Helga HoustonSenior Executive Vice President and Chief Risk Officer Huntington Bancshares Incorporated Columbus, Ohio Class A Director Sector Representation: Banking Current term ends December 31, 2025
As the daughter of German immigrants, Helga Houston watched her parents put down roots in southern California and begin a successful climb up the economic ladder of their adopted country.
“My dad started as a tile-setter, but he ultimately became interested in real estate. He and mom had their own real estate office, and they were also developers. They really paved the way for me to understand what you can do if you are driven and interested and smart about the way you invest,” she says.
The family interest in buying, selling, and developing property led Houston to become an appraiser, and, from there, it was a short, logical leap to learn about the bank lending that undergirds the real estate business.
Decades later, Houston’s interest in banking brought her to Huntington Bancshares in Columbus, where she is senior executive vice president and chief risk officer, a position she defines as shrinking and managing risk to enable the bank to meet its financial goals.
“I think it’s really important to understand that it’s not risk elimination,” she explains, “but how do we ensure that we’re managing the risks that we’re operating within tolerances that the board ultimately determines are appropriate for a bank like Huntington?
What are the checks and balances? What types of credit decisions am I willing to make? What type of market risk? I need to make sure I'm managing and taking the appropriate level of risk for the returns and the type of profile that I believe we should operate under.”
Houston joined Huntington, a regional bank holding company with $179 billion in assets, in 2011. It offers commercial and retail banking, investment management, and insurance services across the Midwest through Huntington National Bank and its affiliates.The Columbus-headquartered bank is Houston’s latest stop in a 35-year career that has also included stints in northern and southern California, New York, Boston, and Charlotte.
The Columbus area “is the longest we’ve ever lived in one place, and it’s been fantastic,” Houston says. She and her husband are the parents of five children.
In 2022, Houston was nominated by her fellow bankers to join the Cleveland Fed board, recognition she says she was honored to achieve.
She also serves on the advisory board for the Risk Institute at the Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business and the boards of trustees for her undergraduate alma mater, Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, California, and the New Albany Community Foundation. In these board commitments, directors tend to focus on fundraising and the internal workings of the organizations.
Fed board service is very different, Houston says, because it has an outward focus, concerned, ultimately, with helping determine “what is right for the broader US economic policy.”
She notes that directors are key sources of information for policymakers on regional business conditions.
“As one of the larger regional banks, we have a lot of insights in terms of consumer, small-business, middle-market and large-corporate (markets),” Houston says. This broad reach makes it easier to see, for example, how businesses and individuals are reacting to economic conditions, and it offers a view of broader behavioral trends.
Of her service on the Fed board, Houston says there’s something “very weighty” yet “inspiring and also incredibly fulfilling to know that we’re a small part of the (policy) conversation.”