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Proposed Rule

Corporate Credit Unions

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AGENCY:

National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

ACTION:

Advance notice of proposed rulemaking and request for comment (ANPR).

SUMMARY:

In the light of current economic circumstances affecting the U.S. economy and, in particular, the financial sector, NCUA is evaluating and reconsidering the role corporate credit unions currently play in the credit union system, including corporates' membership structure, size, and types of services they offer. NCUA is also considering whether to amend its regulation governing corporate credit unions to clarify or revise current provisions, including those related to: Capital; permissible investments; management of credit risk and liquidity; and corporate governance. NCUA seeks comment on these issues and any others commenters think NCUA should consider.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before April 6, 2009.

ADDRESSES:

You may submit comments by any of the following methods (Please send comments by one method only):

Public Inspection: All public comments are available on the agency's Web site at http://www.ncua.gov/​RegulationsOpinionsLaws/​comments as submitted, except as may not be possible for technical reasons. Public comments will not be edited to remove any identifying or contact information. Paper copies of comments may be inspected in NCUA's law library at 1775 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314, by appointment weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. To make an appointment, call (703) 518-6540 or send an e-mail to OGCMail@ncua.gov.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Ross Kendall, Trial Attorney, Office of General Counsel, at the above address or telephone: (703) 518-6540, or David Shetler, Senior Corporate Program Specialist, at the above address or telephone (703) 518-6640.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

A. Background

The Federal Credit Union Act (Act) authorizes natural person federal credit unions (FCUs) to invest in shares or deposits of any central credit union (corporate credit union). 12 U.S.C. 1757(7)(G). A corporate credit union is an organization, chartered under the Act or under applicable state law as a credit union that receives shares from and provides loan and other services primarily to other credit unions. 12 CFR 704.2. Historically, corporate credit unions have fulfilled an important role in the credit union industry and have provided credit unions with payment and clearing services, including access to wire transfer facilities and automated clearing house transactions. Corporate credit unions have also provided investment services, enabling smaller credit unions to achieve economies of scale and access to greater market returns otherwise unavailable to them. Corporate credit unions have been an important source of liquidity for credit unions through short and medium term credit facilities, and have served as agents on behalf of NCUA's Central Liquidity Facility (CLF) in connection with loans funded by the CLF. Corporate credit unions have also provided other operational services, such as coin and currency services and safekeeping of investments.

There are currently twenty-eight corporate credit unions serving the nation's approximately 7,900 credit unions. As with all credit unions, corporate credit unions are organized as cooperatives, owned by their members and responsive to their needs, enabling Start Printed Page 6005members to receive access to necessary products and services at affordable rates. They provide a level of expertise and market presence that would be unavailable to most of their members if required to rely solely on their own resources.

B. Current Economic Climate and Remedial Measures Taken

Over the last year, many corporate credit unions have experienced a dramatic reduction in the value of their investment portfolios. These reductions, coupled with, in some cases, the virtual freeze-up of the market for trading in certain types of investment securities, have undermined the stability of the corporate credit union system. Simultaneously with the issuance of this Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which is designed to identify issues that may have contributed to the current state of affairs and to solicit comment and ideas on how to address them as the industry moves ahead, the NCUA Board has taken several actions with a more immediate, remedial impact, designed to stabilize the industry and maintain confidence in the corporate system. These actions include the following:

  • An infusion of $1 billion in capital into U.S. Central Federal Credit Union, the corporate system's wholesale credit union, by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF); and
  • A temporary NCUSIF guarantee of all member shares, for any corporate credit union that decides to participate in a voluntary guarantee program offered by NCUA.

The Board believes these extraordinary measures, which are mandated by the exigent economic conditions affecting the country, will help stabilize the corporate credit union system and enable credit unions return to their primary mandate, which is to provide affordable financial services to their members. The Board believes that identifying and addressing the issues discussed in this ANPR will help continue to assure stability and confidence in the corporate credit union system in the future.

