It's (NCUA's) CSI: Credit Union At Failed, Paper-Based CU

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I wouldn't look for a show called "CSI: Credit Union" on television anytime soon, but that's not because it wouldn't be Must-See TV.

Consider this potential script: relatively small credit union whose balance sheet seems healthy is nonetheless seized by regulators. But there are some mysteries in the books, and when the regulators start sniffing around its 82-year-old investment adviser jumps from the 11th story of a building in an apparent suicide. To figure out what happened, the CSI team, in this case state and federal agencies, have to try to assemble paper records-the CU had no use for a computer.

It's a story with all the drama of a fictional TV show, but it's real. And it's not a one-episode story. Credit unions frequently die, sometimes quietly, sometimes gruesome deaths, and sometimes with a great deal of mystery around them. They are liquidated and merged and absorbed and written off, and none of it occurs without a team of examiners and accountants tidying it all up before the body is sent to the CU coroner.

But it's not always so easy. When the $12.7-million New London Security FCU in Connecticut was shuttered earlier this year by NCUA the story soon found its way to the newspapers. The 72-year-old CU closed with just $234,000 in loans, and 98% of its assets in investments. It was questions surrounding those investments that allegedly led investment adviser Edwin Rachlef to commit suicide. It also had $700,000 in uninsured deposits, which led Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to demand an explanation from NCUA.

One reason "CSI: Credit Union" won't ever air is that getting those answers will take much longer than 48 minutes plus commercials. The reason is that New London Security was/is one of 104 CUs in the country that still use a manual system and are not automated-in short, it used old-fashioned hand-posting. The agency still maintains old school experts on manual posting, according to John McKechnie, NCUA's director of public and congressional affairs, who was a tremendous resource in tracking down for Credit Union Journal all the agency does to track down paper records at CUs. It isn't that that NCUA hasn't tried to drag these cooperative Luddites into the 20th century. While the exam procedures for non-automated CUs are the same as for everyone else, NCUA offers technical assistance grants to certain CUs to buy computers.

Manual CUs are required to maintain a general ledger along with a manual share and loan trial balance using the dual entry method, and must provide backup documentation for the entries, the same as automated CUs.

According to McKechnie, when the New London Securities of the world hear the knock of the regulator, staff with its Asset Management and Assistance Center frequently put in 14- to 16-hour days and weekends to get insured shares paid quickly-within 72 hours is the goal.

But to make that goal at a manual credit union, examiners have to start reconstructing records, including balancing of member ledger cards and entering all relevant data into an Excel spreadsheet. There is the common sense stuff, such as gathering up all the daily work that can be found, on desks, in the vault, etc., and determining that all receipts/disbursements had been posted to the proper accounts. Examiners have to go through the CU's checkbook for all loans and share withdrawals, and NCUA sends a Liquidation Analyst physically to the CU's bank with the liquidation order to change authority on the account (which is not closed).

All of those records are sent to the AMAC office in Austin, Texas, and it's not until those are reviewed that a special hold is withdrawn from the accounts of CU staff and board members.

To accelerate such special investigations, McKechnie said NCUA often engages the services of additional researchers and accountants who will review documents as far back as 10 or 20 years depending on what records are available, while making copies of everything and again entering all of that into databases.

When the liquidation involves suspected misdeeds, there's a whole new level of investigation worthy of a CSI episode. Regulators set out to obtain affidavits and declarations under oath from any and all relevant parties, and bring in the FBI and the Assistant U.S. Attorney for any criminal investigation. That could lead to an award of criminal restitution against those found responsible, with any recoveries going to the "estate" of the failed CU (there's also the civil litigation).

But none of that matters a whole lot to all those members who have their life's savings in a credit union that has been taken over by some mysterious four-letter acronym. As McKenchie said, the agency works to put the "access" back in account access as quickly as it can. It initially matches member shares to matching member loans (members with loans in good standing can later request reversal), and prints checks on all insured shareholders. In the New London case, like others, it overnights any accounts of more than $5,000 (in this case, 226 such checks), and also sends along a letter explaining what is happening and what "share insurance" is. Still, some 121 members called the AMAC with questions.

NCUA reached out to all those members with balances in excess of the $100,000 NCUSIF limit, sending those folks Uninsured Share Certificates while working to obtain additional recoveries as it continues to review records and even issuing subpoenas to get them.

Perhaps it's not all worthy of theme music from The Who, it's just an effort to answer a lot of Whats, Whens and Whys.

Frank J Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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