Outstanding Women 2022: Julie Benedict

Julie Benedict wasn’t expecting to work in banking.

Julie Benedict

In the late 1990s, the young mother had served in the South Dakota National Guard, graduated college, and was leading the human resources department at a rapidly-growing local casino. 

Looking for a career change, Benedict responded to an advertisement for an HR position at Nebraska’s Security First Bank. In that role she’d be based in Rapid City, 40 minutes from her home in Spearfish, S.D., a city nestled at the base of the Black Hills.

Twenty-two years later, Benedict remains at the Lincoln-based Security First as chief human resources officer, having overseen the modernization of its HR department over the previous two decades. She is being recognized as one of BankBeat magazine’s 2022 “Outstanding Women in Banking.”

Following her 1991 graduation from Spearfish-based Black Hills State University, Benedict joined the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 842nd Engineering Unit, where she spent the following four years undertaking road and bridge work. One of the first women in her unit assigned to a non-kitchen-related role, Benedict experienced instances of gender-based prejudice, but also received much support from her fellow service members — both men and women.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been very fortunate that there have been men and women who have come along and seen potential in me and said, ‘Let her try, I think she’ll be great at it,’ and spoke up for me,” Benedict said.

She left the National Guard in 1995 following the birth of her youngest daughter Madison. She soon entered an MBA program at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and in 1999, accepted the HR position at Rapid City-based Silverado Casino & Restaurant. The establishment doubled in size over the next two years, requiring the young mother of two to log many 70-hour weeks.

Searching for a change of pace following a grueling stretch of work, she began working for the bank in October 2000.  A self-described data geek, Benedict was attracted to the Security First role because she could handle compensation and directly work with employees. “There are the things that you can see, and there are things that people tell you, and there are behaviors that you’re observing, and sometimes the data can give you a little more information,” she noted. 

At the time, Security First was still paying employees with paper checks on a monthly basis. Benedict led the bank’s shift into a digital pay structure while ensuring Security First’s HR information system was more robust and efficient so larger chunks of data could be generated.  She shepherded the transfer of employee records from hard copies kept in file cabinets to digitalization and storage on a secure server. 

Even today, the small size of the $1.5 billion bank’s HR department requires Benedict to cover many bases, from corporate planning to interacting with shareholders and handling day-to-day HR tasks. “There are so many different areas that you can cover, and in an organization like ours, you can do a little bit of all of it,” Benedict noted.

Despite those changes, Benedict said the basic principle of HR remains the same: Ensuring staff have a supportive work environment so they can in turn provide customers with positive experiences. 

Benedict draws inspiration from helping her employees and is passionate about rural mental health, an issue personal to her as rural suicide rates are nearly double those of urban areas. A high school student during the 1980s ag crisis, Benedict’s family moved from their farm into the Black Hills, awakening her to the challenges farmers face when they must uproot their families. Benedict’s brother committed suicide as an adult. 

As she grew more aware of the mental health crisis, Benedict soon realized that many people experiencing mental health conditions were either hesitant to ask for help or didn’t want to feel the perceived shame in doing so in a small town. She wants both employees and customers to view her as a sounding board for any challenges they face. “Any way that I can — or banking can — be a resource for people in crisis, I think it’s important,” Benedict noted.