From left: Kaua'i Government Employees Federal Credit Union President/CEO Monica Belz, Tucoemas Federal Credit Union President/CEO Brice Yocum, and OnPath Federal Credit Union Assistant Vice President of Digital Experience Shasta Leininger.

Continuing to serve amid natural disasters

Sustainability efforts aim to reduce the impact of climate change.

November 19, 2021

When a major rainfall hit Kaua’i, Hawaii, in March, Monica Belz did the only thing she could think of to serve her members. The Kaua’i Government Employees Federal Credit Union president/CEO packed up a dry bag, hopped on a jet ski, and took the $125.7 million asset credit union directly to the members.

“Many people were completely cut off from medical aid and essential services of any kind,” Belz says, noting that Kaua’i has been working for years to rebuild its lone road and recover from landslides that stemmed from a 49.5-inch rainfall in 2018. “It was incredible to see new supply chains basically form overnight. I was able to deploy popup centers or remote locations to help serve members with emergency loans, water, medicine--whatever we could possibly deliver.”

Belz took part in a panel discussion during Inclusiv’s United in Sustainability Summit with OnPath Federal Credit Union Assistant Vice President of  Digital Experience Shasta Leininger and Tucoemas Federal Credit Union President/CEO Brice Yocum. Inclusiv Senior Vice President of Membership and Network Engagement Pablo DeFilippi moderated the discussion.

“These issues affect credit union all over the world,” DeFilippi says. “We live in these communities, so we have to respond.”

The group discussed the role credit unions play in serving members and maintaining their infrastructure amid disaster and uncertainty.

“It’s vital that our members can continue to access their money during a crisis,” says Leininger, whose credit union is located in hurricane-prone Harahan, La. “Even after that, we can provide access to government funding and resources. It’s a critical role we play in our communities in times of disaster.”

OnPath Federal is still dealing with the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which hit Louisiana in late August. With employees of the $447.7 million asset credit union still displaced by the storm, Leininger says it’s essential to have consistent communication and a good relationship with vendors.

The credit union continued operating in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida due to an upgraded phone system that allowed employees to work remotely while they were scattered in their homes or in hotels.

“They were able to answer over 6,000 phone calls in a couple of days,” Leininger says. “We have to pivot operations and set ourselves up so we can work remotely despite whatever comes our way.”

Before the next hurricane, Leininger says OnPath Federal needs to be proactive in finding new resources. After Hurricane Ida, credit unions from Florida drove to Louisiana to provide the credit union with gas and generators.

The last hurricane to hit Kaua’i was in the early 1990s, but Kaua’i Government Employees Federal Credit Union is working ahead to limit the impact of the next storm. It’s funding a climate resiliency center, hurricane shelters, and an emergency management center to bolster the island’s resilience.

“We’re all adapting together,” Belz says, adding that long-term infrastructure is crucial in disaster response. “If there are hurdles in our community to building more resiliency, we can be part of the solution. We’ve got supply chains and communication centers ready to go.”

Some institutions are taking an even wider lens to the issue, operating in more sustainable ways to limit the impact of climate change. This includes allocating capital toward low-carbon, climate-resilient activities; changing corporate behavior; and influencing policy outcomes.

Tucoemas Federal, a $307.6 million asset credit union in Visalia, Calif., has done its part by building a LEED-certified building with a solar panel and other environmentally friendly aspects.

“We have a value here about sweeping our own doorstep,” Yocum says. “We want to be the change we’re hoping for. We have to be the leaders in normalizing some of these sustainable changes.”