Lawsuits, fights with the banking lobby, confusion regarding pot banking, payments changes – 2018 had it all and 2019 looks to be an even more significant year for credit unions. As one year ends and another begins, here's one last look at some of 2018's most notable stories and a look ahead at what the new year may hold.
Banks' winning formula?
The industry saw plenty of big victories in 2018 but also more than its share of setbacks. And while some might position the year as an unqualified success, some analysts say some of the year's biggest issues – from taxation to field of membership and more – are likely to rear their head again in 2019 and beyond, as the banks may have finally hit upon a winning formula.
2018 marked the 20-year anniversary of the passage of HR 1151 and President Bill Clinton signing the Credit Union Membership Access Act into law. What's often forgotten, however, is that those victories took place amid talk of impeachment and partisan hostility among members of Congress. If that sounds familiar, there's good news – one insider from those days says credit unions can learn plenty of lessons from those battles, and they can be instructive for how the movement can win today's fights.
Linda Levy, CEO of Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union, is preparing to retire, but she made a name for herself in 2018 when the credit union sued President Trump over Mick Mulvaney's appointment to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The suit was ultimately thrown out, but Levy's successor will have some big shoes to fill, especially if he or she aims to continue that type of activism.
States continue to legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, putting credit unions in the awkward position of having to determine whether or provide banking services for legal pot businesses. And while more CUs across the country joined the fray in 2018, there are still plenty of questions heading into 2019 – including whether the reward is worth the risks involved and how long CUs can maintain their competitive edge in the legal weed space.
Mortgages continue to be a strong growth area for credit unions, with originations up about 9 percent year-over-year as of September. But with interest rates rising and fears of an economic slowdown, a growing number of CUs are wary about what the coming year holds for mortgages and HELOCs.
Credit unions split 2018 between fighting against ADA and overdraft suits, and a number of sources say the industry shouldn't be surprised to see those trends continue in 2019. And some sources say both issues could get a whole lot worse before things start to improve.
Michigan State University Federal Credit Union kicked off the 2018 holiday season by bringing back a growth strategy it piloted in 2017. As the credit union expands beyond its East Lansing, Mich. roots, it is utilizing a "pop-up shop" strategy in area malls to raise awareness among consumers who may be unfamiliar with it. After two years of popping up, it's a good bet the strategy is here to stay.
With a new majority in the House in 2019, credit unions are reshuffling their advocacy priorities. But the issues that concern them – from cybersecurity and taxation to CRA expansion and cannabis banking – haven't changed. So the industry will have its hands full if it wants to push its agenda in a Congress that is likely to be turning its focus away from regulatory relief and toward presidential oversight.
The National Credit Union Administration is set to kick off 2019 testing out a program to alternate state and federal examinations, thanks to a new partnership with six state credit union regulators. The pilot program is expected to last about three years, and comes on the heels of a recently completed initiative to assess the viability of remote exams.
Credit unions have had it easy for several years when it comes to deposits, but with interest rates rising and lending beginning to level off, the industry may soon face a slew of new challenges that put the squeeze on CUs' bottom lines.
Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union closed out 2018 by launching a second iteration of a program it tested earlier in the year – a unique partnership with the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles that lets consumers do their banking and renew their licenses, among other services, at select branches.
To hear credit union payments analysts tell it, there's a good chance 2019 could be the year of the contactless card. Not only are consumers more likely to skip the chip and PIN in 2019 as more institutions debut contactless cards, but some say there's a good chance that method could even leapfrog adoption of mobile payments at merchants since consumers are already accustomed to reaching for their plastic.
A recent study from PSCU revealed credit as consumers' go-to payment method across a variety of demographics, and a post-holiday report from MagnifyMoney showed consumer debt levels around holiday spending increasing for at least the fourth consecutive year. That's all borne out by recent data showing credit card debt levels on the rise at CUs, but some analysts are predicting a pullback in the years ahead – and that could be even more significant if the economy slows down.