Kaua’i Federal Credit Union: The CDFI Investing in Its Island Community
“I never thought I would end up working in a financial institution,” says Ivory Lloyd of Kaua’i FCU. Samoan born and raised on Kaua’i, in her college years, she worked in non-profits mainly focused on sustainability. With an undergraduate degree in political science and an international master’s degree in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, she had an ideal background for cooperative finance, but the financial services industry was the last place she thought she would find herself.
Global travel led her back to her home on the island of Kaua’i and after becoming a mom of two boys, Ivory started a business, The Lei Collective, teaching lei making. She realized quickly that her business, which was hosting workshops on how to make lei po'o (Hawaiian flower crowns) was really more about creating spaces for people to gather than it was about working with flowers. Her lei po'o workshops created the opportunity for her to meet women from around the world who, like her, were mothers or entrepreneurs, looking to do something constructive but also meaningful on a personal level.
“Finding time for yourself, as a mother or female entrepreneur, is no easy task,” she admits. “I discovered that women loved attending my lei workshops because it allowed them time to be surrounded by other women, and enjoy making something beautiful for themselves.” Quickly, she realized her "super power", inspired by the flowers, was in gathering people together and weaving their talents and conversations into a whole, a process embodied in the creation of a lei. When the pandemic hit, this opportunity to foster community through the business of lei making was put on hold. The silver lining was that COVID opened up time for her to pivot, as it did for many entrepreneurs.
Meet Kaua’i Federal Credit Union
Kaua’i is one of the smallest and most remote land masses on earth. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki caused devastating damage to the island. It is in times of great adversity that Kaua’i and its community shine the brightest. Due to the inability of large groups to meet, Kaua’i FCU began hosting small pau hana (after hours gatherings) at their newly opened Kilauea branch. The new branch provided a space for community members and leaders to meet, connect and talk about their challenges at a time when everything was shut down. Ivory attended, with a few other community members, and it was then that her interest in community building began to take a sharper focus. For the first time, she learned the distinction between credit unions and banks. The social mission behind credit unions and the way Kaua’i FCU "felt" and was being led, were completely different than any other financial institution she had ever known.
“I knew nothing about credit unions until that day, and from that day forward, when I met with Monica (Belz, CEO at Kaua’i FCU) and her team, all I knew was that I didn’t care how or when, but that I wanted to be a part of it,” she says.
Starting as a teller, Ivory was able to meet the members and learn the mechanics of the credit union. She began helping Kaua’i FCU’s Community Development team with rent relief programs including a program with Aloha United Way that no other credit union on Kaua’i was involved in. In 2021, when it was clear the pandemic was not over, Kaua’i FCU created a new position, COVID Recovery Program Manager, with a sole focus on creating economic resiliency for Kaua’i. Ivory jumped into the role with trademark enthusiasm and was able to bring her work as a small business owner, mother and resident of Kaua’i into full play. “I love bringing people together and I love to connect with them,” she says. “This really translates into the work that I do now, as an advocate for small businesses within the credit union space. I figure out how we can support them (however it may be) as a financial institution.”
As the only credit union CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) on the island of Kaua’i, Kaua’i FCU is building resiliency in a network of public, non-profit and private sector partnerships in a way that has never been done before.
Tackling Kaua’i’s Biggest Challenges
In 1947 — 12 years before Hawai'i became a state — Kaua’i Territorial County Federal Credit Union was established to provide county, state, and federal government employees and their families with basic financial support, and to invest in and grow the quality of life on the island. The credit union changed its name in 1990 to Kaua’i Government Employees Federal Credit Union, and in November 2021, simplified it to Kaua’i Federal Credit Union. As its history suggests, the credit union’s membership primarily includes government employees and first responders, however, Kaua’i Federal Credit Union serves all of Kaua’i, and everyone can be eligible to join. This is a plus, considering that locals — from keiki (children) to kupuna (elders) — face many of the same challenges living on Kaua’i as their ancestors did. These challenges include a lack of affordable housing, natural disasters, and over reliance on a tourism driven economy. Unsurprisingly, each of these challenges was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a partner of CNote’s Impact Cash™ program, Kaua’i Federal Credit Union has access to low-cost capital that it invests in its community. As an MDI with CDFI certification, Kaua’i FCU has gained access to a lifeline of US treasury funds that channel resources to undercapitalized communities and create opportunities for local businesses and generate positive social impact. It couldn't be more needed.
