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When members are swamped by an emergency and struggle to keep their financial boats afloat, Karen Simmons is there to throw them a lifeline.
“BECU has a long history of helping members during times of need,” says Simmons, consumer loan product manager at the $28 billion asset credit union in Tukwila, Wash. “My focus has been to provide members who are experiencing a short-term financial hardship due to a lapse in employment or a natural disaster with an unsecured loan.”
Previously, Simmons developed a loan for members impacted by hurricanes in the Carolinas and the government shutdown.
With the onset of the pandemic, “it was all hands on deck,” she says. BECU offered members a 36-month personal loan at 0% interest with the first payment deferred for 90 days.
“We modified the underwriting guidelines to ensure we could approve more members,” Simmons says.
This was the first time BECU offered a 0% loan, and the feedback from members was heartwarming.
“I couldn’t resist having an emotional moment when I read the member feedback,” she says.
The credit union shared members’ comments with staff to underscore “we were doing the right thing,” she says.
Simmons is an advocate for the underserved, especially those in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities, and is inspired to come to work every day to make a difference.
“To quote George Floyd’s daughter, Gianna Floyd, ‘Daddy changed the world,’ ” she says. “I believe that each day we can all bring about a positive change that can influence the world, and every day I have an opportunity to make a positive impact on our membership.
“With all the recent events, there is a greater awareness that we have an opportunity to make changes. I am looking forward to being a part of the changes ahead.”
Her biggest challenge is to “not try to boil the ocean but to continue to develop and provide loan products that can assist members at all stages of their life and all income levels.”
Simmons notes that members’ financial health is top of mind throughout BECU. “We have taken the ‘village approach’ in finding solutions, products, and services.”
Her advice to other credit unions: “There are no out-of-the-box solutions or easy fixes, but we must continue to have this (approach) on our road map.
“There will be times that we try and fail,” Simmons acknowledges. “But we must continue to try to serve those who are unbanked and underbanked to decrease the wealth gap.”