Tag Archives: credit unions

redTape

Credit unions seek relief from red tape og financial reform

Dan Berger

Dan Berger

Robert D. Ramirez

Robert D. Ramirez

Mark Robey

Mark Robey

July marked the four-year anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was meant to reform and stabilize our financial system.
So, has it?

“Since the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act and establishment of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), more than 800 credit unions have closed their doors,” said Dan Berger, president and CEO of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU). “Compliance costs have taken a serious toll on credit unions that do not have the resources that big banks do — and the regulations keep coming.”

According to Mark Robey, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for the Mountain West Credit Union Association, credit unions in Arizona want to work with consumers and small businesses to provide affordable credit and attractive savings to help stabilize the economy.

“But the mortgage requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act and the rules issued by the (CFPB) make it more costly for creditors to make loans,” Robey said. “Moreover, the ‘Ability to Repay Rule’ required by Dodd-Frank and issued by the CFPB encourages creditors to make mortgage loans only to borrowers with a debt-to-income ratio of no higher than 43 percent. That can cut borrowers out of a home purchase if they don’t meet that threshold, even if the borrower can actually afford to repay the loan.”

Since its enactment, the 849-page Dodd-Frank has imposed $21.8 billion in compliance costs while producing regulations that require nearly 60 million hours of paperwork with which to comply, according to estimates by the American Action Forum. These compliance costs can be devastating to small community banks and credit unions.

“In order to help credit unions avoid being susceptible to penalties and compliance violations, it will be necessary to add additional staff, training, hardware, software etc.,” said Robert D. Ramirez, president and CEO of Vantage West Credit Union. “All of that further impacts the bottom line. This could hit smaller credit unions particularly hard or possibly force them to limit or exclude mortgage options.”

To help ease the regulatory burden on credit unions, the NAFCU has issued its “Five-Point Plan for Regulatory Relief,” which includes administrative improvements to the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), capital reforms, structural improvements, operational improvements and data security reforms. To see NAFCU’s complete Five-Point Plan, visit nafcu.org.
Ramirez stressed that while financial institutions should have learned lessons from the financial crisis, consumers should take responsibility, too.

“The (Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) calls for a provision to create an Office of Financial Education,” Ramirez said. “However, the regulation does not do enough to require or even encourage consumers to share the burden of responsibility of gaining full understanding of the loan requirements prior to entering into the loan agreement. It would be helpful if there were a reduction in the number of regulations that impact our ability to serve our membership, and instead did more to encourage members to be proactive in taking advantage of financial literacy opportunities to ensure they were fully informed about the risks and benefits of entering into a loan agreement.”

Now that even lawmakers from President Barack Obama’s own party see the financial reform legislation as a destabilizing force, credit union officials say it’s time to re-examine Dodd-Frank.
“Lawmakers and regulators agree that credit unions were not responsible for the financial crisis,” Berger said. “It’s time to say ‘enough is enough’ and end the rampant overregulation of credit unions.”

financial

Credit unions grow membership, revenue

Like many other industries, credit unions in Arizona are bouncing back from the economic downturn.

Credit unions, which are similar to banks in the products and services that they offer except at a slightly lower cost, are taking advantage of consumer disenchantment with big banks to attract new members. According to a recent National Credit Union Administration report, through the first quarter of 2012, credit unions around the country combined for a record 92.5 million members.

“As local, member-owned financial institutions, credit unions are simply doing what they have always been good at,” said Scott Earl, CEO of Mountain West Credit Union Association, a trade organization of credit unions across Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. “They have a long history and reputation for providing excellent member service, financial education and a wide variety of financial services to fit their members needs. The recent increased recognition of these qualities and the progress credit unions have made is establishing their success as an industry.”

Nationally, credit unions generated $2.1 billion in profits and added 667,000 new members in the first quarter of 2012, a 25 percent spike in profits compared with a year earlier. Most large Arizona credit unions — including Desert Schools, TruWest, Arizona State, Credit Union West and Arizona Federal — saw profits roughly double in the first quarter of 2012, compared with earnings from a year earlier.

“The word ‘profit’ is a bit of a misnomer,” said Paul Stull, senior vice president of strategy and brand for Arizona State Credit Union. “Credit unions do have net income. However, all credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives. The net income or funds available after expenses are paid become part of a credit union’s capital or are used to build new branches, purchase new technology or offer additional services.”

