The largest credit union in Poland is spending its time and money to provide all Ukrainian refugees in the country with easier access to its financial products and services, while assisting some with free housing and schooling as well.
Executives from Kasa Stefczyka, a one-million-member credit union with 300 branches, briefed World Council President and CEO Elissa McCarter LaBorde on its efforts to help Ukrainian refugees during an April 22 meeting at its headquarters in Gydnia, Poland.
The credit union has set up a dedicated page on its website in the Ukrainian language that includes descriptions of its products and services. They have also established an interactive voice response (IVR) service that allows Ukrainian speakers to leave a voice message and receive a call back from a Kasa Stefczyka customer service representative who can speak to them in their native language. Executives say most of those who leave voice messages have questions about the cost of services and the ability to provide cash transfers back to Ukraine.
Since Poland is allowing all Ukrainian refugees to apply for a government identification number, or PESEL, upon entry, Kasa Stefczyka is also able to enroll them as members. The credit union had about 700 Ukrainian citizens as members before the war—most of whom had moved to Poland for jobs. That number has grown to more than 1,200 since the Russian invasion on February 24. Beginning April 18, opening a new account got even easier, with Kasa Stefczyka upgrading its website to allow all new customers to sign up for membership online.
Assistance for housing and schooling
In addition to its financial inclusion efforts, Kasa Stefczyka is providing financial assistance to dozens of Ukrainian refugees as well. The credit union is providing free housing for roughly 60 refugees living in Sopot, Poland, while allowing a handful of other refugee families to live for free in business travel flats the cooperative owns across the country.
Kasa Stefczyka is also providing fully paid kindergarten enrollment for the children of some refugee families at the same Gdynia school where many of its corporate office employees send their own children.
Emergency assistance for Ukraine
Along with its work with refugees, Kasa Stefczyka has been organizing the delivery of emergency supplies to Ukraine since the start of the war. As part of those efforts, the credit union paid and arranged for the delivery of needed medical equipment to a hospital in Rivne, Ukraine. It also set up a special account through its Kasa Foundation that allows people to contribute money, which is then transferred on to support the Polish government’s relief efforts in Ukraine.
Kasa Stefczyka executives told Elissa McCarter LaBorde they foresee a future need for a guarantee fund that would allow them to provide small loans to Ukrainian refugees. The credit union currently provides uncollateralized loans for members with a six-month Polish employment history.
The refugees already working in Poland have no such history, while others are still trying to find work. Kasa Stefczyka leaders know most will need loans well before that six-month mark is reached. McCarter LaBorde told the credit union's executives she will work with them to search for possible loan guarantee options in the coming weeks and months.