President and CEO, Sound Community Bank

Sound Community Bank CEO Laura Lee “Laurie” Stewart has made a career of going against the grain, and her bank’s investors, employees and customers are all better for it.

Stewart has been CEO since 1989, when Sound was known as A.G.E. Federal Credit Union. On her watch, the credit union converted to a bank in 2003, its first-step stock offering took place in 2008, and it went fully public in 2012. Investors have been richly rewarded; a $10,000 investment in Sound in 2012 is worth more than $30,000 today.

This year, amid skepticism from the board and other executives, Stewart made a branch manager the new head of retail banking. It’s a leap, but Stewart said that with proper training the former branch manager will succeed in her executive role. Moreover, the move sent a powerful message at the bank that Stewart is willing to take chances on talented employees at lower levels.

Customers have also benefited from Stewart’s out-of-the-box thinking. A money-market account she created in 2014 in response to new restrictions on transfers in and out of accounts has quickly become Sound’s most popular, and lucrative, deposit product. The average balance in the high-yielding account is $125,000.

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Stewart takes pride in being a model corporate citizen. Last year, the $589 million-asset Sound gave nearly $200,000 to local charities, placing it No. 2 among small firms on the Puget Sound Business Journal’s ranking of generous corporate philanthropists. The next-closest bank on the list gave less than half that amount.

Stewart’s contributions to her industry extend well beyond Seattle. She is a former chair of the American Bankers Association’s governmental affairs committee and has also served on the ABA’s board of directors. Earlier this year she was one of six community bankers in the country invited to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss solutions for easing the regulatory burden on small banks.

Alan Kline

Alan Kline

Alan Kline is a senior editor at American Banker overseeing its consumer finance and national/regional banking coverage. He also helps direct coverage of the annual Most Powerful Women in Banking rankings.