The Auto Lending Road Is Wide Open For Credit Unions

by Bob Child
Published in Auto Lending
The Auto Lending Road Is Wide Open For Credit Unions

We’ve seen the headlines reporting that auto sales are in decline and are expected to recede over the next couple of years.  At first glance, the news may seem unsettling.  As of July 31, new auto sales had fallen 7% from a year earlier to 1.42 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp.  But, is there growth opportunity for credit unions?

The numbers that drive these headlines don’t tell the whole story.

According to an Aug. 1 Associated Press article, analysts had expected lower auto sales in the U.S. this year because post-recession sales had driven such strong growth. In fact, last year’s 17.55 million new autos sold was an all-time record.

The reality is we’re returning to pre-recession annualized new auto sales of 16.5 to 17 million units in 2017, with many economists projecting similar sales levels for the next few years.

Patrick Manzi, NADA’s senior economist, recently noted that “we expect sales of new light vehicles to reach 17.1 million new vehicles in 2017, with the expectation that rising consumer incentives will overcome any headwinds stemming from an additional increase in interest rates towards the end of the year.” Even better news for credit unions is the used car sales forecast. Americans are expected to buy 40.4 million used cars this year, and that number is forecasted to increase in 2018. Credit unions already command the used auto financing market, and can expect growth in used auto loans over the next few years.

Recent news reports that big banks, such as Wells Fargo, Chase and Ally, have significantly pumped the brakes on their auto loan portfolios. The truth is these banks took on more risk lending to subprime consumers and, as a result, are needing to tighten their underwriting standards. That’s also good news for credit unions, because it presents opportunity in the marketplace. Remember, new car sales volumes have dipped, but only because they were at record volumes. Sales are expected to hold steady at historically normal levels for the next few years. And those consumers will need financing.

On Aug. 17, CUNA Mutual Economist Steve Rick told the firm’s Discovery Conference audience that credit unions have gained almost 17% annual growth in new auto lending, and much of that growth was driven by indirect lending.

We’ve seen similar growth among our credit union partners, with loan application volume climbing month after month in 2017, even as new car sales level off to pre-recession norms. The 1,200 credit unions on our CUDL auto lending platform have experienced 19% loan growth in 2017, and as an aggregate have become the nation’s number one auto lender. There’s a reason for this steady growth. In talking with auto dealers, there is an appreciation for lenders that maintain a consistency in their lending practices. Because banks have shifted into reverse, dealers have consequently redirected more high quality loans away from banks to lenders that have remained consistent in their lending—credit unions. Dealers know that credit unions were a very reliable lender during the recession, and continue to be so in 2017, as other lenders back-track from the marketplace.

In addition to direct and indirect new auto loans, credit unions can also expect strong used car loan volume, thanks to the expected increase in used car sales.

Millennials and Generation Z also present auto loan opportunities. Millennials are no longer the idealistic children who told pollsters they would never buy a car. The oldest millennials, at age 35, are quickly approaching middle age. Many of them are building careers and families and need reliable transportation. The oldest members of Generation Z are now young adults and due to the high cost of college debt, many will be looking for more affordable credit.

With banks tightening auto loan underwriting, there is an opportunity with these young borrowers to become the lender of choice and grow membership levels and loyalty.  Credit unions have an ideal opportunity to increase market share the same way they did when overextended banks turned their backs on consumers during the financial crisis.

As credit unions finalize their 2018 budgets and goals, they can be confident that auto lending will continue to be a strong driver of growth and revenue. That’s good news for credit unions and their members of all life stages.


(Note: A version of this article was first published by CU Times on November 15th, 2017.)

About the Author

Bob Child
Bob Child is CU Direct's chief operating officer, overseeing the company’s finance, marketing and communications, training, and human resources functions. Bob has over 12 years’ experience in the financial services industry, with expertise in developing and executing new best practice strategy functions and establishing program management offices.