Something that Arizona State Credit Union added recently were construction loans to its home loan portfolio in anticipation of an improving economy, as evidenced by the 27 percent growth of new home sales in the first quarter, compared to the prior year.

The construction loan program allows members the opportunity to lock in their mortgage rate early and avoid the possibility of fluctuating rates during the construction phase. Additional perks to this all-in-one loan include needing to only qualify once, signing one set of loan documents and paying one set of loan fees for both the construction-phase financing and permanent mortgage.

“As a local financial cooperative, the Credit Union is proud to offer low rates and flexible terms on a product that few financial institutions are offering,” said David E. Doss, president and CEO of Arizona State Credit Union. “We are excited to add construction loans to our home loan options as it is one more way we can assist members residing in the Arizona communities we serve.”

A J.D. Power and Associates study this year showed that consumer backlash against fees and the perception of poor customer service from some of the bigger banks have caused some consumers to switch to credit unions, whichunlike banks, which are run as private businesses seeking profits, operate as nonprofit entities and are technically owned by their members.

“Generally credit unions offer lower fees and better interest rates than banks,” Stull said. “This is one reason consumers may come to a credit union. We also see many people that switch because they want to do business with a local financial institution that is based in Arizona. Our deposits are returned to the community in the form of loans than in turn grow jobs and economic development in the communities we serve. Many consumers have made a choice to support local businesses, and credit unions are a great example of that.”

While credit unions never issue subprime mortgages, which many experts blame for helping lead the nation into the recession, credit unions did get hit with the impact of the failing economy. One lesson Earl said they learned: Innovation.

“Learning to manage resources while providing increased quality of services through the recession has challenged the way credit unions approach problems,” he said. “Increased creativity and credit union technology are some of more positive lessons for the long term.”
In addition to lower fees and increasing efficiency that is resulting from lessons learned in the wake of the recession, Stull said credit unions offer free financial counseling, will help members create a budget to manage their funds, and Arizona State Credit Union’s Home Affordable Refinance Program has allowed homeowners who owe more than the house is worth to refinance and reduce their payments.

“Choosing a credit union is a win-win situation for consumers,” Stull said. “They can get a better rate or lower fees to help them stretch their budgets, and they can benefit their community by doing business with a local financial cooperative that helps create jobs and grow the local economy. You get a good deal and you can feel good about helping your community, too.”

financial institutions - bank

Understanding The Function, Purpose, Regulation Of Financial Institutions

The functions and regulations of financial institutions have changed since our most recent recession and will likely continue to be governed at a higher level going forward. This is critical for the success of our future economy.

Financial institutions help provide opportunity for our economic growth and improve our living standards. They do this by assisting as a liaison for those who have savings (dollars) and those who have a need for capital. Institutions typically will raise dollars from other institutions or individuals then loan those dollars to other entities at a cost (interest rate). This is how financial institutes help aid the flow of money through our economy.

There are several types of financial institutions, such as banks, credit unions, brokerage companies, insurance companies and trust companies — all of which have different primary functions and assist with the transferring of funds from investors to companies in need of funds.

Banks

Banks are corporations with a state or federal charter, which can accept deposits, invest in securities and make loans to businesses or individuals. Loans are considered to be the most valuable assets for commercial banks and deposit accounts are their main liability. Some banks may provide other financial services for its members. Banks are regulated on a federal level and have government protection for their depositors (FDIC insurance).

Credit unions

FDIC insures depositor accounts for commercial banks and most non-bank thrift institutions, such as credit unions. Credit unions have similar services as banks but are focused more for small savers and checkable type of transactions. They provide lending services and are owned by their members.

Brokerage companies

Brokerage companies are large corporations and are an intermediary to investors and investment companies. They offer financial services typically to buy and sell stocks for clients.

Insurance companies

An insurance company is another type of financial institution that offers investment vehicles for investors along with other products which may provide financial protection by way of insuring businesses or individuals.

These financial institutions are the backbone of our economy. With improved regulation, we hope they will continue to prosper and develop a strong foundation for our country.

For more information about the financial institutions discussed in this column, visit jacobgold.com.

