Maryland is the richest state in the union, with a median household income of $70,004, a cool $20,000 above the national average.
However, as of June 30 Maryland’s credit unions reported just 61 basis points worth of profit, well below the national average of 0.86% ROAA, according to the NCUA’s Quarterly U.S. Map Review.
Other key financial indicators were on par or better than national averages for the second quarter, such as 74% of credit unions reporting positive ROAA and a delinquency rate of 1.2% - both matching the national average – and an impressive 12-month loan growth of 3.6%, above the national average of 3.2%.
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Rob Windsor, CEO of the $953 million First Financial FCU of Lutherville, Md., said he was puzzled by the numbers and tried to put them into perspective.
“It could be any number of issues,” he said. “It could be dividends paid to the members or higher operating expenses. I know that the Maryland/DC market is highly competitive. My guess would be a combination of the two.”
Windsor would have to guess: First Financial bucks the state trend, reporting 1.66% ROAA as of June 30.
“Our ROAA is a factor of low operating costs, 1.4% compared to 3.13% for our peers,” Windsor said, “Along with an efficient work environment reflected by our full-time employees to member ratio (602 to 1) when compared to peer (391 to 1) and our quality of service which is shown by the utilization of our services.”
First Financial serves Baltimore and Carroll county public schools, and Windsor said his members tend to be frugal and pay their bills on time, which is reflected by the credit union’s low 0.21% delinquency rate.
“We have good loan underwriting and work with our members during periods when they have cash flow issues,” he said.
As for a second quarter loan growth figure of -9.70%, Windsor said things are slowly coming around.
“We are experiencing the same slow loan demand that everyone else is facing. What is different is that our average loan balance is half that of our peers,” he said. “We sell all of our fixed-rate, long-term mortgages for asset liability reasons. We do have a slightly higher percentage of members that borrow from us, it’s just that their balances are lower. Our significant growth of saving balances has also drawn attention to the low loan to savings ratio. 2011 was better than 2010 and 2012 is looking better than 2011 as far as loan growth is concerned.”
John Bratsakis, president/CEO of the Maryland & District of Columbia Credit Union Association, said the question of low ROAA in the Old Line State isn’t easy to answer, but said the state lags behind peers in two key ratios: loans to shares and income average assets.
“Also, Maryland credit unions have a history of being extremely competitive with loan and savings rates, with some providing extraordinary dividend payments, or bonus dividends, to their member owners which contributes to a lower net interest margin,” he said.
The $2.5 billion Tower Federal Credit Union of Laurel, Md. holds true to the statewide trends, reporting as of June 20 an ROAA of 0.68%, delinquencies of 1.02% and a charge off rate of just 0.36%, according to NCUA financial performance reports.
“A key to Tower’s success in the present economic environment is the trust we have gained from our members over decades by establishing safe and sound business practices and caring about their financial well-being,” said Tower President/CEO Martin Breland. “Because we have earned their trust, they continue to bring us a great proportion of their business during good and bad economic times.”
And, like the rest, loan growth has cooled: Tower reported -6.12% 12-month loan growth as of June 30.
“Two of our biggest lending years ever were 2009 and 2010,” Breland said. “In the housing sector, we've never made subprime loans, so we didn't experience any problems related to those. In fact, we benefited because members came to us to borrow because we maintained a strong balance sheet when other financial institutions were struggling.”
Tower encourages members to apply for the federal government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program – or HARP – and since last March, Tower has underwritten $70 million in HARP loan applications.
“If people are underwater with their homes we want to try and help,” Breland said. “A big part of our success is that we let our members know we’re here to help them and they in turn are responding.”
This summer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rated Maryland among the top five states in the country for economic growth, job creation and innovation and even went so far as to call Maryland “one of the next boom states.” Home to the Baltimore Orioles – both the species that fly in the sky and the grounded types that made the MLB playoffs this year – the state has been profiting from the recent economic stability provided by its neighbor, the nation’s capital.
“Our economy is an innovation economy, and our greatest competitive assets are the talents, skills, creativity, ingenuity, and education of our people,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says we’re the best state in the nation for innovation and entrepreneurship, the Milken Institute places Maryland at number one for human capital capacity, and the Kauffman Foundation ranks us in the top three for our state’s ability to win in the new economy.”
More good news for the state came in the form of the jobs report in September. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maryland created 1,400 jobs in August for an over-the-year total of 24,000. Professional and business services and education/health continue to be over-the-year leaders in job generation, with gains of 14,000 and 7,900, respectively.
While Maryland seems to be the shining star of all the states, there still work to be done O’Malley said.
“Together, we can continue making the modern investments a modern economy requires educating, innovating, and rebuilding for our children’s future,” the governor said.