LAS VEGAS — Credit union executives attending the annual meeting of the American Credit Union Mortgage Association received a mixture of optimism from credit union CEOs about the future of credit union housing finance and caution from a leading economist about the overall economy and the housing market.
The optimism came in a panel discussion that brought together four CEOs from leading credit unions in housing finance on Sept. 24. The panelists told credit union executives that credit unions have broken through on mortgage lending and face a strong future in the field.
Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, CEO of the 178,000-member $2 billion Travis Credit Union, Vacaville, Calif.; Michael Valentine, CEO of the 156,000-member $1.7 billion Baxter Credit Union, Vernon Hills, Ill.; Nader Moghaddam, CEO of the 50,000-member $788 million Financial Partners Credit Union, Downey, Calif.; and Terry West, CEO of 413,000-member $4.7 billion VyStar Credit Union, Jacksonville, Fla., addressed the executives during a panel discussion that Moghaddam moderated and which took numbers of questions from the audience.
The CEOs expressed a high degree of enthusiasm and almost surprise at how strongly their members and communities had reacted to their housing finance programs.
“If there is one thing we can say, it’s that mortgage lending is here to stay,” Valentine said. “Mortgages are a product where credit unions can really shine,” he added. “When members come to us with mortgage problems that we can help them resolve, they become fans and they tell other people.”
West recounted how VyStar had found that members that take out housing finance loans with the credit union also doubled their participation in other credit union products and services. He also echoed Valentine’s comments that working in housing finance had enormously increased the credit union’s profile in the community and had helped draw many new members.
Van Ouwerkerk recounted how her credit union had found a good deal of success offering refinanced loans under the latest version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program and had developed a HARP look alike program for the loans it held in portfolio. “We figured that our members with loans we held were going to expect something similar,” she explained.
The cautious notes came from William Emmons, chief economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Emmons acknowledged that there are indications that the housing market may be stabilizing and predicted that housing prices nationwide have stopped dropping, although there will likely be local markets that lag. “We don’t really have a national economy as much as we have a collection of regional or even local economies,” he said.
The mid- and long-term caution came as he outlined an argument he said was being pondered at the Federal Reserve. Chairman Ben Bernanke and other Federal Reserve executives believe the economy will eventually return to levels seen in the mid-2000’s before the Great Recession, Emmons explained, while other Federal Reserve executives argue that the economy in the mid-2000’s was overheated by the credit and housing bubbles and should not set a standard for future economic growth.
The argument matters, Emmons said, because if Bernanke is correct the measures the Federal Reserve has taken can only help restore the economy, albeit slowly. But if the other Federal Reserve executives are correct, the Fed’s most recent efforts to stimulate more economic growth could turn out to be significantly inflationary.