BECU’s 11-person board is a who’s who of the business world in the Pacific Northwest, with representatives from companies such as Boeing Co. and REI as well as self-made entrepreneurs, consultants, and independent business owners.
The one thing all of these individuals have in common is the legacy of success BECU and its community has experienced under their care. To better understand the inner workings of this group and its relationship with BECU’s management, two individuals on either side of the equation offer their insight.
Benson Porter is the CEO of BECU and the former CEO of Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union and then First Tech Federal Credit Union. He also has extensive experience in the local, state, and national banking worlds. Porsche Everson is a BECU board member and the president of Relevant Strategies, a management consulting firm that specializes in high-risk industries such as financial services, healthcare, and social services. Everson also serves on the board of the Washington-based Group Health Cooperative.
Why did you want to take on your current role at BECU?
Board Member, BECU
Porsche Everson: I signed up as a member of BECU when I moved to Seattle because I believe in what the people here are doing, especially in regard to virtual banking. Because I’d been involved in credit union governance before when I lived in Olympia, WA, getting involved with the board seemed like a natural next step.
But the skillsets of the leadership team and their ability to lead with their hearts along with exceptional staff and my board colleagues has been what has kept me here. For example, over the past two years, we nearly doubled the amount of money we made available for scholarships. And every quarter we do a document shredding and e-cycle event where we help members dispose of their paper records and old electronics in an environmentally sustainable way. I grew up in the cooperative movement, so that concept of shared responsibility and service is a big draw.
Benson Porter: Early in my career at the state regulators office, I had exposure to every kind of charter from check cashers and pawn brokers to thrifts, credit unions, and banks, so I can positively say credit unions are the best charter for the consumer.
As for BECU in particular, the culture the previous CEO Gary Oakland instilled here is from the top down the most focused on the member that I’ve ever seen. We appreciate our employees and members, and that’s where I get my energy.
What hurdles to board participation could credit unions do a better job of removing?
BP: Our board was previously required by state law to meet 12 times a year. That was lowered to a minimum of six, so we now have six board meetings a year including one at our annual planning session. Board meetings were never intended to be a monthly business review; they’re for getting together to frame strategic topics. If you have them too often, they can turn more operational.
CU QUICK FACTS
BECU Credit Union
data as of 12.31.14
- HQ: Seattle, WA
- ASSETS: $13.1B
- MEMBERS: 886,677
- BRANCHES: 43
- 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 7.99%
- 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.86%
- ROA: 1.45%
The reduced meeting schedule has helped us attract several talented board members who might not have been able to participate otherwise. At the same time, we now send our board members a monthly packet with our financials, performance highlights, and executive summaries. I also have a voluntary monthly call with them if they have any questions. It’s about being more strategic while still enabling the board to fulfill its oversight role.
PE: Time is a big part of any volunteer activity, so allowing participation by phone, when necessary, can be a big help. In addition, a lot of credit unions have easy access to folks who are no longer working and have the time and energy to put into the board. But if we want our boards to reflect our membership, we need to pursue a diverse demographic in the 45- to 60-year-old age range or even younger Gen X and Gen Y individuals because their perspective is different from ours.
You also have to have space for new people, which might mean board turnover. We haven’t needed term limits yet because we’ve had a reasonable progression of new board members. We do a 360-degree peer evaluation each year that focuses on contributions. We’ve also started vetting board members against a set of potential candidates each time they reach the end of their three-year term.
How do you maintain that line between governance and leadership?
PE: We have a governance committee that’s dedicated to making sure we’re focusing on the right things at the right time and not getting over involved in management areas. Our board members are also members of the National Association of Corporate Directors and most are certified as director fellows.
BECU is one of a few credit unions that pays its board members. Is that a factor in your success?
BP: We pay a stipend to directors and audit committee members (officials) because we want to recognize the value they give to this organization. But it is modest, ranging from $14,000 to $25,000 annually, depending on the official’s role. We never want the stipend to become the primary driver for the individuals interested in the BECU board.
We are transparent about the stipends. We disclose the amounts on our website and we’ve never gotten a single complaint about it from our members.
We try to remember that these member-focused and human-focused improvements are aimed at helping the industry to be safe and sound and work in ways that protect our members’ trust. If we can’t deliver on that, then we don’t deserve to be in business.
Porsche, after experiencing periods of change in two industries health care and financial services are their similarities or lessons that carry over from both?
PE: I love the connections between the health care cooperative I’m involved with and a credit union of this size. Having led Group Health Cooperative through the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, it certainly lends some perspective into the increasing regulatory focus we’re experiencing at BECU.
For example, there were a number of bumps in implementing the Affordable Care Act, but it was so important for our country in terms of increasing access to health care.
So we try to remember that these member-focused and human-focused improvements, even something as significant as the capital planning and stress testing requirements we’re going through now, are aimed at helping the industry to be safe and sound and work in ways that protect our members’ trust. If we can’t deliver on that, then we don’t deserve to be in business.
Calling In The Calvary
Despite their impressive accomplishments and backgrounds, BECU’s board members are still human. With only so many hours in the day and a laundry list of to-dos, the credit union also relies heavily on individual committees.
To date, these include:
- The Audit Committee
- The Finance and Risk Committee
- The Compensation Committee
- The Governance Committee
- The Nominating Committee