Boards Still Seek Balance to Find Best CEO Salaries
E.H. “Pete” Weldon knows that in credit unions, as in life, you get what you pay for. Never is the phrase truer than when filling the position of president/CEO.
As chair of the $209 million 1st Community Federal Credit Union in San Angelo, Texas, Weldon said he worked very hard to make sure when Bill Nikolauk was promoted to take the helm of the financial institution in 1996 that his compensation was raised accordingly.
Weldon said he didn't quite get the 40% spike to Nikolauk's former salary as vice president of operations that he was seeking, but the board approved an increase close enough to keep someone that Weldon and others considered an excellent candidate to lead the credit union.
“We worked very hard to get Bill the right level of compensation,” said Weldon, who has chaired the credit union board for the past 15 years. “You always run into board members who say, ‘but he’d be making more than I am.’ You just have to get past that objection.”
Today, Nikolauk's salary is more in line with national standards as measured in the 2013 CEO compensation survey released by the National Association of Credit Union Chairmen, a Del Mar, Calif.-based trade group that serves the educational needs of credit union boards of directors at 160 credit unions. 1st Community fits into the group of credit unions with assets of $200 million to $499 million. Top executives for credit unions in that category average an annual base and variable salary combination of $234,071, according to the survey. Nikolauk's compensation is a little above that level, said Weldon, a past NACUC chair.
NACUC's survey serves as a valuable benchmark for boards trying to answer the CEO compensation question for themselves. As one of several industry surveys that deal with compensation data, NACUC's research looks at compensation patterns in various regions of the country, using asset size as a fairly reliable measure of credit union complexity and CEO responsibility, according to Celeste Shelton, NACUC executive director.
“It's important that chairmen and their boards be informed about compensation trends,” said Shelton of the survey, now in its 20th year. “Without this information it would be difficult to develop a compensation package that's competitive.”
The NACUC survey measures several aspects of CEO compensation, including base and variable pays rates, benefits packages and CEO pay in relation to second-in-command salaries at the same institution. It also divides compensation into five different asset size categories.
For credit unions with $99 million or less in assets, total 2013 compensation projections averaged $125,528 according to survey results. The rates increase across various asset sizes, with CEOs of credit unions with $1 billion or more in assets earning an average of $462,092.
Despite a 20% increase since 2011's levels were measured, credit unions CEO salaries still lag behind those of comparable bank positions, which can include total compensation packages and stock options. What's more, the salaries may not be in line with the increased challenges credit union CEOs have been asked to oversee in recent years, according to Shelton.
“Are salaries keeping pace with complexities? I would say not,” said Shelton. “They will need to catch up with the regulatory burdens being placed on credit unions.”
In a changing market, comparative data is just one component to calculating CEO compensation. At the $500 million Generations Federal Credit Union in San Antonio, the board as well as CEO Steve Schipull undertake assessments of the top position and the tasks that the executive faces, according to Rose Rangel, board chair of Generations.
To determine how much the CEO position of the credit union is worth, Generations currently uses BalancedComp, which gathers survey data from a number of sources, including American Bankers Association, the Economic Research Institute, Credit Union Magazine, the Delves Group, Crowe Horworth, and CompData, said Rangel, who also serves as a NACUC chair. Of the survey data, 74% is based on credit union information and the other 26% comes from banking, she added.
In addition to the NACUC survey data, credit union information also is gleaned from CUES, CUNA and various credit union consulting firms, said Rangel.
Generations’ board undergoes a CEO evaluation process in determining compensation that includes a variety of measures. The evaluation package covers board policies as a point of reference, an evaluation form that serves as a subjective part of the overall performance scorecard, business plan attainment success, NCUA examination scores and employee survey results.
Schipull does his own self-evaluation prior to the board evaluation, measuring many of the same attributes and sharing it with the chair, said Rangel. One aspect some credit unions fail to realize is the role boards play in their CEOs’ success.
“The ultimate success of the CEO skill base hinges on how well the board has identified the attributes and expertise the CEO needs to bring to the job,” Rangel explained. “Our board focuses on how well the CEO does regarding short- and long-range goals, staff development, self-improvement and getting along with others and the community as a whole.”
When it comes to selecting a CEO for the credit union, compensation certainly plays a role, but it is not the most important characteristic, said Rangel. Financial integrity, aligning vision and strategic change, a strong leadership and achievement drive, dedication to employee development, community relations skills and family values all come into play.
“The CEO that is chosen must be distinctly different, identifiable by characteristics that others will admire and want to emulate,” said Rangel. “We’re looking for someone who brings hard and soft skills to the table, and most importantly a person who is certain he can bring long-term success to the credit union.”
Being located in San Antonio, considered to be a highly competitive financial services market, is in some ways an asset when it comes to attracting and retaining top candidates, said Rangel.
“The San Antonio market pays 105% of the national average at the executive level and so our executive salary ranges are adjusted to reflect this,” said Rangel. “Our board feels that we pay a very competitive base salary.”