C. Issues for Consideration

Notwithstanding the successful role that corporates have played in the credit union sector, events of recent months have highlighted several areas in which re-evaluation is appropriate and necessary. As set out more fully below, these include some fundamental aspects concerning the structure, role and services offered by corporate credit unions to the credit union industry.

1. The Role of Corporates in the Credit Union System

Recent events have highlighted structural vulnerabilities in the corporate credit union system. NCUA is considering whether comprehensive changes to the structure of the corporate system are warranted. Possible approaches the agency is considering include eliminating the second or wholesale tier from the corporate system, modifying the level of required capital, isolating payment services from the risks associated with other lines of business, determining which product and service offerings are appropriate for corporates, requiring a restructure of corporate boards, and tightening or eliminating the expanded investment authority that is currently available to corporates.

Payment system. Some of the questions and issues arising in this context, on which the Board is seeking comment, include matters such as whether payment system services should be isolated from other services to separate the risks. If so, what is the best structure for isolating these services from other business risks? Specific comment is solicited concerning whether, for example, it would be better to establish a charter for corporate credit unions whereby a corporate's authority is strictly limited to operating a payment system, with no authority to engage in other services, such as term or structured investments. Additionally, a separate charter may be available for corporate credit unions that want to engage in providing investment services. Another alternative would be for NCUA to establish distinct capital requirements for payment systems risk and the risks of other corporate services. NCUA could also require that a legal and operational firewall be established between payment system services and other services. In connection with this topic, comment is also sought on the question of whether there is sufficient earnings potential in offering payment systems to support a limited business model that is restricted to payment systems services only.

Liquidity and liquidity management. Historically, the primary role of corporate credit unions has been to provide and ensure liquidity. Corporate investments were made with an eye towards ensuring funds would be available to meet members' short-term liquidity needs. Recent events underscore the need to assure a corporate properly considers its investment position relative to its cash flow needs. The Board recognizes and understands that providing liquidity for the credit union system is one of the principal purposes of the corporate credit union network. One question for consideration and comment is whether liquidity ought to be considered a core service of the corporate system, and if so, what steps should be taken, and by whom, to preserve and strengthen corporates' ability to offer that service? For example, should NCUA consider limiting a corporate's ability to offer other specific types of products and services in order to preserve and defend the liquidity function? What specific types of products and services should corporates be authorized to provide?

NCUA is considering additional cash flow measuring requirements to assist corporates in achieving and maintaining proper liquidity management. In this respect, comment is specifically solicited on the question of whether NCUA should add aggregate cash flow duration limitations to Part 704. If so, commenters are invited to describe how this requirement should be structured, and also to identify how such limitations would benefit liquidity management. Finally, comment is solicited on the question of what cash flow duration limits would be appropriate for corporate credit unions, particularly in an evolving interest rate market with previously unseen credit risk spreads.

Field of Membership Issues. NCUA also seeks comment on whether and how to restructure the corporate credit union system. For example, despite its intention of fostering competition, NCUA's decision to allow corporates to have national fields of membership (FOMs) may have resulted in significant, and unforeseen, risk taking. For example, corporates have competed with each other to offer higher rates, and have done so through the accretion of credit and marketability risks. To address this development, should the agency return to defined FOMs, for example, state or regional FOMs?

Expanded Investment Authority. At present, Part 704 provides for an option by which corporates meeting certain criteria can qualify for expanded investment authority. For example, a corporate meeting the criteria set out under Part One of the expanded authority is allowed to purchase investments with relatively lower credit ratings than otherwise permissible under the rule. NCUA seeks comment, first, as to whether the need for expanded authorities continues to exist. If so, should NCUA modify the procedures and qualifications, such as higher capital standards, by which corporates currently qualify for expanded authorities? If so, what should Start Printed Page 6006the new standards be? Should NCUA reduce the expanded authorities available? If so, which ones? Alternatively, should any of the limits in existing expanded authorities be reduced or increased? If so, which ones? Once granted, should NCUA require periodic requalification for expanded authorities? If so, what should be the timeframe?

