Pay Disparity Violates Credit Union Philosophy
In May, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions’ annual conference in Detroit prompted stories of how Henry Ford famously paid his factory workers such a generous wage, they could afford to purchase their own Model T.
Contrast that with statistics Callahan & Associates posted on its blog this week regarding call centers. Among them was a graph that said the mean hourly wage for call center reps is nearly double the national minimum wage.
That may sound encouraging, but $13 an hour doesn't support a single adult, much less a family.
Certainly, nobody making $13 an hour would likely qualify for a mortgage.
How many credit unions expect frontline employees to successfully cross sell mortgages and other out-of-reach products?
I’ve seen countless articles that report the growing disparity between the wages of frontline ham-and-eggers and CEOs. I assume most of you are like me in thinking this problem is limited to Wall Street and public companies.
And indeed, according to the 2013 CUES Executive Compensation Survey, the wage disparity between credit union CEOs and frontline workers isn't as bad as at public companies. However, it's still embarrassing, and fails to live up to the people helping people philosophy.
To be fair, the call center wages posted on Callahan's site weren't credit union exclusive.
Credit unions might pay better.
According to employment website glassdoor.com, Navy Federal pays its call center and member service representatives an average salary of around $15 an hour. But I found other credit unions listed on the site that allegedly pay less than $13 an hour.
Some even paid call center reps less than $11 an hour.
So let's assume $13 an hour is typical for credit unions. That works out to $27,040 annually or about $2,250 monthly.
If an employee earning those wages applied for a mortgage, his or her front-end ratio would only allow for $630 in housing costs, which would include taxes, homeowner's insurance and home association dues, in addition to the monthly mortgage payment.
That pretty much rules out any property worth more than $100,000, even if the borrower makes a 20% down payment. There are probably some good enough homes out there that cost less than $100,000, but in most urban areas and in many states, homes are simply not available at that price.
Additionally, the employee could not exceed a back-end ratio of more than 35%, which means current rent, car loan, student loan, credit card payments and other expenses could not exceed $810 per month.
It's no wonder so many young adults live at home. A back-end ratio of less than $810 per month wasn't possible back when I was an entry-level marketing specialist with a college degree earning a similar salary back in the mid-1990s.
Back in my day, outstanding college loan balances were still just four figures on average.
In comparison, the average credit union CEO salary was $256,000 in 2013, which works out to $123 an hour. That's not quite 10 times the rate of call center employees, but it's close.
I don't think credit union CEOs are overpaid. While $256,000 per year may seem like a treasure trove of riches to those who earn $13 an hour, CEOs who juggle mortgages, living expenses, retirement contributions and college tuition bills know that in practice, it feels more like middle class.
Still, the disparity is disturbing.
Plenty of barriers exist when attempting to convince employees to participate in financial education programs. Many employees are unwilling to share their credit histories and spending habits with their employer.
I can appreciate that.
But from a competitive standpoint, credit unions would be well served to either increase their frontline wages or create programs so these employees could qualify for the products they are required to sell.
If credit unions promoted these programs in their communities, showing that they walk their talk, both the quality of job applicants and the credit union's brand would undoubtedly improve.
In 1990, Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson famously donated part of his salary back to his employer so the team could hire more players without exceeding its salary cap.
Would you be willing to do the same?