Using Our Strength To Deliver on Our Purpose
(Editor's note: Benson Porter retired in December 2022. Beverly Anderson joined BECU as President and CEO Dec. 5, 2022.) CEO Benson Porter updates members on BECU's strong financial position and work to support members' and communities' changing needs and financial well-being.
We're no strangers to difficult times: Since our founding in 1935, during the Great Depression, we've supported members through war, inflation and individual circumstances. We've also been alongside you through good times, encouraging members through baby booms, thriving stock markets and the dawn of new technology.
These last two years have presented historic challenges to our employees, members and communities. Many have struggled through illness, lost loved ones and suffered financial setbacks. As we emerge from the pandemic, we're starting to see signs of recovery, with some members reducing debt, taking long-awaited vacations and saving for milestone events in the future.
Throughout the pandemic, all of us at BECU have listened to you — our members — and learned about your changing needs. You wanted greater digital access for both safety and convenience, and you asked for different ways we could help you prepare for an uncertain economy. In response, we've developed new products and services, and found new ways of working with one another.
Improving conditions aren't a signal for us to slow down our progress. We remain committed to listening, learning and continuing to evolve how we serve you and our communities while remaining focused on our purpose: As a cooperative, we bring people together to improve the financial well-being of our members and their communities.
2021 Growth in Membership and Deposits
Now, BECU is helping more people than ever, serving over 1.3 million member-owners across the country. Our membership grew by 4.5% in 2021 compared with 2020. As we accelerated virtual access during the pandemic, more members joined the credit union via our website, BECU.org. In fact, more than 17,600 people signed up online for BECU membership in 2021, a 21.2% increase from the previous year.
Along with our membership, member deposits grew, too, increasing 16% to $26.1 billion, setting new records for the second year in a row. New loans reached unprecedented levels as many of you took advantage of low interest rates to refinance homes or take out home equity lines of credit, and we've been able to keep our operating expenses as planned. Thanks to this solid financial footing, our teams are able to help members navigate this constantly changing economic environment.
Supporting Members' Different Needs
In our ongoing effort to stay connected, we reached out with a Member Financial Survey to learn how you were feeling about your financial health. Many of you reported feeling financially healthier in 2021 than 2020, and at higher percentages than national averages. Additionally, more of you felt like you can manage a budget and save for a rainy day while you save even more for important financial milestones, such as a down payment on a home, college tuition or retirement.
To keep the saving and budgeting momentum — and to make it easier for those who are just getting started — we designed a digital version of a traditional, physical budgeting method: BECU Envelopes. With this tool, members can direct their savings into separate containers within their BECU savings or Money Market accounts. You will be able to create up to 12 envelopes with different names, dedicated to individual savings goals. We're making improvements based on member feedback, and we hope to launch Envelopes to all members later this year.
Although we are celebrating that many of you feel financially sound, we also understand that others have faced enormous financial setbacks, like loss of income and increased debt. BECU took action and pooled resources to provide additional, focused support for those members. Through our partnership with GreenPath, more than 3,700 members used their free debt and counseling services and enrolled in plans to repay a combined total of $5.4 million in debt.
The needs of our membership are as individual as our members themselves, and we are committed to meeting those needs. As an example of that commitment, we heard from our Spanish-speaking members that language is a barrier for you, so we launched a Spanish-language pilot program to provide you with equitable access to our products and services. We introduced the program in eight of our Neighborhood Financial Centers. Sixteen BECU employees have been certified to assist members in Spanish with their everyday banking needs. We have already served hundreds of members in Spanish at these locations, and feedback has been incredible. Members are extremely grateful to be able to connect with employees in their primary language, and employees have expressed excitement in living out BECU's purpose in such an authentic way.
Our commitment also centers around equitable access for all our members, according to their different abilities, designing products, services and tools tailored to their needs. Last year, for example, in response to a direct request from members who are blind or have low vision, we launched new braille and raised, embossed credit cards.
Giving Back To Members and Communities
Our 2021 annual report highlights our efforts from the past year, including new initiatives demonstrating how we responsibly manage the money you entrust us with. Some of you joined BECU because we are a member-owned cooperative and share our profits among our members, by providing better rates and fewer fees. Others joined to help support the communities we live in, knowing we have robust philanthropic and educational programs rooted in our credit union philosophy of People Helping People and driven by our purpose to give back to members and communities rather than shareholders.
A leading BECU value is "Doing the Right Thing." In 2021, we made additional strides in our journey toward becoming a more inclusive, equitable organization. We increased our philanthropic giving to organizations that support diversity, equity and inclusion in our communities, and we introduced employee and leadership equity councils to develop new structures and programs. These efforts contribute to our work to embed equity and inclusion into everything we do. Employees, members, and the community all benefit from having access to financial services, while feeling included, fairly treated and set up to thrive.
Facing Challenges Together
We're rooted in our foundational values while growing through our purpose. These difficult times have made us more robust, more unified, and more dedicated to you and to our goal of improving the financial well-being of those around us. At BECU, we look forward to the future with hope while bringing the lessons of the past with us. We're honored to be on this journey with you.
President and CEO