Securities and investment advisory services offered through ING Financial Partners, Inc. Member SIPC. Jacob Gold & Associates, Inc. is not a subsidiary of nor controlled by ING Financial Partners, Inc.This information was prepared by Michael Cochell of Jacob Gold & Associates, Inc. and is for educational information only. The opinions/views expressed within are that of Michael Cochell of Jacob Gold & Associates Inc. and do not necessarily reflect those of ING Financial Partners or its representatives. In addition, they are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Neither ING Financial Partners nor its representatives provide tax or legal advice. You should consult with your financial professional, attorney, accountant or tax advisor regarding your individual situation prior to making any investment decisions.

Credit Unions Big Boose to Small Business - AZ Business Magazine September/October 2011

Credit Unions Could Be A Big Boost To Small Business

Every week while driving to work I notice an increasing number of empty store fronts. A local restaurant, boutique or consulting firm that was there last week, is no longer there today. It makes me wonder how many of those local small businesses could have survived had they applied and been approved for a small business loan at credit unions.

According to the Arizona Small Business Association, there were just about 381,000 small businesses in Arizona in 2008. Think about how many more small businesses there could be if Arizona’s 49 credit unions had the ability to increase their business lending and offer new business loans.

Think about how many jobs that could create. Now think about the potential positive impact that could have on our economy.

Eighteen Arizona credit unions, about a third in the state, provide member business loans.

However, the current statutory cap is set at 12.25 percent of assets.

Many credit unions have refrained from entering the business lending arena because the 12.25 percent cap prevents them from earning sufficient income to cover the cost of starting up and maintaining a business lending portfolio.

Legislation in the Senate, S 509, has been introduced by Sens. Mark Udall  (D-Colo.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.);  and on the House side, HR 1418 introduced by Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.). If passed, both bills would increase the business lending cap to 27.5 percent of current assets.

If enacted, legislation raising the current statutory cap of credit union small business lending (from the current 12.25 percent of assets to 27.5 percent of assets) could result in $13 billion in new lending and 140,000 new jobs in just the first year nationwide and $144 million in new lending and 1,600 new jobs in Arizona, according to Credit Union National Association estimates.

“We hear from business owners all the time that have solid plans and want to grow, but the big banks won’t even talk to them,” says Paul B. Stull, senior vice president Strategy & Brand for Arizona State Credit Union. “Increasing credit unions ability to lend to these businesses is needed now more than ever. We can get the economy moving again, but the current economic gridlock is holding us back.

“Local financial institutions, like credit unions, know our markets very well. We understand Arizona and we know how to make Arizona loans for Arizona people.”

The unique benefit to this legislation is no U.S. taxpayer dollars would be needed; nor would any new government programs need to be created.

When other lenders pulled back during the financial crisis, credit unions stepped up to the plate and continued to lend. And even though credit unions are the only financial institution imposed with a statutory cap, member business loans have grown 3 percent in Arizona over the past year, compared with other financial institutions which have decreased an average of 7 percent. Many credit unions, however, may soon be approaching the statutory cap of 12.25 percent of current assets.

The average credit union small business loan in Arizona is $220,000; these are indeed loans to small businesses. With so many local small businesses struggling, these loans are increasingly necessary to support our local economy so it can once again thrive.

With less than 2 percent of the market, it’s important to note that credit unions pose no threat to commercial banks. Small businesses are often turned away from commercial banks because they are too small. This is where credit unions have the ability to fill in the gap.

Credit unions have a long history and good track record with their members of making small business loans, and making them prudently.

Since 1997 the net charge off rate for credit union small business loans in Arizona has been roughly one-fourth the average of other financial institutions (0.23 percent vs. 0.93 percent), and in 2011 averaged 70 percent of other financial institutions (0.91 percent vs. 1.29 percent).

Treasury, Obama Administration and our federal regulator, the National Credit Union Administration, are all in favor of this legislation.  Those standing in the way are only impeding a path to sustain the growth of local economies by supporting small businesses and the jobs that they bring to our communities.

“Arizona needs jobs, businesses need loans to grow and now is the time for Congress to increase credit unions ability to meet those needs,” Stull says. “This is a quick fix to create jobs at no cost to the taxpayer. We are asking Congress to prove their commitment to growing jobs and this is one piece of legislation that does just that.”

For more information about credit unions, visit www.azstcu.org.

