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Directors snip their benefits

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The volunteer directors for the Hawaii State Federal Credit Union, the state’s second largest, agreed yesterday to reduce the benefits they give themselves in the wake of increasing criticism from members.

Their action came four days after a Star-Advertiser story detailed the relatively generous benefit package that the seven directors for the $1 billion, member-owned nonprofit institution were eligible to receive.

While not all directors used all the benefits, national experts described the overall package as very generous and greater than what most other credit unions permit.

The package was even more generous, for instance, than what the directors at the world’s largest credit union, the $44 billion, Virginia-based Navy Federal, are eligible for, according to information from that organization.

In a written statement, HSFCU spokeswoman Tricia Buskirk said the directors received feedback from members over the past week and took yesterday’s action in anticipation of the results of a board-initiated study, started in August, that is evaluating staff salary and benefits and board benefits.

There appears to be no standard benefits package in Hawaii or nationally for credit union boards, Buskirk said.

"Our members’ trust has always been important to us," Beverly Ing Lee, chairwoman for the board, said in a statement. "When members raise concerns, we try to respond appropriately."

Among the changes made, the board reduced the number of mainland trips each director can take for education conferences to two per year from four, and neighbor island trips to one from three. The board also eliminated directors’ use of corporate credit cards for credit union business, reimbursement of health insurance premiums and payment for certain travel expenses of spouses accompanying directors on official trips.

Credit union members reacted positively to the changes but said the action would not have happened had the board not been shamed by the publicity.

"After raping HSFCU and its members for so long, it’s amazing how they suddenly found religion," said retiree Warren Hamamoto, among a group of dissident members seeking to get new directors on the board.

Three of the seven HSFCU seats will be filled in an April election.

The benefit changes "are good news," added Peter Chisteckoff, another member seeking new blood on the board, "but without the story, I don’t think that would’ve happened."

In initially defending the benefits package, the board said that the benefits complied with federal guidelines and emphasized that the credit union is healthy and growing — evidence of the successful stewardship of the board and management, they said.

In emphasizing that not all benefits are used, Buskirk noted that HSFCU directors collectively were authorized to take 28 mainland trips in each of the past two years but went on only 11 in 2010 and 12 in 2009. While they could have taken up to 21 neighbor island trips annually under the old policy, only four were taken in each of the past two years, she added.

Buskirk said only three directors partially used the health insurance benefit.

One area the board did not change is the policy of the credit union paying for a computer, other equipment and Internet service for directors to conduct business from home.

Navy Federal does not provide a similar benefit for its directors, according to Jennifer Sadler, public relations manager for the institution, which has more than 3.6 million members and 212 branches domestically and internationally.

Sunday’s story also revealed multiple examples in which federal regulators questioned the actions of the board, according to confidential reports from the examiners in 2008 and 2009.

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