It’s A Real Credit To This Union

For us ordinary folk, we can be easy to convince: Give us a good deal, and we’ll be there.

If we weren’t convinced, you wouldn’t have seen the sheer number of local people of all ages lined up outside Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall on recent a cold, drizzly evening in Lihue to attend an annual dinner meeting. The venue was not a ballroom, the fare was local and the attire was casual.

The concept was like a community association annual picnic or a family event or church social: Get together with friends and family, have a good, warm meal, enjoy live music and there’s a good chance that you also may go home with some goodies.

This is how one credit union ultimately reels in its members to its annual meeting every year. For a $9 adult ticket, Kauai Community Federal Credit Union members this year not only got a warm, delicious Hawaiian plate and local music, but as compensation for bearing with the usual 10-minute annual meeting held in the air-conditioned auditorium, 500 members had a chance to win a $15 door prize. If you were one of five lucky people, you also may have won a $100 certificate.

That’s a good return on your initial investment, if you had the time and inclination. Apparently, 800 of its members did. In fact, a good return on investments and providing services to its members are the reasons the credit union concept was created and why it continues to survive 60 years later on Kauai.

I got the idea but was in for a surprise. Melvin Chiba, the veteran credit union president, led the meeting, then apologized for springing on its members an additional half-hour slide show. I was not dressed for a prolonged sit-down in the cold auditorium, and my initial reaction was, “Oh, no, I’m gonna freeze.”

But it wasn’t difficult to listen to this Asian man with his warm, humble demeanor. And his story of the institution is an equally humble one. Back in 1954, struggling local entrepreneurs and farmers on Kauai who were not employees of large companies needed help to jump-start or subsidize their operations. A hui of investors came up with an initial caddy of about $500 to start a loan program to help the community. It was simple: The investors would earn interest from borrowers, who now had someone from whom to borrow.

The simple but brilliant concept evolved, and the services grew to include other services. What started out as a single-manned office in the old Tip Top building in Lihue, where its only file cabinet was a wooden box, has turned into an institution with assets of more than $300 million, with its main office now housed in a state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious LEED-certified building in Lihue, the first in the state for a financial institution.

To be honest, I am a virgin credit union dinner meeting attendee, and initially had second thoughts when my mom asked me to accompany her to this event. I knew we would have to endure the meeting and wait for the tedious announcements of the door prizes.

But by the time we left the building and got into our car, shivering as I was, I had a renewed sense of respect for the institution’s essentially altruistic concept centered around serving its immediate community. It does so with a caring touch and a consciousness that doesn’t beat around the bush, and lets its members decide for themselves what is good for them.

And you know what? Before too long, they had called my name and number, and I got to take home a thermal bag – credit union logo emblazoned on the front – filled with goodies.

I am now officially a proud member of my credit union!