 

Arizona Business Magazine September/October 2011

Make Larger Loans To Small Businesses - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Arizona’s Credit Unions Want To Make Larger Loans To Small Businesses

As lending opportunities for small businesses throughout Arizona continue to tighten, legislation has been moving through Congress that would enable Arizona’s credit unions to make more loans to small businesses. The media is filled with reports about how small businesses are having trouble gaining access to affordable credit. Credit unions did not take TARP money during the financial crisis, and they can help small businesses create jobs and jumpstart the economy, all at no cost to the taxpayer. This is inconsistent with additional proposals that would give added TARP money to the for-profit banks in order to stimulate small-business lending.

Many local credit unions stand ready to help. But unlike banks, credit unions are constrained by an arbitrary cap that, under current law, limits the amount of small business loans they can make to 12.25 percent of total assets. The Senate is currently debating legislation introduced in the House, the Small Business Lending Fund Act, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has offered a proposed bipartisan amendment to the bill that would raise the business lending cap on credit unions from 12.25 percent of assets to 27.5 percent.

Upholding credit unions’ history of prudent and responsible lending, the credit union would need to meet certain criteria and be approved by the National Credit Union Administration to lend in excess of the current 12.25 percent cap. A credit union would have to be well capitalized (above 7 percent); at or above 80 percent of the current business lending cap for one year before applying; have five or more years of business-lending experience; have a history of strong underwriting and servicing of business loans; and have strong management, an adequate capacity to lend and policies to manage increased business loans. This amendment also includes provisions that would protect the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. The Treasury Department also sent a similar proposal to Congress earlier this year.

If the credit union member business lending cap were raised from 12.25 percent to 27.5 percent of assets, the estimated increase of small business loans would be $10 billion in the first year, leading to the creation of 108,000 new jobs, according to estimates from the Credit Union National Association. More than 1,600 of those jobs would be created here in Arizona. Just as important, this arbitrary lending cap increase would come at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Small business is the cornerstone of our community and the key to increasing jobs and economic recovery. The additional lending authority would enable credit unions to do more of what they do best — make safe-and-sound loans to members. In this case, to members who are looking to start or expand a small business in Arizona.

As member-owned, not-for-profit, cooperative financial institutions, supporting local business is natural, and oftentimes, members are seeking a business loan that is too small for banks. The average size of a credit union small business loan in Arizona is only about $240,000, and Arizona credit unions maintain only about 2.6 percent of the local business lending market share.

A well-run member business lending program has the potential to bring a great amount of success to the community. First and foremost, the member businesses have another lending option, allowing them a chance to succeed with the right loan. However, a member business lending program requires personnel and resources. With a cap that is as low as 12.25 percent, many credit unions find the cap too restrictive to offer business loans.

With more capacity to make small business loans, credit unions throughout Arizona can do more to help spur the creation of new jobs, and help accelerate our nation’s economic recovery.

Arizona Credit Unions
Currently Offering Member Business Loans

  • Arizona Federal
  • Arizona Heritage Credit Union
  • Arizona State Credit Union
  • AEA Federal Credit Union
  • Continental Federal Credit Union
  • Credit Union West
  • Arizona Central Credit Union
  • First Credit Union
  • Tempe School Credit Union
  • Tombstone Federal Credit Union
  • Desert Schools Federal Credit Union
  • Vantage West Credit Union
  • TruWest Credit Union
  • Tucson Federal Credit Union

Austin De Bey also contributed to this article.  He is vice president of governmental affairs for the Arizona Credit Union League & Affiliates, www.azcreditunions.coop.

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Arizona Business Magazine's Editor-in-Chief Janet Perez

The Buzz on AZNow.Biz – September 20, 2010

It’s another exciting week at AZNow.Biz. Arizona’s credit unions are asking Congress to allow them to make more loans to more small businesses. This week also marks the debut of our workforce columnist, Marcia Rhodes, from the recruitment firm WorldatWork. Rhodes asks the question, are you a good boss?  Find all this and more at AZNow.Biz.

Arizona’s Credit Unions Are Helping - AZ Business Magazune Sept/Oct 2010

Arizona’s Credit Unions Are Helping Those Who Depended On Payday Loans

With Arizona’s payday loan industry now history, the state’s credit unions are jumping into the resulting void to both help consumers and gain new members.

Called REAL Solutions, the Arizona Credit Union League & Affiliates’ new program offers an option for consumers who depended on the short-term loans made by the payday loan industry. But in proverbial teach-to-fish fashion, REAL Solutions also aims to help those consumers build long-term financial security.

