Credit Unions

Credit Unions Also Weighed Down By Regulatory Burdens

Recently, a group of credit union executives in Cincinnati sat down with Staff Reporter Steve Watkins of the Cincinnati Business Courier and let him know that when bankers complain about the regulatory burden that is crushing them, credit union executives feel their pain (albeit, in a tax-free kind of way).

A group of Greater Cincinnati credit union executives met with me for lunch on Monday at Palomino to talk about the issues that are affecting them, and the regulatory burden was topic one.

They had just met Monday morning with U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, primarily about the possibility of easing the regulatory burden. Patrick Harris, director of legislative affairs for the Ohio Credit Union League, told me the banking sector has had 180 new rules and regulations foisted upon it by Congress since 2010, following the financial crisis.

This isn’t a banks versus credit unions thing. Most of the changes the credit unions want would also ease burdens on banks, Harris said. They’re things like reducing the need to send out disclosures about privacy policies, as well as the ability of some credit unions to tap the Federal Home Loan Bank for funds. How big of a factor is it? We know how regulatory costs have caused banks like the Bank of Kentucky to sell. And it has $1.9 billion in assets. What chance do credit unions with $20 million or $30 million in assets have to comply with those same rules?

“When the small credit unions merge, one of the main reasons is compliance costs,” Cinfed Credit Union CEO Jay Sigler said.

The first thing you’ll notice is that they’re all sitting down for lunch and a bitch-fest at Palomino. The visual of complaining about the cost of regulations while scarfing down Tuna Puttanesca or Asiago-Almond Crusted Scallops is somewhat incongruous. Maybe the newspaper picked up the tab.

The second thing you’ll notice, however, is that the smaller the size of the institution, the more incentive there is to merge. Inasmuch as credit unions, especially smaller credit unions, are sometimes touted as a vehicle most able to offer services to the “underbanked” customers who often might “fall prey” to evildoers like payday lenders, the fact that regulatory burdens are leading many to merge should give banks cold comfort. While the number of competitors may decrease, those who are left standing when the shooting stops are going to be better armed at not only surviving, but competing with commercial banks.

The article also notes that all types of loan demand appears to be relatively flat. While one credit union official observes that business loans are a small part of its portfolio, I think that there will be no let-up in pressure by credit unions for more business loan authority. I also expect that there will be no let-up in counterattacks by commercial bankers, who will continue to demand that if a credit union wants to loan like a bank, it should pay taxes like a bank.

Still, the important point to me is that regulatory burden continues to be a driver of financial industry consolidation across the entire spectrum. In other words, unless there is some serious regulatory relief provided (likely via the US Congress), especially for smaller institutions, the incredibly shrinking financial services industry appears to be ia horror show will continue for some time.

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