RBC Letters Scrutinized: Quality vs. Quantity
As the NCUA reviews the comment letters concerning the proposed risk-based capital rule, NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz and former NCUA Board Chairman Dennis Dollar assessed the value of a single source submitting a large amount of letters.
In total, stakeholders submitted 2,052 comment letters, according to NCUA public affairs specialist John Fairbanks.
The commenters from the credit unions and CUSOs that filed the most letters typically raised the same points in their submissions using a similar format.
CU* Answers, a technology services CUSO based in Grand Rapids, Mich., sent 320 letters to the agency through an online submission engine aimed at generating a viral response.
“The submissions came from employees and volunteers throughout the network of cuasterisk CUSOs,” said Jim Vilker, vice president of professional services at CU*Answers.
“This engine is being morphed as we speak to be able to respond to any threat to our industry from a regulatory perspective as well as to voice any other issues related to our cooperative principles and way of doing business,” he added.
CU*Answers CEO Randy Karnes defended the decision to submit a large amount of letters.
“It's part of today's culture to have to sort, pick and choose, and filter information. We do it as consumers, as business people, as individuals under attack by information and point of view,” he said.
“We do it even when the information is valid, constructive and overwhelmingly important to our future. To make sure we stop and take notice, we need the weight of volume. We need the weight of viral quantities. We need the weight of the voices that will be affected.”
NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz said the content of a comment letter has more impact than multiple form letters sent from a single source.
“I understand the natural tendency to muster stakeholders and encourage everyone to comment; however, the number of comments we receive from any one organization has no more impact than the content of those comments,” she said.
Matz said a well-reasoned letter would likely be as effective as dozens of letters from the one source repeating the same message.
“It's also important for comment letters to suggest possible alternative solutions. We will review all the comments and make appropriate changes in the final rule,” Matz said.
Karnes said stakeholders should not be distracted by the quality versus quantity question in this case.
“Many times I agree that ‘less is more.’ That's something that the NCUA should focus on when it comes to doling out rules and regulations but not when it comes to stifling the voices of those who live by them,” Karnes said.
Dennis Dollar, principal partner at Dollar Associates LLC, said there is a message in volume, even if many identical letters came from the same source.
“Even a large number of form letters make the point that an affected stakeholder felt strongly enough to submit an official letter for the record, even if it was the same letter as another stakeholder submitted,” said Dollar, who served as the agency's chairman from 2001 to 2004.
“There is always going to be a great deal of commonality in official comment letters because the major problems in a proposed regulation, from a stakeholder's point of view, are normally the same for most stakeholders,” he added.
While serving on the NCUA Board, Dollar said he read every comment letter submitted about a given proposal, adding that a large volume of letters was often a sign that the board had to re-examine their proposal.
“I read them all and gave them consideration, even the form letters, because a stakeholder cared enough about an issue to express himself or herself. They deserve their views to be considered, even if it is the same view as someone else,” he said.
“I considered the volume of concern about a particular provision to be a trigger of our need to at least examine whether we might be off base on that particular area of concern,” he said.
“Sometimes we found we were. Sometimes we felt we were right. But the comment letters, even form letters, helped point us to areas of stakeholder concern that we needed to address ... to make sure we got the final regulation right,” he added.