The Hidden Cost of Democracy
The NCUA received more than 2,000 comment letters on its risk-based capital rule.
What a waste.
When you arrive in Washington, it doesn't take long for someone to give you the “how things really work around here” talk.
The economy in our nation's capital is booming, folks, and our leading export is contrived crises.
Oh, the threat of a risk-based capital is real. Make no mistake, Basel lite is coming.
But the process by which the rule is written, introduced and finalized is not what it seems.
Take, for example, the comment letters. As of press time, the official count was 2,027 and rising.
That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? One could assume at least one-third of all credit unions were so concerned about the rule, they took the time to thoughtfully suggest ways to improve it.
But after closer examination, those letters aren't as impressive.
Many stakeholders submitted more than one letter. Some penned more than 100. And those letters weren't just signed by C-suite executives. Some were signed by mid-level managers, loan officers and specialist-level employees, and their tone and talking points read suspiciously like trade association form letters.
Then there is the proposed rule. As currently written, is it what the NCUA thinks is best for protecting the share insurance fund?
No, of course not.
The NCUA writes rules knowing it is only the first step in a long negotiation process.
Anyone who has worked in sales, or negotiated a salary, knows how that process works. When a prospective employer asks for a starting salary figure, savvy negotiators know to ask for more than what they want or need.
Why? Because most human resources executives will counter that figure with a lower number. In the end, a good negotiator appears to have settled for something less, but got what he or she wanted all along.
Everyone wins. The new hire comes across as a team player, giving up something in order to get the job. The human resources executive looks like he or she saved the company money.
The same dynamics are at play as the NCUA negotiates risk-based capital with CUNA, NAFCU, NASCUS and Congress.
The proposed rule was never what the NCUA expected to finalize. It was just the beginning.
All this weeping and gnashing of teeth is a well-choreographed dance, and is being performed for your benefit.
I’m not saying trade associations are disingenuous when they express concern about the rule. But make no mistake: All the players know their roles. And in the end, everyone will come out a winner.
The NCUA will appear to be a good listener and responsive to stakeholders’ concerns.
The trades will claim changes to the final rule as their victories.
Really, the only losers here are credit unions, who wasted money paying NCUA operating fees and trade association dues to fret and fight over a proposal that never stood a chance of being finalized as written.
A former boss of mine used to say complainers should come prepared with a solution. If you don't like the way things are being done, propose a better way. Don't just complain to hear yourself talk.
Well, I’m guilty of the latter this week. A better solution stumps me.
The NCUA could just release new rules. This is the rule, they’d say. Live with it.
Nobody wants that.
We could eliminate trade associations so credit unions directly communicate with the NCUA through comment letters and other methods.
That would probably require less money in increased NCUA operating expenses than the $100 million annually that goes to the trades.
But can the federal government be trusted?
Trade associations have their place, especially when it comes to quantifying the impact of a proposed rule or law. Despite charges that trades work to promote their own agenda, I think they are more likely to serve their members’ best interests than today's federal government serves its citizens.
So where does that leave credit unions? Business as usual. Whether it's the member business lending cap, taxation or risk-based capital, credit unions will give as much attention as they can to the crisis of the year, while continuing to serve their members and support their communities.
Our system isn't terrible, but it could use some improvement. I’m all ears.
Heather Anderson is executive editor of CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.