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College of Business

Distinguished Alumni: Kathy Elser

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Information taken from March 9, 2012 CFO of the Year Article: Becky Monk, Assistant Managing Editor-Puget Sound Business Journal

Kathy Elser
Senior Vice President of Finance & Chief Financial Officer

B.S. Accounting, 1989

Kathy Elser is responsible for overall strategic positioning for continued growth, balance-sheet management, operational efficiencies and expense control for BECU.

She manages a staff of 58 to fulfill the mission and set strategic priorities for the state’s largest credit union.

Elser said she’s most proud of BECU’s unprecedented growth while other financial institutions were crumbling.

Colleagues say it was Elser’s overall guidance that created the strong foundation to facilitate BECU’s growth in 2011.

It celebrated an 80 percent increase in net income, a 7.8 percent increase in deposits, and 7 percent increase in loan originations. It finished the year with more than $9.5 billion in assets.

During this time, Elser said BECU continued to be “well-capitalized” as determined by its regulator, and improved its return on assets from a negative .45 in 2009 to a positive 1.21 in 2011.

“These improvements led to BECU’s ability to return more to our members in the form of better rates and fewer/lower fees, and deliver exceptional member service,” she said. “The result was that in 2011 over 108,000 new members joined BECU, which was an all-time record.”

In 2011, the 45-year-old Wyoming native also coordinated an agreement to merge BECU’s wealth management arm, BECU Trust Company, with Members Trust Company to form what it says is the largest credit union service organization for trust services in the U.S. In the deal, BECU gained an ownership interest in Members, which at the time had more than $700 million in assets under management.

Elser’s colleagues call her a collaborative leader, a cross-functional problem-solver, and a mentor. She and BECU President Gary Oakland have organized a series of “road shows” to the different branches to make sure all of the staff understands the organizations operating and financial plan.


CAREER: Senior Vice President and CFO, BECU, 2007- present; vice president and controller, BECU, 1998 - 2007; accounting manager, BECU, 1996-98; auditor, GE Capital, 1995-96; senior financial accountant, MetLife Capital Corp., 1994-95; audit officer, Washington Mutual, 1993-94; audit senior, Deloitte & Touche, 1989-93

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science in Accounting, Central Washington University

GROWING UP YOU WANTED TO BE: It may sound unusual, but I always knew that I wanted to be an accountant. My father was an accountant and although he passed away when I was only four years old, I think he may have passed on the ”accountant genes.” Just to show how strong those accountant genes are, my two brothers are also accountants, and — believe it or not — I even married an accountant. I have always had an interest and a knack for numbers, and the clear cause-and-effect that emerge from accounting.

MENTORS: It’s difficult to name a single person as my mentor, as I have had many. In recent years, it is a group of people, my colleagues, who inspire and challenge me. I work with an incredibly talented group of professionals, each of them offer me something unique. These colleagues range from my peers to people at all levels and areas of our business. Opportunities for mentoring can come from a wide range of people; it only requires you to be open to listening and learning. I am a better person, both personally and professionally because of them.

THING IN CAREER MOST PROUD OF: I am most proud of how we set the stage for unprecedented growth at BECU. We do not have to look very far to see other financial institutions who did not survive the recession. However, over this time BECU continued to be “well-capitalized” as determined by our regulator, and we improved our return-on-assets from a negative .45 in 2009 to a positive 1.21 in 2011. These improvements led to BECU’s ability to return more to our members in the form of better rates and fewer and lower fees, and deliver exceptional member service. The result was that in 2011 over 108,000 new members joined BECU, which was an all-time record.

CIVIC CONTRIBUTIONS: Advisory board member, College of Business, Central Washington University; board member, Prime Alliance Solutions Inc.; board member, BECU Trust Company; member, American Institute of CPAs; member, Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants; member, Credit Union National Association CFO Council

OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES: My family and I like snow skiing, road biking, reading, spending time with family and friends. I also enjoy a variety of sporting events (the Sounders are my favorite!) and I love musical theater. I also belong to several wine clubs, and consider myself an amateur wine enthusiast.

WHAT ABOUT YOU MOST DIRECTLY CONTRADICTS THE TRADITIONAL IMAGE OF A FINANCIAL EXECUTIVE? The people I work with would probably say it’s that I’m not “stuffy” at all. I am lighthearted and like to have fun while we work hard. I am also not a typical “black and white” thinker. I have learned to look at things more holistically and consider all facets of the organization or a problem.

IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ANOTHER CAREER, YOU WOULD BE: That’s hard to imagine, as I said, I think accounting is in my genes. However, I think I might enjoy applying those skills in a micro environment, running a small clothing boutique.

LEADERSHIP ADVICE: Step outside of your comfort zone and look beyond the numbers. Have an appreciation for diversity in people, thought, learning styles, and approach. Be flexible. This will help you make better, less narrow decisions.

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