Structure; two-tiered system. Over time, the corporate system has evolved into two tiers: a retail network of corporates that provide products and services to natural person credit unions, and a single, wholesale corporate that exclusively services the retail corporates. NCUA solicits comment about whether the two-tier corporate system in its current form meets the needs of credit unions. Specifically, NCUA seeks input from commenters about whether there is a continuing need for a wholesale corporate credit union. If so, what should be its primary role? Should there be a differentiation in powers and authorities between retail and wholesale corporates? In considering these issues, commenters are specifically asked to consider whether the current configuration results in the inappropriate transfer of risk from the retail corporates to the wholesale corporate. Commenters should also address whether, assuming the two-tiered system is retained, capital requirements and risk measurement criteria (e.g., NEV volatility), as well as the range of permissible investments, for the wholesale corporate credit union should be different from those requirements that apply to a retail corporate credit union.

2. Corporate Capital

NCUA is considering revising various definitions and standards for determining appropriate capital requirements for corporate credit unions. For example, the agency could establish a new required capital ratio consisting only of core capital excluding membership capital accounts as a component of regulatory capital; the agency could also determine to increase the required capital ratio to more than four percent. The agency could also establish a new ratio based on risk-weighted asset classifications, which could include some form of membership capital. These changes would bring the corporate capital requirements more into line with standards applied by other federal financial regulators, such as the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (recognizing, however, that there are other accounting differences that apply with respect to the calculation of regulatory capital for banks). Another issue under consideration is whether to require a certain level of contributed capital from any natural person credit union seeking either membership or services from a corporate.

Core capital. The Board is considering several issues relating to the agency's approach to core capital (i.e., the traditional “tier one capital” definition as used by the several federal financial institution regulators). Under the current rule, core capital is defined as retained earnings plus paid-in capital. 12 CFR 704.2. Comment is invited concerning whether NCUA should establish a new capital ratio that corporates must meet consisting only of core capital, and if so, what would be the appropriate level to require. Commenters should offer their view concerning what actions are necessary to enable corporates to attain a sufficient core capital ratio as described above, as well as their thought about what would be an appropriate time frame for corporates to attain sufficient capital. The Board invites comment also on the question of what is the appropriate method to measure core capital given the significant fluctuation in corporate assets that occur. Commenters are invited to offer their view on the correct degree of emphasis that ought to be placed on generating core capital through undivided earnings. Finally, NCUA Is considering whether to require that a corporate limit its services only to members maintaining contributed core capital with the corporate. Commenters are invited to react to that idea, and to offer any other suggestions or comments relative to the issue of core capital for corporates.

Membership capital. The Board is also considering several issues involving membership capital. 12 CFR 704.3(b). Issues under consideration and for which comment is sought include whether NCUA should continue to allow membership capital in its current configuration, or should the agency eliminate or modify certain features, such as the adjustment feature, so that membership capital meets the traditionally accepted definition of tier two capital. Other questions include whether to tie adjusted balance requirements, as set out currently in § 704.3(b)(8), only to assets, as well as whether to impose limits on the frequency of adjustments. The agency is considering whether to require that any attempted reduction in membership capital based on downward adjustment automatically result in the account being placed on notice, within the meaning of current § 704.3(b)(3), so that only a delayed payout after the three-year notice expires is permissible. Comment is also sought on whether to require that any withdrawal of membership capital be conditioned on the corporate's ability to meet all applicable capital requirements following withdrawal. Comment is invited on all these issues and on any revisions NCUA should consider for the definition and operation of membership capital.

Risk-based capital and contributed capital requirements. Comment is solicited with respect to the following issues pertaining to risk-based capital and contributed capital requirements. Should NCUA consider risk-based capital for corporates consistent with that currently required of other federally regulated financial institutions? What regulatory and statutory changes, if any, would be required to effectuate such a change? Should a natural person credit union be required to maintain a contributed capital account with its corporate as a prerequisite to obtaining services from the corporate? Should contributed capital be calculated as a function of share balances maintained with the corporate? What about using asset size?