Here are three ways that Kaua’i Federal Credit Union is leveraging CNote’s Impact Cash dollars in its community:
1. Rental Relief. At a time when mainland billionaires are gobbling up land on Kaua’i, many locals live paycheck to paycheck, thus making Kaua’i Federal Credit Union’s Rent Relief and Housing Stability program one of its most impactful. Thanks to CDFI funding, the credit union partnered with the county to launch its Coronavirus Rent and Utility Assistance (CRUA). To date, the credit union has deployed more than $22 million to assist over 2,500 households. The program aims to create housing security for all Kaua’i residents, regardless of whether they’re members of the credit union or not. “This is one of our strengths as a credit union,” says Ivory. “When we see an opportunity where we can be the conduit to support our community in ways that they otherwise would not have been able to: we say yes, 100%, we are in.”
Although there’s little that Kaua’i Federal Credit Union can do to address the high cost of living, what it can do through rent relief is ensure that income disparity doesn’t drive local residents off the island. Anecdotally, Ivory shared this story:
“Kaua’i is a small island, and our communities are even smaller. The people that we are helping to get rent relief are not just names and numbers on a spreadsheet; they are our friends, our kupuna, our neighbors, and our families! Every week I get a dozen texts thanking us for helping them with their rent or asking us to come over and help them fill out paperwork. That’s what we do, we are small, but we know our community because it is us. Just the other evening, we were watching the sunset on the beach and one of the guys who we had helped get rental relief came in from surfing, ran down the beach to me and said, “I didn’t think this could happen." He was in disbelief. Because of our rental relief program, he was able to save some money and go to school to become an EMT. Ensuring that the kids who grew up on Kaua’i are able to survive the pandemic and better themselves is one of the impacts that this rental relief program is having.”
2. Environmental Resilience. Kaua’i has an abundance of natural beauty but more and more, the island is subject to devastating natural disasters. While most people think of firefighters, police officers, and lifeguards as first responders, Kaua’i Federal Credit Union is also a first responder. Because Ivory and her colleagues are so connected to the community, the credit union is always just a text message away from responding to the next emergency and providing assistance in whatever ways it can. “We are always trying to think about how we can best prepare ourselves to be ready for anything,” says Ivory. “It’s part of our DNA.”
For example, in March 2021, following a major landslide in an area still recovering from catastrophic flooding, Kaua'i Federal Credit Union’s Monica Belz and the Community Development team launched the Hawai’i Sister Society via Zoom at 8:00 a.m. By 10:00 a.m., they were in boots and gear, packed up to bring a truck load of food across the Hanalei River in a dinghy boat with other community members. With road access cut off in and out of Hanalei, Ivory set up a pop-up branch on the north side of the river to offer financial services, provide rental relief and accept deposits while roads and bridges were repaired. “I’ve never seen this from a financial institution,” Ivory says, “but this is who we are. We are a really small community, and this is one of our superpowers as a credit union: we show up.”
3. Economic Diversification. Like the rest of Hawai’i, Kaua’i’s economy centers around tourism. When the COVID-19 pandemic grounded planes on the mainland, the island instantly lost its major revenue stream. Once this happened, Ivory says people began to realize that they needed to do things differently, including thinking about their shared economic sustainability. As the owner of a small business that primarily catered to tourists, she herself had to think about how she could pivot her business to be tied more to Kaua’i and less to those visiting it.
Programmatically, Kaua’i Federal Credit Union is also addressing this issue. First, the credit union immersed itself in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), distributing loans ranging from $300 to $300,000. These forgivable loans helped to keep small businesses afloat during the worst of the pandemic so that entrepreneurs had the necessary time to make changes for the future. To date, Kaua’i Federal Credit Union has deployed $24.2 million in COVID relief.
Secondly, the credit union partnered with Common Ground Kaua'i, launching an incubator program to help local small businesses to create and export agriculturally based products. Thirdly, the credit union collaborated with the nonprofit Lady Entrepreneurs + Innovators of Kaua'i to create women-focused courses on marketing, finance, and business. “We had women who worked in the tourism industry for 20+ years,” says Ivory. “When the tourism industry shut down, a lot of people made their side gigs their main gigs, so we created these courses to give them whatever they needed to help them succeed.”
As the pandemic continues to change everyday life, Ivory’s position as the COVID Recovery Program Manager will become more focused on creating a resilient and diverse economy so the island can thrive in the long term. Whatever this looks like – whether through rental relief, small business wrap around services, or the creation of innovative lending products for the next generation of homeowners, Kaua’i FCU is on the front lines every day. “We know that infusing capital back into our communities to support a more cyclical economy will ensure our island and its people can thrive and become a model for other places around the world.”
CNote is a technology platform that provides a sustainable flow of non-member deposits that are low-cost and deliver consistent value. This service is available at no cost to CUNA member credit unions as arranged by CUNA Strategic Services.