Banks close, they consolidate. Credit unions merge.
This year, the Washington-based credit union — that once served members associated with Boeing and now serves both them and any resident in the state — will open six branches, including one in Tacoma.
BECU President and CEO Benson Porter, 48, took his position 18 months ago.
No stranger to Tacoma, the Aberdeen native graduated from the University of Puget Sound law school in 1992. He worked for KeyBank and Washington Mutual, and before joining BECU was CEO at Palo Alto’s First Tech Federal Credit Union, which primarily served the members from the technology sector.
And now he runs the fourth-largest credit union in the country — and the largest not associated with a military branch or other government agency.
According to Benson, the credit union serves about 100,000 members, and 1,400 business clients, in Pierce County.
He lives in Bellevue with his wife and two sons. A cyclist, he commutes to his Tukwila office by bicycle.
Benson spoke to The News Tribune at the BECU South Hill branch.
Q: Is there something about the Northwest and credit unions?
A: In Washington, 40 percent of the population belongs to a credit union. Oregon and California also have large memberships. There’s something in the Northwest that’s aligned with cooperatives. Also, over the last five years, consumers have become more diversified.
Q. So why join BECU instead of another credit union, or a bank?
A. We offer what I call ‘a unique secret sauce.’ We’ve been doing this for 78 years. The thing that is unique is the mission — value, service and trust.
Q. But you’re limited in the services you can provide.
A. The cooperative model is well-suited for serving small-business owners as well as consumers. The limitation is that we can only loan a percentage of our capital. At BECU, we have lots of capacity.
Q. And you continue growing. Where do you see the credit union going?
A. We’re hiring more specialists, specialized in mortgages, investments and small businesses. We see lots of résumés coming from our banking brethren.
Q. It’s also a different model. No cash services in the branch, only an ATM. You’re embracing new technologies.
A. About 11 percent of deposits currently are mobile deposits. That’s a technology we didn’t have a year ago. People used to go to a bank as a chore. Now (they have) smartphones and online, and if you want, a place to speak with someone.
Q. You are opening six service centers this year. What other plans do you have for expansion?
A. We did expand into Olympia and pulled back a bit. We’ll go where our natural path takes us. We’re looking at Pierce (County) pretty hard.
Q. Banks continue to merge. What does this mean for BECU?
A. We see the continued consolidation as an opportunity. We present ourselves as an alternative. People were with an organization that now has a new name, with new account numbers. There’s going to be disruption. Do the people like what they see? Some think, “That’s not what I signed up for.” Still, with banks, thrifts and credit unions, having diversity in the marketplace is good for consumers.
Q. Are you looking at any mergers or acquisitions?
A. For BECU, we’ve been very successful growing organically, but we never say never. If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking.
Q. Bankers, at large and small banks, complain about the onus of compliance, all the new rules. Do you feel the same?
A. The potential for regulation to limit innovation is the greater concern.
Q. You’ve been at BECU for over a year. Is the job what you expected?
A. I’ve been a fan for many years, post-Sea-First, post-WAMU. I’ve seen how strong that a 78-year-old culture is. Inside it’s as good as I thought it would be looking from the outside.
Q. Your latest slogan is “More Than Money.” What do you expect that says about the institution?
A. The brand is authentic. It’s real people. How do you keep that and continue to grow? How do you keep it and let it flourish? At WAMU, it changed. I’m a convert (to credit unions). I think this organization has a soul. I don’t worry about quarterly reports. (My job) is about creating a great member experience.
Q. What do you say when people ask you to tell them something about yourself they don’t already know?
A. Kurt Cobain and I were high school classmates.C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 email@example.com