One service provided by REAL Solutions is a small dollar emergency loan, which allows credit union members to get short-term loans at lower interest-rates than normal payday lenders would offer.

The average payday loan was typically for 14 to 30 days, and the fees varied between $15 and $20 per $100 borrowed. Under this model, a 14-day loan could carry an APR of 520 percent. With REAL Solutions, interest rates vary by credit union, with rates starting as low as 12 percent.

While these loans are an option for consumers, they are not the solution to borrowers who relied heavily on payday loans. However, credit union loans can benefit the borrower in ways that payday loans cannot. If repaid on schedule, the short-term loans can build the borrower’s credit score, because payments to credit unions are reported to credit bureaus, while most payday loans are not. Credit building allows borrowers to obtain better interest rates and terms on their next loan products.

Some credit unions also will put a portion of the loan repayment in a savings account if paid on time. The amount is small, but normally will cover the fee involved in setting up the loan.

Because borrowers can easily fall into a debt trap with payday loans, credit unions only provide members with the opportunity to have one of these short-term loans at a time. This keeps the borrower from getting into a never-ending cycle of taking out a loan to pay off another loan.

Two additional components of the REAL Solutions program are low-interest credit cards and member-rewards programs.

Low-interest credit cards help members gain financial stability. These credit cards are designed to be less of a financial burden on the cardholder by keeping interest rates lower than normal cards.

Credit union members also can enroll in a member-rewards point program, which is similar to a credit card rewards program. The member receives a point for every dollar paid in interest, as well as incentive-based points for continued membership, referring new members or utilizing member-friendly services such as online bill pay. The members can use the points they accumulate for items such as discounted loan rates or even to waive fees they have incurred.

The Arizona Credit Union League realizes that education is the key to financial stability and freedom. Proper financial education on budgeting, debt management, identity theft prevention, building credit, home buying, retirement savings and buying a car are key to being financially empowered.

REAL Solutions includes such benefits as:

  • Second chance checking
  • Member rewards
  • Credit building loan programs
  • Free financial education (for all stages of life)
  • Short-term, small-dollar emergency loans
  • Credit building credit card programs
  • Reloadable prepaid debit cards
  • Low-cost personal loans
  • Overdraft protection
  • IDAs (Individual Development Accounts)
  • ID theft/fraud services
  • Holiday loan skip pay

Each REAL Solutions Credit Union provides independent programs and services. Names of services and programs may vary depending on the credit union.

Arizona credit unions participating in REAL Solutions:

  • AEA FCU
  • Alhambra CU
  • Altier CU
  • American Southwest CU
  • Arizona Central CU
  • Arizona Federal CU
  • Bashas’ Associates FCU
  • Canyon State CU
  • Credit Union West
  • Desert Medical FCU
  • Desert Schools FCU
  • First Credit Union
  • Hughes FCU
  • MariSol FCU
  • Mohave Community FCU
  • Pima FCU
  • Pyramid CU
  • Southwest Health Care CU
  • Tempe Schools CU
  • TruWest CU
  • Tucson Federal CU
  • Tucson Telco FCU
  • Vantage West CU

Austin De Bey also contributed to this article.  He is vice president of governmental affairs for the Arizona Credit Union League & Affiliates. For more information about the REAL Solutions program and the credit unions that offer it, visit the Arizona Credit Union League website at www.azcreditunions.coop.

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

money stack

Credit Unions Were Well Capitalized Leading Into The Recession

Arizona credit unions are weathering the rocky economy fairly well, but not without some bumps and bruises along the way. More than 20 of the 55 credit unions in the state have seen their bottom lines slip into the red. Even so, conservative and prudent lending policies that steered them away from the risky subprime market, and the fact they are well capitalized, have put credit unions on solid financial ground.

Insiders say the No. 1 measure of solvency is capital, and credit union capital ratios are considered quite healthy.

Credit unions, which are not-for-profit institutions and do not have stockholders to satisfy, nevertheless are feeling the pain of their members who have lost jobs or might even be in danger of mortgage foreclosure or bankruptcy.

Michael Hollar, vice president of business financial services for the 68,000-member Arizona Central Credit Union, describes the percentage of its loans that are in delinquency as “fairly high.” As of late last year, 1.67 percent of Arizona Central’s loans were in jeopardy, compared to 0.5 percent 12 to 18 months earlier.

