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KAPOLEI, Hawaii – An initiative by more than 40 Native Hawaiian clubs on the island of Kapolei still has a ways to go, but if their efforts are successful Hawaii will get its first new credit union in about four years. The Hawaiian Civic Clubs include 51 groups representing indigenous people of Polynesian ancestry. The clubs are asking for pledges from their approximately 4,500 combined members to create the Prince Kuhio Federal Credit Union, named after a former prince in the Hawaiian Islands who formed the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs – the umbrella organization for the Hawaiian Civic Clubs – in 1918. The groups’ immediate goal is to raise $3 million by this summer and then apply for a charter from the NCUA. So far they’ve raised $1.1 million. There are currently 97 credit unions in Hawaii, and virtually all of them – 97% – have federal charters. The youngest CU is Word of Life FCU, Honolulu chartered in 2002, which has $1.5 million in assets and 938 members. The oldest CUs in Hawaii, all chartered in 1936, include: Big Island FCU, Hilo; Hawaii County Employees FCU, Hilo; Hawaii Schools FCU, Honolulu; Hawaii State FCU, Honolulu; Hawaiian Tel FCU, Honolulu; HawaiiUSA FCU, Honolulu; Hickam FCU, Honolulu; Honolulu City & County Employees FCU; Honolulu FCU; Hawaii Community FCU, Kealakekua; and Maui Teachers FCU. According to Dennis Tanimoto, president/CEO of the Hawaii Credit Union League, in 1936, NCUA’s predecessor – the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions – made a concerted effort to organize credit unions in Hawaii. That explains, he said, why so many credit unions there were formed that year. Credit unions then were primarily occupational/agriculturally-based and associated with the sugar and pineapple plantations that used to be the major industry in the Islands. However, since many of the plantations have closed, many of those occupational credit unions have since converted to community charters. Some, like the recently formed Word of Life FCU, are faith-based. Tanimoto also explained that Hawaii requires all credit unions to be federally insured through NCUA, “so in terms of any benefits of being a state charter they aren’t as plentiful.” In a state where over 750,000 people out of a population of slightly less than 1.3 million are already credit union members, Tanimoto says “it’s difficult to find groups wanting to set up new credit unions when over 50% of the residents are already members.” He stressed that according to the NCUA Chartering Manual, the agency recommends a charter application have at least 3,000 primary potential members to be economically advisable. “To find 3,000 people in Hawaii that don’t already have a credit union could be difficult. We have the fifth highest membership penetration in the U.S.,” said the league president. Tanimoto said he has had several discussions about the new credit union with Charles Rose, immediate past president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and who is leading the effort. Despite the possible difficulties the groups are facing to form the new credit union, Tanimoto said Rose explained to him the Hawaiian Civic Clubs still want to pursue the initiative because they want to find a credit union that’s responsive to the needs of their particular membership. He did not elaborate on what those unique needs are. Tanimoto further explained, “It’s important to remember that according to the federal credit union act, a federal credit union can not be chartered on the basis of race or ethnicity, that’s not considered a common bond. It has to be either association, community or occupation based, and that’s why this group has chosen the association base for its field of membership.” He added that while the clubs technically represent people of Polynesian ancestry, membership is not limited to those people. In fact, membership is open to anyone who’s interested in perpetuating the Hawaiian culture. The clubs are located throughout the world including several in mainland U.S. cities. Although the Hawaiian Civic Clubs are focused on organizing a new credit union, Tanimoto says they haven’t ruled out the possibility of being added on to the field of membership of an existing credit union. “There are several obvious benefits of not starting from scratch such as an existing credit union already having a staff and facilities as well as products, services and procedures in place. So the credit union could serve the club members immediately,” he says. Still, based on the conversations he’s had with Rose, Tanimoto said there are a couple issues that need to resolved before the clubs would opt to go with an existing credit union’s expanded FOM. For one thing, the Hawaiian Civic Clubs are intent on having the credit union named the prince Kuhio FCU, so the existing credit union would have to be willing to change their name. Also, the clubs would like the existing credit union’s board to include representatives from the group. Tanimoto opines “it’s a workable situation.” The Hawaiian Civic Clubs, he said, have already been in close talks with an existing credit union that’s occupation based and whose primary sponsor has sold off a number of its subsidiaries in Hawaii. “So a name change is a possibility,” he said for that credit union. If Plan B doesn’t move forward, the group can always go back to Plan A and form its own credit union. -

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