Beth Krahn began working at County-City Credit Union in Jefferson, Wis., when she was 15 years old. Not yet old enough to drive, her mom would take her to work, where her first duties included landscaping and cleaning up the parking lot.
She’s made a career at the credit union. Krahn earned undergraduate and master’s degrees at nearby University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and today she serves as president/CEO for the $25 million asset credit union.
Jefferson is a community of about 8,500 residents. County-City opened in 1963 to serve the employees and families of the city of Jefferson and of Jefferson County.
It has since opened its membership to the community, and has about 3,300 members.
“The people we serve are our neighbors, the people we sit next to in church,” Krahn says. “Our kids go to school together. Do we want to see them succeed? Absolutely. We want to provide them with loans and savings accounts that will help them lead better lives. We want our community to thrive.”
As with every small credit union CEO, Krahn wears a lot of hats. She serves as her credit union’s de facto human resource (HR), marketing, and information technology (IT) departments. Having grown up at County-City, she understands her multifaceted role.
“When you have to do things because there’s no one else to do them, you learn fast,” she says.
But Krahn says the substantial resources required for regulatory compliance are hampering the ability of small credit unions like hers to serve members.
Since the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act and the Truth in Lending Act/ Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act following the financial meltdown in 2008, Krahn and her staff have spent far too many hours buried in piles of paperwork.
“These regulations can be 300 pages long,” Krahn says. “We don’t have enough time in our day to read and implement them. We have thousands of dollars going out the door each year just to keep our forms up to date and compliant. Then you still have to conduct internal training because if the forms have mistakes as a result of employee error, we’re on the hook for it.”
Krahn says small financial institutions are being held to the same compliance standards as big banks such as Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, who meet their requirements with virtual armies of compliance experts.
The time and resources Krahn and her employees dedicate to compliance ultimately comes out of members’ pockets, she says.
“The resources we could be using to offer better rates on loans and deposits and more services are being devoted to compliance,” she says.
Krahn’s concerns are a common refrain among small credit union leaders. Credit unions have had to contend with 190 regulatory changes from at least 15 federal agencies since the start of the financial crisis, resulting in more than 6,000 Federal Register pages to review and implement, according to CUNA’s Regulatory Burden Financial Impact Study.
And while growing regulatory burden affects all credit unions—to the tune of $7.2 billion in 2014, CUNA reports—small credit unions have been affected disproportionately.
Since 2010, regulatory costs have grown 43% for small credit unions (those with assets of $35 million or less), compared with 40% for midsize credit unions, and 28% for large credit unions, the CUNA study reports.
Plus, compliance costs amount to 1.12% of average assets for credit unions with assets of less than $100 million, compared with 0.33% among credit unions with assets of more than $1 billion.
It’s no wonder the credit union movement is losing roughly one credit union every business day—taking with them hundreds of credit union evangelists, says Mike Schenk, vice president of CUNA’s economics and statistics department and staff liaison to the CUNA Small Credit Union Committee.
Beyond the sheer volume of regulations, these rules “are marked by incredible detail,” Schenk says, and they’re not static. “So any time there’s a small change, it can affect many processes. There’s a huge volume of details that must be changed with very limited resources. I don’t know how small credit unions do it.”
NEXT: Key challenges