If a payment is 11 days late, the credit union contacts the member to find out what the problem is. If the payment is 60 days late, steps are taken to ease the member’s financial pain by extending the amortization and lowering the interest rate.

“From a bottom line perspective, we were well into the red in 2008, roughly $6.5 million,” Hollar says.

“The reason is that we put a significant amount of money into reserve for loan losses. Every time we write something off, we put that much into reserve.”

Through 11 months of 2008, Arizona Central had put $10.6 million into its reserve fund, compared to $1.6 million for the corresponding period in 2007, reflecting the result of troubled loans.

“People walk in with the car keys and say they can’t make the payment anymore,” Hollar says. “It’s amazing. We’re lucky to get 50 cents on the dollar on that vehicle when it is sent to auction. Values are down. We’ve had a fair number of home equity loans that we wrote off. There’s no equity in the home anymore. The first mortgage is probably more than the house is worth.”

The goal was to pack as much bad news into 2008, so Arizona Central could hit the ground running in 2009, Hollar says.

Most credit unions have a very strong capital base. Any capital ratio to total assets in excess of 7 percent is considered by the National Credit Union Association to be well capitalized. In the past year, Arizona Central slipped to more than 10 percent from 11 percent, still well above the 7 percent plateau.

“We’re still north of 10 percent,” Hollar says. “As far as long-term stability, there are no issues. We’re not panicking by any means.”

The sinking economy, however, led to some changes in Arizona Central’s already conservative lending policies. Home equity loans that were offered for 100 percent of a home’s value, now are limited to 80 percent.

Steve Dunham, CEO of Canyon State Credit Union and board chairman of the Arizona Credit Union League and Affiliates, assesses the industry’s status: “I think we’re doing pretty well.”

He cites such factors as credit unions being not-for-profit organizations chasing quarterly profits, and avoiding higher-risk activities, including subprime and no-documentation lending.

“That helped protect us,” Dunham says. “Capital at credit unions was at an all-time high going into the recession. Credit unions started out with very good capital, and we still have very good capital at this point. By and large, I think credit unions will weather the recession very well.”

At Canyon State Credit Union, the 20th largest in the state with $140 million in assets, the number of members who are encountering financial difficulties is accelerating somewhat, Dunham says.

“As they have difficulty, so do we,” he adds. “As unemployment rises, more members are losing their jobs or having their hours cut. Real estate loans that everybody thought were well collateralized, with the drop in real estate values, now we’re discovering they are not so well collateralized. We’re very conservative as far as identifying what that real estate value is.”

Like other credit unions, Canyon State works with its members to help them through tough times on a case by case basis.

Even though some credit unions are operating in the red, Scott Earl, CEO of the Arizona Credit Union League and Affiliates, doesn’t expect consumer members to see much difference when it comes to borrowing. However, credit unions might require more documentation before awarding a loan than they did a year or two ago, he says.

At First Credit Union, where defaulted loans have increased mostly for autos, Carolyn Cameron, vice president of business development, says membership actually rose slightly in 2008 to nearly 60,000.
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“We stepped up our relationship building, our marketing efforts, working hard to attract new members and retain our current members,” Cameron says.

On the financial side, Cameron says, “Our very strong capital position prepared us to weather fluctuations in economic conditions. We also added provisions for dealing with increased loan losses. We eliminated construction loans, and we came out with an assistance program for members having trouble.”

Assistance may involve deferring or reducing payments, and reducing interest rates to help borrowers get back on their feet, she says.

What is it going to take to turn the economy around? Dunham, chairman of the Credit Union League, says the answer is simple.
“In Arizona, we need to absorb the excess real estate that’s available and get home building started again.”

Small Businesses getting help in down economy

Despite Weak Economy, Credit Unions Are Providing Financial Assistance To Small Businesses

When talking about credit unions and business loans, the key word is small. The percentage of business loans to credit union assets nationally is about 2 percent; business loans in Arizona average about $240,000, compared to $180,000 nationally. And because the loans are relatively small, the focus is on small businesses. Federal law caps credit union business loans at 12.25 percent of total assets.

“With business loans hovering at around 2 percent, it tells you that a lot of credit unions are not doing business loans. But they have plenty of room to assist businesses,” says Scott Earl, CEO of the Arizona Credit Union League and Affiliates.

