A Lion for the Low Income
'I absolutely fell in love with the credit union philosophy of people helping people.'
Laura Aguirre had a humble upbringing involving public assistance and the fear of homelessness.
As a result, she understands—perhaps more than most—how encouragement and kindness can change lives.
“Fortunately, one day I landed in the credit union world” after a 15-year banking career, Aguirre says. “I absolutely fell in love with the credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people.’ Everywhere I looked I saw people who reminded me of how I grew up.”
As the president/CEO of Hawaii First Federal Credit Union in Kamuela, Aguirre was “determined” and “empowered” to help underserved, low-income, and native communities. Aguirre pushed her credit union to obtain a low-income designation and Native Community Development Financial Institution certi? cation.
She also created a 501(c)(3) arm of the credit union to serve the community with free access to job-seeking assistance, credit and debt management, one-on-one financial counseling, and? financial education workshops. Aguirre’s passion has rubbed off? on her team.
“She lives and breathes our mission of serving the underserved and empowers our team to ‘wow’ our members,” says Mary Ann Otake, Hawaii First Federal’s vice president of operations and development.
Aguirre believes in surrounding herself with lions, not deer—an illustration from one of her favorite books, “You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader” by Mark Sanborn. In his book, Sanborn makes the point that leaders embody the characteristics of lions, whereas deer are more timid.
Aguirre concedes that serving those who really need it isn’t always easy. One of Aguirre’s first interactions with a member is a case in point.
“The member wanted to apply for a car loan, and as I handed him an application he looked like he was in physical pain,” Aguirre recalls.
She subsequently discovered the man couldn’t read or write—and she no longer assumes any member interactions are routine.
“Taking a few extra minutes could be the difference between someone receiving the help they need or walking out the door,” Aguirre says. “Our staff is expected to take these extra few minutes, and it shows. We have very loyal members.”
The mountain of thank-you cards the credit union receives is proof, she adds. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”