Poland’s largest credit union is devoting its time and money to providing all Ukrainian refugees in the country with easier access to its financial products and services, while helping some with free housing and schooling.
Leaders of Kasa Stefczyka, a credit union with one million members and 300 branches, briefed World Council of Credit Unions President and CEO Elissa McCarter LaBorde on its efforts to help Ukrainian refugees during a meeting on April 22 at its headquarters in Gydnia, Poland.
The credit union has set up a dedicated page on its Ukrainian-language website that includes descriptions of its products and services. They have also implemented an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) service that allows Ukrainian speakers to leave a voicemail and receive a callback from a Kasa Stefczyka customer service representative who can speak to them in their native language. Leaders say most of those leaving voicemails have questions about the cost of services and the ability to provide cash transfers to Ukraine.
Since Poland allows all Ukrainian refugees to apply for a government identification number, or PESEL, upon entry, Kasa Stefczyka can also enroll them as members. The credit union had about 700 Ukrainian citizens among its members before the war, most of whom had moved to Poland to work. This number has risen to more than 1,200 since the Russian invasion on February 24. Since April 18, opening a new account has become even easier, with Kasa Stefczyka updating its website to allow all new customers to register online.
Housing and tuition assistance
In addition to her financial inclusion efforts, Kasa Stefczyka also provides financial assistance to dozens of Ukrainian refugees. The credit union provides free housing to around 60 refugees living in Sopot, Poland, while allowing a handful of other refugee families to live for free in business travel apartments the cooperative owns across the country. .
Kasa Stefczyka also offers fully paid kindergarten enrollment for children from some refugee families at the same school in Gdynia where many of its head office employees send their own children.
Emergency aid for Ukraine
Alongside her work with refugees, Kasa Stefczyka has been organizing since the beginning of the war the delivery of emergency supplies to Ukraine. As part of these efforts, the credit union paid for and arranged for the delivery of needed medical supplies to a hospital in Rivne, Ukraine. He has also set up a special account through his Kasa Foundation that allows people to contribute money, which is then transferred to support the Polish government’s relief efforts in Ukraine.
Kasa Stefczyka executives told Elissa McCarter LaBorde that they foresee a future need for a guarantee fund that would allow them to provide small loans to Ukrainian refugees. The credit union currently offers unsecured loans to members with a six-month Polish employment history.
Refugees already working in Poland do not have such a background, while others are still trying to find work. Kasa Stefczyka executives know most will need loans long before the six-month mark is reached. McCarter LaBorde told credit union executives she would work with them to explore possible loan guarantee options in the weeks and months ahead.
For more information on the World Council’s trip to Poland, visit its Ukrainian response to the crisis Blog.