Analysis Shows NCUA Pay Significantly Above Counterparts

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Looking for a job in financial institution regulation? Look to NCUA.

Analysis of salaries paid by various federal financial regulators shows the agency overseeing credit unions pays more-in some cases, significantly more-than do other financial regulators. The analysis was conducted by the American Banker, an affiliate of The Credit Union Journal.

The seven highest paid executives with NCUA all earn more than $200,000 annually. Salaries at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. are voluntarily capped at $192,600 annually (equal to the salary of the vice president of the U.S.), regardless of where the executive might be based. NCUA has no cap in place. The Federal Reserve caps salaries at $215,000 annually.

NCUA Executive Director James L. Skiles, the agency's highest paid employee, told the Banker the adjustment of pay levels at NCUA has helped the agency retain qualified staff and reduce turnover.

All of NCUA's regional directors earn more than their counterparts at the OCC, the OTS and the FDIC. Robert E. Blatner, Jr., who oversees NCUA's West Coast Region VI office in Concord, Calif., earns $230,001 annually, vs. $130,509 for his OCC counterpart, Lawrence E. Beard, in San Francisco. (Beard's salary is lower in part because he is temporarily filling a vacancy).

Former FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman, who now works as a CNBC commentator, said the NCUA pay is the result of politics.

He noted that the 9,814 CUs regulated by NCUA have a combined $538 billion in assets, some $40 billion less than Citigroup alone. "(NCUA) is responsible for assets that are a minute part of what their other regulators are responsible for," Seidman suggested. "People should get paid in connection with their responsibility. In government, that is not always true. in government, much more depends on how much political independence you have. We know that the credit unions have the most powerful political organization on Capitol Hill."

When broken down by number of employees paid more than $100,000 annually, NCUA pays 24% of its employees above that threshold. That compares to 63% at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, 46% at the Federal Housing Finance Board, 33% at the FDIC, and between 27% and 29% at the OCC, the Fed and the OTS.

Because their salaries are capped by statute, the NCUA board members don't come close to cracking the top 20 highest salaries at NCUA. But that is not unusual. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, for instance, earns $166,700 annually.

CUNA CEO Dan Mica issued a statement saying CUNA does not object to the fact NCUA has the three highest-paid RDs, even though the average salary for a credit union president last year was $64,192, and in many cases is much less.

"It's not surprising NCUA regional director salaries in some cases are higher than those of the credit union CEOs they regulate since many credit unions are small in size," said CUNA CEO Dan Mica. "So we think that issue really has no relevance. In the past our research has shown the salaries of NCUA RDs were roughly comparable to their counterparts at the banking agencies. So we'll take a closer look at these latest findings. If there is now a wider disparity, that would be an issue we would raise with the NCUA board. Our concern has always been to ensure the agency is budgeting its resources as efficiently and effectively as possible."

NAFCU's CEO, Fred Becker, said the trade group is always watching NCUA's expenses.

"Seeing the salaries of senior staff at NCUA is always an eye-opening experience, and I am sure the NCUA board will be looking at these numbers as part the budget process. However, what drives the NCUA budget is overall staffing levels, that is, the total number of (full-time) positions. We have strongly urged the agency to reduce full-time slots through normal attrition, especially in light of the declining number of credit unions and the implementation of risk- based examinations. We applaud Chairman (Dennis) Dollar's efforts to trim expenses and to make the agency's budget process more transparent."

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