Members Trust Company merged with BECU Trust Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of BECU, on July 1, 2013 resulting in MTC, DBA BECU Trust Services. The union combined BECU Trust Company’s previous success with Members Trust Company’s national reach, comprehensive trust and investment management services and financial capacity. Prior to the merger, BECU Trust Company had built a strong reputation with a commitment to serving its members. In just 10 short years, the company—which was built from scratch—fully engaged with the Washington legal community and experienced tremendous growth. The organization’s success is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of BECU Trust Company’s leadership and serves as a detailed blueprint for building a successful trust services department. In fact, BECU Trust Services is one of the most successful agency offices at Members Trust Company, having grown its trust assets under management approximately 40% from 2013-2018.
BECU Trust Company officially opened its doors in March 2003. The organization was staffed with just two people, one of which was Linda Davenport, the company’s current vice president and senior trust officer. The firm was essentially a start-up and resources were limited. There were no computers and Davenport and her colleague had to share a bottle of Wite-Out. Luckily, creativity was in abundance. The small team worked hard to develop a comprehensive grassroots marketing strategy aimed at: (1) connecting with the local legal community; (2) building the framework to facilitate incoming and outgoing referrals; and (3) educating members about the benefits of developing an estate plan and the importance of choosing wisely when selecting a trustee. And, since 2013 they have continued to build and refine upon those efforts all while their team and assets grew.
BECU Trust Services: Steps to Success
- Join local estate planning councils
First, the team joined local estate planning councils— organizations comprised of attorneys, life insurance agents, trust officers, accountants, financial advisors and others substantially involved in estate planning. The groups met on a quarterly basis to discuss various, up-to-date topics of common interest. It was at these meetings that the company began building awareness of its services while demonstrating a commitment to the industry. Over time, the diverse membership served to create a steady source of referrals.
- Reach out to local attorneys directly
Next, the team reached out to local estate planning and litigating attorneys in an effort to build a referral network as a resource for credit union members. While solo practitioners and those at smaller firms were quick to agree to a one-on-one lunch meeting, attorneys at larger firms proved far too busy. As a result, the team approached larger firms with a proposal for on-site lunch meet-and-greets. In these cases, BECU Trust Company had professional boxed lunches prepared and delivered to the firm’s office. Then the team, armed with marketing materials and fee schedules, proceeded to engage attorneys in casual conversations aimed at uncovering the firm’s niche market and communicating the company’s value proposition. Within 3-4 weeks, referrals began to flow in.
- Sponsor relevant industry conferences
To drive additional awareness and continue to build out a referral network, the team sponsored estate planning and litigators’ conferences. As time went on, they learned the ideal spot for booth location and came to appreciate the importance of giving away quality swag items to boost traffic, which increased the number of connections they were able to make with local lawyers. In fact, BECU Trust Company developed a reputation for its swag items, including a French press, coffee mug, ice scraper, cell phone charger and thermos. The team now has a waiting list for its useful promotional merchandise.
- Demonstrate appreciation for referral partners
The company hosted creative “center-of-influence” appreciation events. After conducting a survey of its referring partners, they learned that attorneys were not interested in attending typical wine and cheese events. Rather, lawyers longed for unique experiences. BECU Trust Company delivered—hosting a cooking competition in a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, a wine blending event with branded wine labels at a local winery and a tour of a Starbucks Roastery, where attendees could sample coffees paired with decadent desserts. The best part? The company encouraged attendees to bring a “professional plus one” (i.e., a colleague who is unfamiliar with the company and is in a position to refer business).
- Market to members and train branch staff
BECU Trust Company worked with the broader credit union to train employees at BECU’s Neighborhood Financial Centers to recognize potential members that could benefit from trust services, so that staff could identify appropriate referral opportunities. The company also developed easy-to-digest marketing materials and worked with branch staff to host educational seminars for members. At these seminars, the team took advantage of the opportunity to interface directly with members—answering questions, establishing credibility and building relationships.
The Bottom Line
“The knowledge, experience and service provided by BECU Trust Services reflects the credit union industry’s philosophy of ‘people helping people’ at some of our members’ most critical moments,” explains Benson Porter, BECU’s chief executive officer. “The team is an important and dedicated resource for our members, helping them set goals and develop and execute plans to ensure the smooth transfer of hard-earned assets to loved ones.”
Members know that the trust services department can help them:
- Crystallize their estate planning goals;
- Connect with local attorneys to draft or update an estate plan; and
- Carry out the wishes set forth in their plans by serving as corporate trustee.
Over the next 25 years, the population of Americans aged 65 and older will double. Eventually, the priorities of this group will turn to estate planning. “Credit unions without a well-established trust services program will force members to go elsewhere to meet their needs,” says Davenport. Worse yet, they will miss out on the chance to bridge generations, since trust administration presents a unique opportunity to interface with a member’s family. “Often, beneficiaries who watch us do right by their parents elect to not only keep their inheritance invested with BECU, but also consolidate accounts,” says Davenport. Ultimately, a robust trust services program creates a win-win situation, providing credit unions with a wise investment opportunity that affords peace of mind to members and their loved ones.
Andrea Brandon is VP, Trusts & Investments at Members Trust Company.