3. Permissible Investments

NCUA is considering whether the corporate investment authorities should be constrained or restricted. Presently, corporates have the authority to purchase and hold investments that would not be permissible for natural person FCU members under Part 703 (or, in some cases, outside of what is authorized for a state chartered credit union). This increases a corporate member's exposure to these risks commensurate with their level of investment in the corporate. Questions on which comment is solicited in this context include whether NCUA should limit corporate credit union investment authorities to those allowed for natural person credit unions. NCUA is also considering whether to prohibit certain categories of, or specific, investments, for example: collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), net interest margin securities (NIMs), and subprime and Alt-A asset-backed securities. Comment is solicited on that issue, as well as on whether NCUA should modify existing permissibility or prohibitions for investments.

4. Credit Risk Management

The reliability of credit ratings for investments has become more questionable in light of events in the financial industry and the current absence of regulatory oversight for Start Printed Page 6007rating organizations. Consequently, NCUA is considering curbing the extent to which a corporate may rely on credit ratings provided by Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSROs). Comment is requested on whether NCUA should require more than one rating for an investment, or require that the lowest rating meet the minimum rating requirements of Part 704. NCUA also solicits comment on whether to require additional stress modeling tools in the regulation to enhance credit risk management.

Several specific aspects of this issue are under consideration, for which comment is solicited, including whether Part 704 should be revised to lessen the reliance on NRSRO ratings. Commenters are invited to identify any other changes they believe may be prudent to help assure adequate management of credit risk. In this respect, commenters should consider whether Part 704 should be revised to provide specific concentration limits, including sector and obligor limits. If so, what specific limits would be appropriate for corporate credit unions? Comments are also solicited on the question of whether corporates should be required to obtain independent evaluations of credit risk in their investment portfolios. If so, what would be appropriate standards for these contractors? Another issue under consideration is whether corporates should be required to test sensitivities to credit spread widening, and if so, what standards should apply to that effort.

5. Asset Liability Management

In a previous version of its corporate rule, NCUA required corporate credit unions to perform net interest income modeling and stress testing. Because one of the problems leading to the current market dislocation is a widening of credit spreads, the agency is considering re-instating this requirement. Alternatively, the agency may consider some form of mandatory modeling and testing of credit spread increases. Comment is solicited on whether NCUA should require corporates to use monitoring tools to identify these types of trends, including specifically comments about tangible benefits, if any, that would flow from these types of modeling requirements.

6. Corporate Governance

The sophistication and far-reaching impact of corporate activities requires a governing board with appropriate knowledge and expertise. NCUA is considering minimum standards for directors that would require a director possess an appropriate level of experience and independence. The agency is also considering term limits, allowing compensation for corporate directors, and requiring greater transparency for executive compensation. Comment is sought on all these issues.

In addition, commenters are invited to respond to the question of whether or not the current structure of retail and wholesale corporate credit union boards is appropriate given the corporate business model. Should NCUA establish more stringent minimum qualifications and training requirements for individuals serving as corporate credit union directors? If so, what should the minimum qualifications be? NCUA is also considering whether to establish a category of “outside director,” i.e., persons who are not officers of that corporate, officers of member natural person credit unions, and/or individuals from entirely outside the credit union industry. Commenters should offer their view on whether that approach is wise, and, if so whether NCUA should require that corporates select some minimum number of outside directors for their boards. Should a wholesale corporate credit union be required to have some directors from natural person credit unions? Comment is sought on whether NCUA should impose term limits on corporate directors, and, if so, what the maximum term should be. Comment is also sought on whether corporate directors should be compensated, and, if so, whether such compensation should be limited to outside directors only. Another issue under consideration, for which reaction from commenters is sought, is whether NCUA should allow members of corporate credit unions greater access to salary and benefit information for senior management.

Request for Comments

The NCUA Board invites comment on any of the issues discussed above including specifically if NCUA's regulations should be amended to address the issues discussed in this ANPR. NCUA also welcomes comment on any other relevant issues pertaining to corporate credit unions that have not been addressed in this ANPR.

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By the National Credit Union Administration Board on January 28, 2009.

Mary F. Rupp,

Secretary of the Board.

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[FR Doc. E9-2292 Filed 2-3-09; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 7535-01-P