced.
Recovery in the housing market would mean good news for Navigant’s real estate loan portfolio, which is performing well and contributed to the credit unions 14% loan growth figure last year. Furtado said his credit union has always been a very active real estate lender.
“In this low interest environment, real estate loans, including first mortgages, home equities and lines of credit, continue to be strong,” he said. Commercial mortgage loans are also strong, he said.
Keeping with a philosophy of returning value to members, Navigant maintains competitive rates and low fees, with fee income that is much lower than peers, Furtado added.
We’ve skated through the foreclosure crisis and we’ve only had 12 foreclosures out of an $800 million portfolio,” he said. “In this economy, I would have to say we’ve done very well.”
Navigant has been a state chartered community based financial institution since its inception in 1915 and brands itself as a community banking partner. Furtado said the credit union has been active in and supportive of all the communities in which it serves.
In spite of the economy, Navigant's strong financial position has supported a growth strategy that includes adding new branches and employees over the last several years. Furtado said he plans to continue to experience strong membership growth, deposit growth and loan growth.