One of the reasons that a majority of credit unions, especially smaller ones, don’t dabble in business lending is because of the level of expertise required.

“You need to be fairly sophisticated,” Earl says. “Traditionally, larger credit unions have the ability and staff support to make business loans.”

Of course, not all business loans require a lot of sophistication. Perhaps a teacher has a summer job doing yard work and needs a trailer to haul things around. In fact, many of the loans go to sole proprietors, and some involve small-business owners who were turned down by a bank.

“We hear stories like that all the time,” Earl says, “and not because of economic conditions.”
Traditionally, a credit union gets involved in business loans because some loans are too small for the average bank — not worthy of their time and effort. That’s probably a bigger issue during an economic boom, Earl says.

“We’re making business loans. You hear about banks pulling out of business lending. But we have not done that,” says Mark Olague, assistant vice president of business lending for Desert Schools Credit Union.

He tells of a business prospect who had a construction loan with a bank and was having difficulty getting timely advances. Not only did the credit union make the construction loan, refinancing was approved for commercial loans on several of the client’s other Phoenix area properties, as well.

“We were able to step up and do the construction loan for that small business, making our member happy,” Olague says. “The key regarding the credit union world is that not only are we here to service business loans, we’re looking for relationships. We are relationship-oriented.”

In addition to providing an attractive interest rate on a business loan, credit unions offer such services as a checking account, credit card options for sales and purchases, and a 401(k).
“We’re like a one-stop shop,”

Olague says. “We can make loans for an overdraft line of credit for as small as $2,000 or for the purchase of a business vehicle for $30,000 to $40,000. Generally our footprint is from $25,000 to $2 million.”
Desert Schools’ business members generally seek loans for purchasing a fixed asset to start a new business.

“We’re not entertaining startups,” Olague says. “Normally, we’re looking at businesses that have been in existence for at least two years.”

All, however, is not rosy among credit union business members. A few have had bankruptcy issues and cash flow difficulties.

“We’re here for them in good times and bad times,” Olague says. “We may modify their loan to make payments easier for the interim.”

At First Credit Union, which has been making business loans for four years, Joe Guyton, senior vice president of credit, says he’s not seeing startups like he did a year earlier.

“The economy is clearly having a big impact on the capital needs of beginning a business,” Guyton says.

“There are not many people out there with the confidence to start a business. Our business members are coming in to maintain their borrowing relationship. They are concerned about losing that relationship. The amount of inquiries regarding new projects has almost dried up — anything with construction dollars on it.”

Although some business members have filed for bankruptcy, because First Credit Union is relatively new to business lending, the impact on it is considerably less than it would be on a major bank, Guyton says. Fewer than 1 percent of the credit union’s 60,000 members are businesses.

“We’re in a good position to continue to help them,” he says.
Michael Hollar, vice president of business financial services for Arizona Central Credit Union, says most of his business members are struggling. Last year, when gas prices skyrocketed, business members making deliveries took a huge hit. They were looking for alternate sources of fuel and were not seeking loans to buy new vehicles. They repaired what they had.

“A few of the savvy ones, when interest rates started dropping on the real estate side, came in to refi a loan with lower rates,” Hollar says. “We accommodated most of them. We charged a fee, but they were OK with that, rather than staying with the same payments.”

The volume of loan requests dropped considerably during the last three-to-four months of 2008. There were a few startups, mainly from people who had been laid off and were trying to go into business for themselves.

“In this environment, there is very little interest in businesses buying a new piece of equipment or looking for a building,” Hollar says. “They’re hunkering down to ride out the storm, hoping that 2009 brings a brighter day.”

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Credit Unions Face The Future & Ride Out The Current Economic Storm

Beginning in November, credit unions across the nation will launch a celebration marking 100 years of their not-for-profit, cooperatively owned financial institutions operating in the United States.

Arizona Business Magazine, September 2008What may be surprising for some about that 100-year mark is a realization that credit unions have just lately — maybe within the past 20 years or so — become more visible within their communities. That’s largely because of the growth they have experienced, with more and more consumers becoming convinced that credit unions offer a superior, straight deal for themselves and their families.

With more than 90-million members nationwide, and about $825 billion in assets, credit unions have become much more prevalent within the working population of the nation as a source of loans, a safe harbor for their savings, and an innovative financial institution that meets the needs of their member/owners.

