Location: Raleigh • Number of Employees: 525 across the state
Kee Kee Whitley already had her hands full with three teenage children and a career in financial services when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2018. Her mother-in-law had died of cancer several years earlier, making the diagnosis particularly painful.
Whitely began radiation treatment, juggling doctor appointments in addition to caring for her family and continuing to work. She credits her employer, Coastal Credit Union, with making this combination of near impossible circumstances manageable.
“I’ve worked for financial institutions for more than 18 years, and I have never experienced anything like the support I received at Coastal,” says Whitley. “They are the most family-friendly company I have ever worked for. I literally could not have gone through treatment and managed everything I had to without them. Every time I was physically or mentally depleted, whenever I needed to take a moment to collect my thoughts, my supervisor and my colleagues were there for me.”
The response Whitley received is just one example of the Raleigh-based Coastal’s compassionate approach to supporting its 525 employees and their families.
“Our employees are as important to us as satisfied members, solid financial results, and supporting our community,” says Joe Mecca, vice president of communications. “It is our vision to be the most loved financial institution in North Carolina. Our employees fit squarely into this vision.”
In 2016, the company launched a two-year survey of their members in partnership with the Center for Financial Services Innovation and discovered that the percentage of Coastal’s members who identified themselves as financially coping or struggling was surprisingly higher than expected.
This insight prompted them to survey their employees, who responded similarly, another surprise.
“Financial well-being for our members starts with our employees,” says Mecca. “It’s who we are and what we do. If we cannot ensure that our employees and their families are doing well – that they have the information, tools, and resources that they need to be successful, then we can’t do that for our members.”
As a result, Coastal took a look at their policies and benefits– both formal and informal – to see where they could provide additional programs and benefits to support their employees’ financial well-being.
One of the most tangible and significant steps was Coastal’s company-wide commitment to a $15/hour minimum wage, rolled out in 2018. The company also offers two bonus programs for employees: a fixed amount if Coastal hits annual goals and an additional discretionary amount based on individual performance.
The company also launched a creative array of less formal programs under the Coastal Cares umbrella to offset not only the cost of everyday needs but in some cases, unexpected bills.
The Coastal Cares Closet, for example, is a clothing swap where employees can bring gently used clothes to trade with their colleagues. An empty space has been converted into a food pantry and is stocked with non-perishable food. An employee who may be experiencing food insecurity can come by and pick up what they need, no questions asked.
The Backpack Program occurs each summer. Different departments take the lead in collecting school supplies, Coastal donates backpacks, and collectively the company stuffs approximately 200 backpacks each year with school supplies. Any employee with a child in school who has a need is welcome to come by and pick up a pack.
And perhaps most impactful, the Coastal Cares Financial Assistance Program is funded by employees to support their colleagues experiencing financial hardship. Employees can opt in with a payroll deduction and contributions are pooled to assist colleagues coping with unexpected bills, repairs, or medical needs.
“Employees may be struggling even if they’re working,” says Whitley. “Someone might be going through a divorce or may be a single parent, and these programs are in place to provide the additional support that they may need.”
For Whitley and others, the overall impact of these programs has been enormous. “When you have a company that cares for you and you feel wanted, you want to stay and thrive,” she says. “It brings purpose to your job. We’re all willing to help each other out.”
Whitley had her last radiation treatment in November. She is staying positive and exploring ways her experience can now help others. She has approached leadership at Coastal with the idea of starting a buddy system to support other colleagues who receive a difficult medical diagnosis.
“My test has become my testimony,” says Whitley. “As the company grows, it’s up to us at Coastal to keep our family feeling intact. The employees and leadership together have built this culture, and it’s our job to make sure it remains.”
Sample Benefits – Coastal Credit Union
- 401 K
- Cash balance and two defined benefit pension plans depending on employee start date
- Dental, vision, health, and life Insurance. Coastal pays 100 percent of the premium for an individual employee’s plan, and the equivalent of an individual’s premium if an employee has a family or dependent plan.
- Paid time off that scales up based on years with Coastal and accrues over the course of the year starting January 1 of each year, along with additional time off for school functions and volunteering.
- Employee assistance plan
- Wellness program including biometrics screening and an on-site gym