New Name, Same Faces
Gather Federal Credit Union — formerly known as Kaua‘i Community Federal Credit Union — might have undergone some rebranding, but the same people, principles and procedures remain in place.
As we gather, we grow. As we gather, we’re strong. As we gather, we love.
These are the words Tess Shimabukuro uses to describe how the name Gather Federal Credit Union was introduced after more than six decades of the financial institution being referred to as Kaua‘i Community Federal Credit Union.
“We’re not changing,” says Shimabukuro, Gather president. “We’re still who we are. Now the name speaks to who we are and who you are.”
The nonprofit credit union is a cooperative owned by account holders/members and opened its doors on the island in 1954. Its founding members wanted to provide a financial incentive for pineapple farmers who were sole proprietors and needed startup funds for their businesses. In other words, they needed to “gather” together to make things happen.
“We already knew our new name before we knew our name,” jokes Shimabukuro.
By the end of its opening day more than 60 years ago, the credit union had 17 members. That number has since expanded to include about half of the island’s population, or some 35,000 members and more than $500 million in assets.
“Everybody comes to the credit union and they ‘gather,'” says Shimabukuro. “And as people kept on gathering over the years, we kept on growing.”
Credit unions have been faced with many challenging and new regulations in recent years, and several throughout the state have fused in order to remain afloat. But Gather does not plan to undergo a merge. This sparked the desire to instead re-brand in order to help them stand out.
“The industry is changing so much, and the world is changing so much,” says Shimabukuro. “Now the industry is really tough.”
Plus, the name Kaua‘i Community Federal Credit Union was a mouthful for members and would often get confused with other entities in the community. In other words, the credit union had no name equity. People commonly refer to the location she works at in Līhu‘e, for example, as “the bank across from the mall.” So former president Mel Chiba, Shimabukuro and their team started to work on rebranding, which included a new name, new logo and a fresh look.
Shimabukuro says it’s been fun to be a part of the process. Prior to filling Chiba’s shoes last year, she served as the institution’s executive vice president for a decade. She started working at the credit union in 1985, when Chiba personally hired her. The successful wahine, who is a graduate of Kaua‘i High School, worked hard and moved up the ranks over the past three decades.
“I thought Mel would never retire and I told him, ‘I’m totally fine with that,'” says Shimabukuro.
Since she’s taken the reins, she’s been surprised by the ease of the transition and gives credit to her self-sufficient staff.
“They work super smart,” she says.
But Irene Blume, Gather’s learning and development specialist, believes Shimabukuro deserves just as much acknowledgment.
“Tess is a very smart business and forward-thinking woman with excellent leadership skills,” Blume says. “She has good old-fashioned family values. I feel cared about, valued and comfortable approaching her on any subject as Tess always makes time to listen. Tess truly looks out for the best interest of her employees and the credit union members. Gather is fortunate to have such an excellent leader at the head of our organization.”
With Shimabukuro at the helm, there appears to be little doubt that she will continue to keep credit union members’ interests at heart.
“And making sure that we’re making the right decisions for our members because they entrust us to make those decisions,” adds Shimabukuro. “We are using their money and have to make sure that we are investing it wisely.”
She plans to keep Gather as relevant as possible, including moving along with the technologically advanced climate, while, at the same time, keeping members’ information safely guarded. The Līhu‘e resident will also make sure to continue to implement financial literacy programs, as well as provide banking incentives like Kasasa — the ability to earn cash back through checking accounts — and offer financial support to people who might not otherwise receive it.
And with some 90 employees at Gather also taking members’ interests into consideration, it’s likely that the organization, which is headed by a voluntary board, will continue to remain an integral part of the community.
“They truly, truly care about our members. That, to me, is so rewarding,” says Shimabukuro. “I just enjoy the fact that we have such a huge following of members who just love our staff.”
Adding further proof that the word “gather” is well-suited.
“Our brand is our people,” says Shimabukuro.
Visit kcfcu.org for more information.