But, make no mistake — much has changed in 100 years, particularly in terms of how products and services are delivered, as well as expectations by consumers of services from their credit unions. ATMs, debit cards, online banking, credit cards — all are items credit union members of 100 years ago could scarcely have imagined.

Today, nearly all credit unions offer at least some of these services to better assist their members and to meet their high expectations.

What hasn’t changed at credit unions, however, is their philosophy and structure — a key difference between credit unions and other types of financial institutions, particularly banks.

For one thing, banks are owned by investors, either privately or as stock-held organizations. Credit unions are entirely owned by their members, cooperatively.

Secondly, banks exist to maximize profits for their investor/owners. Credit unions exist solely to maximize financial services to their members.

To put that difference into context, consider the subprime mortgage crisis that has ravaged our economy, locally and nationwide. By their very nature, credit unions largely avoided the crisis. Credit unions, which largely hold on to their mortgage loans rather than sell them off (70 percent of credit unions nationwide do exactly that), made loans to members that they could pay back — especially taking into consideration a member’s ability to pay back the loan.

It is no secret that in the current economic downturn, many individuals have found themselves backed into a corner from the subprime mortgage crisis and a wide variety of other unfriendly designer loan products. Fortunately, credit unions have honestly established their presence for serving their members. Remaining removed from other lending institutions has only worked for the best interest of their members.

This isn’t to say that credit unions across the country have not faced some “collateral damage” from the subprime crisis. Members are having trouble making payments on credit union loans because of an expensive subprime mortgage obtained from other lenders, or because some members are losing their jobs in today’s weak economy. But credit unions went into this with very strong balance sheets, and will still be in very strong shape when it’s all over.

Further, consumers can be assured that their money is safe when it is saved in a credit union. Just as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) does for banks, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), an agency of the federal government) insures a person’s savings to at least $100,000, with higher total insurance coverage available if the member has a combination of individual, joint, trust, payable-on-death and other types of accounts. In addition, there is separate insurance coverage of up to $250,000 for individual retirement accounts.

Today, credit unions offer a wide range of financial services, either because their members expressed an interest in having those services or because the credit union identified services that would best serve their memberships.

Yet, there are limits on what a credit union can do. In fact, credit unions are among the most highly regulated of all financial institutions.

But the changing realities of their members’ lives require credit unions to be as flexible as possible in the services they offer. Credit unions don’t yet have the complete flexibility they need, but are working with the Congress and state legislatures to allow them to be more limber in providing services to members.

One area in particular is business lending. Even though a number of credit unions came into being in the early 20th century, specifically to provide business loans to their members (fishermen, farmers, cab drivers and others), credit unions today are tightly regulated in this area.

Nevertheless, business lending is becoming for some credit unions an important part of their lending portfolio.

Much of the business lending at credit unions is driven by the members themselves. They know and appreciate the solid programs credit unions have offered on auto and home loans. Further, before the present economic slowdown, small businesses were already having trouble finding credit from traditional sources.

A 2004 research study by the Small Business Administration found that credit access for small business had been significantly reduced from traditional sources, and that non-bank sources of funding are becoming increasingly important, especially in areas dominated by banking institutions that have “consolidated,” that is, large banks merging with or buying up smaller banks.

What further attracts members interested in business lending and consumer financial services is that credit unions have a mission of serving “people from all walks of life.” In fact, today just about anybody is eligible to join a credit union somewhere (but not everyone can join just any credit union — you must fall within its “field of membership”). That’s important for credit unions, because, as cooperatives, they need members from all income segments: Those who have funds to save in order to bring deposits into the credit union, and those with a need to borrow funds to finance their needs in life.

It is this cooperative structure, and our mission to maximize financial services, that compels credit unions to offer a better deal on savings and loans. In fact, the Credit Union National Association’s Web site reports each day just how much of a better deal credit unions offer at www.creditunion.coop

For their first century in America, credit unions have seen a great deal of change, particularly in how consumers expect to obtain and receive their financial services.Arizona Business Magazine, September 2008

But what has not changed in the last 100 years is the cooperative structure, spirit and philosophy of credit unions — “people helping people.” We hope to keep celebrating that spirit for the next 100 years.

Steve Earl is president and CEO, and Joy Audet is political communications coordinator for the Arizona Credit Union League, which represents credit unions operating in the state. For more information, visit www.azcreditunions.org.