Trailblazer Award: Political Action Honoree Thomas Renz Says He’s Always Been an Activist
Thomas Renz, president and chief development officer for the $32 million Commodore Perry FCU, didn’t decide to become an activist when he appealed the credit union’s 2011 exam. Instead, the Credit Union Times 2013 Political Action Trailblazer Award winner contended that he’s always been one.
“One of my board members was a high school teacher of mine, and she will attest to fact that I’ve been speaking my mind since old enough to do so, for better or worse,” he said. “I’ve learned through hard knocks that sometimes I need to have prudence. But to the core, that’s who I am. For me, it stems from what’s right and wrong, and if it’s right, it’s worth fighting for.”
Challenging the NCUA certainly qualifies for a lesson in hard knocks, which is what Renz and Commodore Perry did when it appealed its exam results. Before Commodore Perry’s appeal in 2012, only four appeals in the last 10 years had been elevated to the NCUA’s Supervisory Review Committee, and in all four cases, the SRC ruled in favor of the regulator.
Commodore Perry’s appeal met the same fate when the NCUA told the Oak Harbor, Ohio-based credit union Dec. 19 that the SRC also denied its appeal.
Or so it seemed. Renz told Credit Union Times Jan. 22 that NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz granted Commodore Perry a 60-day extension on its appeal. The new deadline is March 18.
Renz said the extension aims to provide the credit union and Regional Director Herb Yolles an opportunity to iron out differences between the two that led to Yolles denying the original appeal. Commodore Perry claimed that its examiner, Roger A. Clark, made inappropriate comments to management and staff during his on-site examination. Renz said he and CEO Mike Barr called their supervisory examiner and asked to have Clark replaced. Although the credit union didn’t want to file an official complaint, the nature of the allegations triggered an automatic investigation. Clark was made aware of the complaint and investigation before the examination was complete. Renz alleged that Clark then retaliated in the form of a downgraded CAMEL score.
The NCUA’s Office of Inspector General investigated the matter and concluded it could not substantiate the allegations.
Renz admitted the 5,000-member credit union’s project list in 2011 was a long one that included building a new headquarters building, upgrading the core processor and switching credit card providers.
“Our existing building was literally falling down, it was an embarrassment,” he said. “With our core system, we couldn’t pull the right data and we were limited in offering the services our members needed. And with the credit card vendor, we weren’t getting a very good deal.”
Renz acknowledged that the hefty to-do list did increase the credit union’s risk, but he also insists Commodore Perry properly managed those risks.
“That’s why I had a 1,000-page appeal because that’s what it took to show how much work we put into managing these things,” he said. “My view is given all we did in one year, they should have raised our management score, not lowered it, because we demonstrated that we could manage a tough year like that. The proof is in the pudding because we finished the year very strong.”
According to Commodore Perry’s financial performance report posted on the NCUA’s website, the credit union finished 2011 with a $189,745 loss fueled by a $191,761 nonoperating expense. Net worth dropped to 8.52% as a result. However, 12-month loan growth was above peer at 4.87%, as was Commodore Perry’s 71.78% loan-to-share ratio.
Last year was more profitable. Commodore Perry reported a $39,348 net profit as of Dec. 31, 2012. Net worth dropped further to 8.34%, due to rising delinquencies, but loans grew another 7.21% resulting in a 74% loan-to-share ratio.
Renz said the 2013 budget and strategic plan predicts, despite “very conservative” numbers, that Commodore Perry will have a very successful year.
“We took some very hard steps in 2011 to build a credit union that was successful both in risk management and management in general,” he said.
Last year’s examination, conducted by a different examiner, resulted in an improved CAMEL score, Renz said. So why is the credit union continuing to pursue the appeal?
“While we believe the NCUA’s appeals process is there to genuinely protect credit unions and is generally a very functional process, we felt this was a case that demonstrated a major flaw in the system,” he said. “It’s difficult to ensure the credit union’s protection. Ultimately, we’ve been willing to stick our necks out to illustrate that flaw and ensure that in the event it happens to another credit union, they won’t face the same overwhelming odds that we have.”
The NCUA has already made changes to the appeals process, releasing a letter to credit unions Jan. 31 that said the regulator will include more information regarding formal and informal appeals options on its exam report letter and will provide contact information for examiners and supervisory examiners on the pre-exam planning letter.
Renz is new to the credit union industry. His position at Commodore Perry, which began in 2011, is his first. He had recently graduated from law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and while there was mentored by famed attorney Henry King, best known for his role as a U.S. Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. Renz also interned as a legal clerk for former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who was known for his activism.
Because Kucinich had already lost his primary race, Renz said he didn’t reach out to the congressman for help with the exam appeal. However, he said he has been in contact with both Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) regarding the issue, and both offices have provided support and advice to the credit union.
“We haven’t asked them for a lot, but it’s been very useful during this process to say we’re having ongoing conversations with our senator’s offices and updating them on situation,” he said.
Balancing all the interests involved in the appeal–Commodore Perry, trade associations, politicians and news coverage–has been a challenge, Renz said.
Well known in the small resort town of just 41,000 permanent residents, Renz was recruited to work for Commodore Perry by Board Member Charlene Filmore.
“She knew me growing up," he said. “She introduced me to the credit union, and the rest is history.”