Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

For 60 years, Kauai Community Federal Credit Union has been helping folks on the Garden Isle achieve financial security. President Melvin Chiba has been there since 1974

Kauai Community Federal Credit Union (KCFCU) has maintained its humble roots for 60 years. The institution continues to focus on its members, and has established a sense of ohana throughout the generations.

“I’m really fortunate to work in an environment like this,” says Melvin Chiba, president and CEO of KCFCU.

Chiba has worked for KCFCU since 1974, taking on his leadership role in 1980. He is proud to be serving the fourth generation of members since joining the financial team.

“I know for a fact, and people have come back and told me, that this credit union has helped them in their lives,” he says. “You can’t get any better satisfaction than that.”

The credit union, which is a nonprofit, or cooperative, owned by the account holders/members, was initiated by just seven people in 1954. At the time, there were other credit unions on the island, but they were primarily employee-based, meaning members had to work for a certain company to join. The founding members wanted to provide a financial incentive for pineapple farmers who were sole proprietors and needed startup funds for their businesses.

By the end of its opening day, KCFCU had a total of 17 members, and within the first year companies including Gay & Robinson and Kawakami family businesses joined to help their employees begin saving money. Now there are more than 32,000 members – nearly half of the island’s population.

“We want everybody to build a financial foundation for themselves,” explains Chiba.

KCFCU offers most major financial services, including checking and savings accounts, home mortgages, auto loans and credit cards. A credit union differs from a bank in that it is membership-driven. It starts by bringing a group of people together and pooling their savings. If one person needs to borrow money, they take it from the pool and pay it back on a monthly basis with interest that, in turn, gets distributed to the other people. As the pot gets bigger, volume discounts on items such as insurance programs and return benefits increase. There are no stockholders and no major owners, only a nine-member representative board of directors that makes decisions in the interest of members.

“We have people out there who really cherish the fact that it’s their credit union,” says Chiba.

What started as one location in Lihue has expanded to two, along with branches in Kapaa, Eleele and Waimea.

Chiba, a Westside native who graduated from Waimea High School, has had an account at KCFCU since he was 5 years old. His interest in banking, however, started in high school. He graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Kansas State University, and landed his job with KCFCU as an assistant manager upon his return to the island. When he initially was hired, KCFCU’s total assets were $9 million. Today, they have grown to more than $360 million.

Over time, Chiba has watched people’s financial needs grow from simply checking and savings accounts to newer methods of circulating money, such as credit and debit cards.

“I am proud that this credit union has been able to maintain those changes in a beneficial way for the members, and we’ll continue to do that,” says Chiba, who with wife Sharon has three adult children: Brad, Stacie Miguel and Sandi.

“If we don’t serve the needs of the members, there’s no sense in our existence.”

Chiba especially is grateful for KCFCU’s board of directors, which helps steer the direction of the nonprofit. He also is thankful for the 70 employees who make the organization tick, including time they often spend representing KCFCU’s by volunteering for many charitable events throughout the year.

“We’ve been here a long time, and we plan to stay here for a long time more,” says Chiba. “This is our island – this is where we started and this is where we’ll always be.”