Tom Berquist
Tom Berquist, senior vice president, marketing and cooperative affairs at BECU, engages with an Early Saver participant. The program encourages children to practice smart money management.

BECU campaigns take Seattle by storm

Tom Berquist discusses the value of strategic community initiatives.

February 12, 2018

Pairing its Early Saver program with the star power of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm paved the way for BECU to take home two Diamond Awards from last year’s CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference.

Tom Berquist, senior vice president, marketing and cooperative affairs, discusses that partnership and the value that strategic community initiatives deliver for the $18 billion asset credit union in Tukwila, Wash.

Q: Why has your partnership with the Storm to promote the Early Saver program proven so successful?

Our partnership with the Seattle Storm succeeds because of the common values of our organizations. The Storm immediately jumped on board with our idea to create a video series featuring Sue Bird mentoring a girls basketball team (The Lady Style) and giving the players a totally unique experience. The partnership is a natural fit because it nicely aligns with BECU’s values around developing good savings habits when you’re young to the commitment and discipline needed to be successful in sports.

Q: BECU posted mind-blowing multimedia stats from the Sue Bird's Surprise Campaign, including nearly 300,000 video views on Facebook alone. What is the key to reaching younger consumers through these channels?

First off, tapping into the habits of young people we know—learning about their routines and how to engage with them on their terms. Younger generations like to be entertained, challenged, and supported. Providing real stories and situations they can relate to is important for getting their attention and to show you’re interested and understand. 

Q: Does the public interest generated by The Lady Style girls basketball team indicate the ongoing power of human connections?

Without a doubt, media helps tell stories in an accessible way—and the best stories are about people, not technology. While gadgets and toys give us more access to entertainment, information and content, people are interested in other people—and at BECU, we love to share memorable stories that celebrate the lives and successes of our members, employees, and communities.

Q: Did you manage your money well as a kid?

I was quite average in terms of my money management skills as a teenager. I learned pretty early about balancing your checkbook (which really dates me) as a result of some bounced checks/nonsufficient funds charges. Thinking back, I don’t recall receiving any formal—or for that matter, informal—guidance from my parents about basic money management. Most of that learning came through the great training I received during my first job as a personal banker. 

Q: BECU boasts an arsenal of youth marketing tools, including the Next Big Talk conversation guide (which provides parents talking points about money) and Closing for Good (shuttering credit union offices so 1,800 employees can conduct massive reality fairs that reach more than 7,000 students at 12 area high schools on the same day). What advice can you offer about developing such an integrated strategy?

The Next Big Talk and Closing for Good are great programs, but I think we still have a ways to go and a lot more to learn to truly deliver an integrated financial health strategy. We’re in the process of developing our financial health strategy and roadmap, with a goal to have a more comprehensive set of programs in place that measurably improves our members’ financial health. As part of this journey, one guiding principle we have adopted is to focus more on efforts that actually change the financial behavior of our members, as opposed to just telling them to do this or that (e.g. seminars, classroom presentations). 

Q: How has the concept of community involvement evolved in your 23 years at BECU?

Long ago, our community strategy was not well defined and was more of a “whatever washes up on our shore” approach. About 10 years ago, we read a Harvard Business Review article by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer about linking your competitive advantage to your social responsibility strategy. This concept completely changed how we approach our community strategy. Today, a large majority of our community focus is on financial health, as we believe there is a better leveraging effect (beyond just writing a check) by focusing on initiatives that tie closely to what the co-op does every day. At first, this involved saying “no” to some long-term partners, which was not always easy, and being more specific with how funds should be used. 

With this renewed focus on our giving approach, we recognized that our members care about a lot of other causes that aren’t related to financial health. As a co-op, we felt we needed a way to acknowledge this. As a result, we introduced our People Helping People Awards in 2014. This program allows members to nominate and vote for their favorite nonprofits to receive grants from BECU. At the end of 2017, we recognized 18 member-nominated nonprofits that shared $500,000 in grants. 

Q: The second half of your title sounds intriguing. What does overseeing co-op affairs entail?

This title is a variation of what a for-profit-company would call Corporate Affairs. As a co-op, the term “corporate affairs” just wasn’t the right fit. The Cooperative Affairs team is responsible for BECU’s giving, financial health initiatives, public relations, internal communications, sustainability, and key signature events such as Closing for Good, our annual Member Summit, the People Helping People Awards, and several others.

Q: BECU is a case study in transitioning from a strong select employer group (SEG) operating model (The Boeing Co. employees) to a community charter. How did the marketing function approach that challenge?

BECU’s successful transition from a SEG credit union to a community credit union is the result of a convergence of business decisions, changes in regulation, changes in the competitive landscape, and luck. From a marketing perspective, we were confronted with a very basic marketing challenge: limited awareness and consideration. In 2005, we developed our first brand platform/strategy. This platform has (and still) informs our decisions, and allowed us to develop a brand that resonates with our employees, members, and community. The execution of this strategy has led to market-leading levels of awareness, consideration, and PFI (primary financial institution) members. We don’t take any of this success for granted, nor do we ever think we have it all figured out. 

Q: What marketing trends and tools are hot on your radar right now?

I imagine what’s on our radar are pretty common issues among marketing folks: marketing technology (Salesforce Marketing Cloud, data management platform, etc.), data, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. In addition to that, we want to stay relevant with our messages, offerings, and innovation as the digital and online worlds evolve.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring marketing executives?

While not new, as the book "Good to Great" has been out for a long time, I think James Collins had it right: The most important/effective leadership attributes are resolve and humility. This is a never-ending journey. I can always improve and learn, and that’s what makes my role so inspiring and a welcome challenge.