Small Credit Unions See Returns from Loans, Fee Income
When it comes to generating a high return on assets, the general consensus has been that smaller credit unions have a tougher time achieving that goal. Or do they?
According to data analyzed by Callahan & Associates for CU Times, only three of the credit unions with the Top 10 operating return on asset scores exceeded $100 million in assets as of June 30, 2014, the latest period tracked. In fact, several of the top scorers barely broke the $20 million asset limit, the minimum level under which Callahan analytics stopped measuring performance.
Based on results, it appears there is a growth movement afoot that bodes well for the future of at least some small credit unions. In creating its sort from NCUA's 5300 Call Report data, analysts defined ROA as annualizing the ratio of net interest income plus fee income plus other operating income minus operating expenses, then dividing the number by average assets. The computation does not include non-operating gains or stabilization expenses.
The calculations yielded some impressive gains, especially among smaller credit unions. Few were more pleased, in fact, than Melanie Kennedy, president/CEO of the $47 million Southwest Financial Federal Credit Union in Dallas.
“Last year, I would have told you I had hoped my ROA would be positive,” Kennedy said. “I budgeted for a .75 ROA and it just continued to grow, grow, grow.”
Southwest Financial topped Callahan's list with an operating ROA of 4.29%. That puts Kennedy's credit union .10% higher than the $22.5 million RAFE Federal Credit Union in Riverside, Calif., which took second place, and 1.62% higher than the $34.5 million PSTC Employees Federal Credit Union in Upper Darby, Pa., which ranked 20th on Callahan's ROA list.
Kennedy credited growth both in loans and fee income, specifically courtesy pay fees, as the secret to her credit union's ROA success. Moving to a sales and service culture several years ago has also helped drive growth, she noted.
“We’ve grown a lot over the past few years merely by asking for the business,” Kennedy said. “We have changed our employee pay structure to encourage them to take the time necessary to get to know the members and what they might want or need. And, we’ve been very successful at it.”
In June, the credit union boasted a $35 million loan portfolio spread across multiple products. That figure increased to its current level of $38 million as of Oct. 31. By comparison, Southwest Financial had just $34 million in total assets when Kennedy arrived a decade ago.
Fee income also has continued to grow. As of June 30, fee income totaled $665,000 and by Oct. 31, that number had jumped to $1.1 million.
“We do have high fee income, but I’d rather make money on the loan side,” Kennedy said.
Loans continued to increase at Southwest Financial. In 2013, they grew by 23% and are on track to expand at a similar level this year, she added.
“I am nervous to say that we have found the secret sauce, but we appear to have a good recipe,” Kennedy said.
Despite such growth, the credit union's membership has been in decline for a number years, a trend that has prompted Southwest Financial to find new and more effective ways to engage members in hopes of gaining greater wallet share. That engagement is also designed to understand and help members, many of whom work for food retailer Kroger.
“Our members are living paycheck to paycheck and we try and provide products and services to help them manage their daily lives,” Kennedy said. “We look to be partners with our members and that's what credit unions do in general.”
Loans, combined with low operating expenses, can also be credited with promoting good ROA performance for the $23.8 million Consumers Cooperative Federal Credit Union in Alliance, Neb. With an operating ROA of 2.99%, Consumers Cooperative ranked 10th in Callahan's Top 10 list. At 44.2%, the credit union also ranked 19th in the Top 20 Credit Union Efficiency Ratios, another category in Callahan's study.
Loans, including risk-based loans, drove up the credit union's ratios, according to Manager Betsy Marsteller. Consumers Cooperative is currently 80% loaned out and demand continues to grow, she said.
“Right now, it's auto loans, auto loans, auto loans,” Marsteller said. “Our reputation is that we will help you by finding ways to approve rather than deny you a loan. It's all about the members and how to best take care of them.”
Fee income, including courtesy pay, also played a role in growth, Marsteller said. However, the credit union is flexible and will excuse overdraft fees if members say they have a deposit coming in and follow through in a timely fashion, she added.
Consumers Cooperative does a lot of advertising and community service and givebacks as a way to support members and their community, Martseller said. Based in a rural area, Consumers Cooperative staff know many of their members personally, which helps preserve loyalty and strengthen relationships.
“We’ve been in the same building for 30 years, so we’re not spending much on fixed assets, plus we’ve grown so much,” Marsteller said. “We currently have five employees who all work very hard. We need to hire someone else but we haven't done so yet.”
All those elements combined to lead not only to a strong ROA and efficiency ratio, but also an important place in the community that enabled the credit union to contribute to the best interests of its members while growing its asset base in order to serve more members.
“It’ a combination of many things,” Marsteller said. “Our longevity is very good and we’re very proud of where we are. I think people just like us.”