The state of Wisconsin is recovering from an arduous two years filled with high unemployment numbers, angry protesters opposing a state law stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights, and an expensive ($100 million) attempt to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
When the dust settled on Nov. 7, Wisconsin’s unemployment numbers came in at 6.9% and the governor and the lieutenant governor were voted back into office.
And the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation reported that Wisconsinites remain optimistic about the overall direction of the state, with 64% saying the state is “headed in the right direction.”
On paper, the outlook for the state’s credit unions is also positive with 100 basis points of ROAA as of Sept. 30, 1.5% loan delinquencies and a healthy 12-month loan growth rate of 4.0%. Credit union CEOs in the Badger State credit their profits, which are considerably higher than the national average of 86 basis points, to prudent management.
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“We are starting to see some increased activity in businesses willing to expand, but we are doing so cautiously,” said Bob Matz, chief financial officer of CitizensFirst Credit Union in Oshkosh. “I think the general feeling is we will have a slow economic recovery for the next several years.”
The $371 million CitizensFirst has a strong ROAA at 0.97% with Matz attributes to the housing market creeping back.
“The mortgage business has been strong all year with the low rate environment, which translates into strong income from selling and servicing mortgage loans within the secondary market,” he said. “Asset quality continues to improve as the economy recovers, this means less loan loss, collection and OREO (Other Real Estate Owned) expenses in 2012.”
A recent report by the WDEC showed that Wisconsin was not nearly as affected by the housing bubble as many other parts of the country and continues to sport a below-average foreclosure rate of 3.2%. Home prices have also begun to stabilize.
CitizensFirst is a community-chartered credit union serving nine counties and one township that boast relatively low unemployment rates. Although the credit union offers a full line of commercial loan products, Matz said he will focus on commercial real estate. This shows in their 12-month loan growth of 2.51% and a delinquency rate of 1.05%.
“We’ve seen significant improvement in our commercial loan delinquencies as the economy improves, along with improvements in our consumer and real estate areas,” Matz said. “We have worked with our members when possible on troubled situations along with liquidating collateral when needed. Also, several years ago we took the position to improve our asset quality by tightening our credit standards on loan approvals, which is reflective in our current delinquency trends.”
While credit union members are still struggling to pull themselves out of the slump of the last few years, the ‘Forward’ state and the Bureau of Labor of Statistics confirmed that jobs grew by 23,608 in 2011, and there were 2,720,700 jobs in Wisconsin as of October 2012.
“Wisconsin’s continued job growth is good news,” said Gov. Walker. “I am encouraged that Wisconsin is continuing to grow jobs and that Wisconsin’s jobs climate is improving. We are pleased to see the increase in manufacturing jobs, which are an integral part of Wisconsin’s economy.”
Members at the $1.2 billion Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, Wis., are still seeing jobs disappear, even with the optimism from their governor. Eau Claire telemarketing firm iPacesetters recently closed, leaving 150 people out of work. The credit union is also affected by the well-publicized liquidation plans of Hostess Brands Inc., which has nine retail outlet bakeries in the state, including Eau Claire. The loss of that bakery would result in another 182 lost jobs in the city.
“Despite our positive performance, our community is not immune to tough times,” said Rudy Pereira, Royal CU president/CEO.
To counter the lost local jobs, RCU developed a “payment relief” program to assist members while they are looking for other employment, Pereira said. Loan modification will be available beginning with the January 1, 2013 payment or earlier, depending on when the member lost his or her job.
Members can take advantage of the payment relief for three consecutive months for consumer and mortgage loans, he said. Credit cards will have payment relief available for the months of January, February or March.
“The credit union philosophy is “people helping people” and we felt it was important for us to do our part to help those in our community who were affected by the closings,” Pereira said.
Despite the cloud over the holidays in Eau Claire, Royal’s numbers are pretty jolly, with an ROAA of 1.22%; but, Wisconsin isn’t quite out of the woods yet. Twelve-month loan growth as of Sept. 30 was 1.23%, down from 4.56% one year ago.
“We anticipate continued mortgage refinances through the first quarter and possibly beyond the first quarter due to historically low loan rates,” Pereira said of 2013. “We are also seeing new home purchases as prices have begun to stabilize and even go up in certain areas. As home prices start to increase, we will likely see more sellers and buyers, as well as increased demand for lending on home equity for remodeling projects. We are also seeing stronger consumer loan demand and as consumer confidence continues to improve, consumer loans should continue to improve.”
To help members even more, Pereira said that the credit union has eliminated or lowered many service charges. ATM withdrawals from ATMs owned by other institutions have dropped from $2 to 50 cents.
“We are committed to strengthening the Royal Credit Union advantage and adding value to our members,” Pereira said. “We are focused on improving processes and decreasing our operating expenses so that we can lower fees for our members. It is our objective to continue to reduce or eliminate many usage charges by Dec. 31, 2017, so this is just the beginning.”