Exit Interview: Benson Porter, BECU

Even after retirement, this longtime credit union executive plans to continue advocating for the industry.
Benson Porter, President & CEO, BECU

BECU ($29.5B, Tukwila, WA) will soon say goodbye to Benson Porter, the 35-year financial services veteran who helmed the iconic Pacific Northwest institution through 10 years of growth during which the cooperative tripled in assets and cemented its position as an innovator in technology and products.

Porter’s retirement is effective at year’s end. He joined the credit union movement as president and CEO for First Tech FCU ($15.9B, San Jose, CA) in 2007 after holding senior positions at Washington Mutual and Key Bank. He previously spent six years as staff director and senior counsel for the Washington State Senate Banking Committee.

Porter’s leadership roles have included serving on the boards of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, CU Director, and CO-OP Financial Services, and most recently as a member of the Pro Equity Anti Racism (PEAR) advisory committee for the Washington Department of Financial Institutions.

Here, Porter reflects on his legacy, his credit union, the industry, and what he hopes for their future.

If you center your decisions on people, you can’t go wrong.

Benson Porter, President & CEO, BECU

Why did you make the move from banks to credit unions? Looking back, how do you feel about that move now?

Benson Porter: I’ve always been impressed and inspired by the impact that financial institutions can have on their communities. Washington Mutual always saw itself as an alternative to big banks and advocated for its consumers. Credit unions take that a step further. We’re accountable to our members and the return on value we provide, and I’m proud of the impact we’ve made on our members.

Two good examples. During my time at BECU, we listened to a need from our members and entered business banking to serve small businesses in our communities. That has grown into a substantial business for BECU. Additionally, we expanded our reprice program beyond credit cards to other loan programs to reward members by automatically reducing their interest rates for positive financial behaviors, such as improving their credit scores.

CU QUICK FACTS

BECU
DATA AS OF 06.30.22

HQ: Tukwila, WA
ASSETS: $29.5B
MEMBERS: 1,370,231
BRANCHES: 60
EMPLOYEES: 2,660
NET WORTH RATIO: 10.0%
ROA: -0.04%

How has the credit union industry changed during your career?
BP: The most notable change is technology. When I started at First Tech, iPhones had just hit the market. Mobile banking through a phone application was unthought of. In the years since, and especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile banking has become the norm for many Americans.

It’s our largest “branch” at BECU. Members can make payments, transfer funds, deposit checks and check their account balances without having to step inside a Neighborhood Financial Center. At BECU, we continue to invest in both our digital and physical spaces to ensure we serve our members however they choose to engage with us.

What hasn’t changed during this time is our commitment to serving the financial wellbeing of our members and their communities. The credit union “people helping people” philosophy is our differentiator and should continue to propel our industry forward.

Where do you think credit unions are headed now and why?

BP: My hope is that credit unions become the preferred choice for consumers on a national scale and more consumers understand they have alternative options for financial services. The cooperative credit union structure is a terrific model, and we can leverage the power of the cooperative for members in even more ways.

What is your best advice for someone assuming a leadership role in the industry today?

BP: If I could give my successor, or other leaders, a piece of advice, it would be to foster the people and the culture that your organization has in place. Identify the aspects that really work and differentiate the organization by intensifying those things. Also, if you’re looking for an answer to a difficult question, I’ve learned the best answers most likely lie within the organization itself. Listen well and seek out the advice of others.

What would you like to be remembered for from your work at BECU?

BP: I am most proud of helping to reinforce the culture my predecessor Gary Oakland fostered so well at BECU. Our employees are the glue of our organization, and we’ve worked hard to keep our culture intact as we grew over the past decade. One way we’ve done that is by formalizing BECU’s purpose and our five core values. Being intentional about how we describe our culture has reminded us why we exist and how we will engage with one another. Our members benefit greatly from the values and purpose that drive our work forward.

The Exit Interview series on CreditUnions.com offers parting thoughts and insight from influential leaders in the credit union movement. Read more today.

Who will replace you at BECU?

BP: Recruiting efforts for my successor are underway. BECU is committed to hiring a leader who is purpose-driven and culture-focused and who will further leverage our strengths to lead us into the future.

What would you like to be remembered for from your work in the credit union industry?

BP: The credit union industry is unique in that we partner with and learn from one another. I’d like to be remembered for advocating for the industry and working with other credit union partners to grow our market share both in Washington and across the nation.

How does it feel now? What are your plans for retirement?

BP: Even though my retirement is fast approaching, it’s still a bit surreal.

My sons are now young adults, and I’m excited about the opportunity to spend more time with my family. I also love anything with two wheels, so I look forward to having more time with my motorcycle, road bike, and mountain bike. Finally, I’m interested in finding more ways to give back through community and board service.

Most of all, I want to keep learning new things.

What’s left on your bucket list?

BP: So many things. I’m planning a motorcycle trip to Alaska in the near future, something that has been postponed several times due to the pandemic. Also, as a proponent of lifelong learning, I hope to build new skills by taking cooking classes and maybe even learning to fly. With retirement, the possibilities are endless.

What are your final words to the credit union industry?

BP: As an advocate for the industry, I hope to continue to provide support, so I hope this isn’t a goodbye. However, as I reflect on my time as president and CEO, I’m reminded of something my father taught me: It is all about people. Your members. Your employees. Your community. If you center your decisions on people, you can’t go wrong.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

November 7, 2022

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