A Closer Look at Profitability of Loan Types

Auto loans across all credit unions totaled $30.4 billion, compared to $7.2 billion in commercial loans in the third quarter of 2018.   One of the most popular loan investments among credit unions for years has been the auto loan obtained through indirect lending.  For those of you not familiar how this works, a lender will set rates for new and used auto loans.  These rates and terms are provided to car dealers, who are hungry for outlets to finance their vehicle sales.  Many CUs have used this as a strategy to gain higher earnings than other options.

The process may vary a from institution to institution.  Typically, the buyer will complete an application at the dealer’s desk and the finance manager at the dealer will review multiple options of lenders who provide their interest rates to the dealer.  These usually will come with some form of incentive from the lender to send the paper to them.  The interest rate the borrower will receive is usually based on their credit score, LTV on the vehicle, and debt ratios.  Competition for this credit is fierce, with at times the major auto producers offering 0% finance rates, from time to time, when they need to move inventory.

Let’s look at an example from a CU in the Midwest. We will call them Car CU.   As of early 2019, they were offering interest rates of 3.75% fixed for a five year fully amortized auto loan for their highest credit rated customer.  To get this loan with the dealer, they must provide a benefit of 0.50% back to the auto seller. Now we have a net rate to the lender of 3.25%.   Most of these people also have no relationship with the Car, or they may have gone to their Car first, as we hope.  So, these loans will come with a typical nominal account to obtain membership.  Car also has little control over the interest rate as all members who fall in a certain profile get a certain interest rate.  So no differential can be made for differences in market areas and other factors. 

Let’s assume the Car writes $1,000,000 of these loans at an average loan of $40,000, which would give us 25 loans.  Over the first 12 months, this package of loans will have an average outstanding balance of $900,198, assuming a 5-year term.  Loan serving expenses and loan losses from auto loans averaged 30 and 60 bps in Q3 2018.  Multiplying this by the average balance gives expenses of $8,281. 

Car CU lines up with the median cost of funds in the industry of 0.30%.  Now, this issue is another blog as I contend that an accurate measure of loan profitability is not using the cost of funds for the CU but using an index like U.S. Treasuries or FHLB Advance rates.  This view assumes the CU must go out into the market to fund the loan with borrowing the funds from at the market.  This helps focus on the net spread using a matched fund principle.

For this example, we will go with Car CUs cost of funds.  Now we have a net interest rate of 2.95%.  Over the first year, Car will earn a net interest of $28,966, after factoring out the cost of funds.  Taking out the loan management costs of 30 bps and loan loss of 60 bps will produce a net income of $20,685.  These new loans will produce a ROA of 2.30% ($20,685/$900,198) from this loan package. (Note the loan servicing expense and loss provision are averages for the industry in the third quarter.)

Let’s consider other loans.  Since we work with commercial loans, I will use Business CU lending $1,000,000 on an equipment loan with the same 5-year term and amortization.  We recently looked at a new loan on a highly qualified credit at a net rate of 5.33%, after our servicing expense.  This is around 2.8% over the current 5- year UST rate.  Now after the average cost of funds, Business CU has a net interest margin of 5.03%.   The average balance on the loans in year one will be $904,310.

Servicing expenses are very small since most of the loan servicing tasks of credit review and payment processing has been handled at the CUSO level.  In this case we will assume 10 bps.  Loan loss risk is higher and averaged 75 bps for commercial loans in the CU industry for 3rd QTR 2018.    This gives us 85 bps of servicing and loan loss expenses or $7,681.

This credit will produce net interest for Business CU at $48,961.  After the cost to manage the credit, the net income is $41,280.  This gives a ROA of 4.6% ($41,280/$904,310).  If Business CU had the relationship and required deposits which averaged $50,000, the ROA on the relationship would increase around another 100 bps.  This is because these deposits represent free money to the CU.

Clearly, the higher yield is with the commercial loan.  The ROA from those relationships of 4.6% compared to 2.95% is a no-brainer.  Now there are higher risks with more funds concentrated into one commercial loan than 25 vehicle loans.  But, the business loan borrower would be better known to the CU compared to the vehicle loans where the application is filled out in the finance department of the dealer.  A finance department that has a vested interest in, at times, in putting down what is needed to have the loan approved. 

Now actual ROA calculations on these loans will vary from institution to institution.  My figures here are based solely on call reporting averages and there may be other factors or costs involved in your shop.  But basically, the NIM and ROA on a commercial loan are much greater than what you pay for indirect auto.  If you want a higher yield on the indirect, you would increase the risk in the loans by going to C paper or lower. 

Also, note that I made a comparison between two loans of the same amortization.  The larger balances for Business CU will probably be in commercial real estate.  Here the rates will be lower, but will still be much higher than Car.  Also, the amortization will be longer, so the interest earned will not take as much of a hit.  The average car loan has a 3 year term and an average business loan has a 5-7 year term in the credit union world.

There may be a place for both indirect and business loans in the CU world.  But if you are thinking that indirect auto lending is the ultimate salvation to a sagging ROA, think again.  The results are dwarfed by a good commercial loan.  Indirect lending should be used as a gateway to get a bigger share of the banking wallet for those 25 new members, instead of just the $25 share membership.   A good business lending program must be added to increase yield while deploying capital in larger pieces which will make a bigger impact in their communities, providing increased employment and helping people achieve their dreams. 

Our CUSO has a mission to make those CUs we work with successful in the commercial and agricultural lending arenas.  Let us help boost your ROA and success.