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Posted: July 01, 2012

Diversity Corporation of the Year finalists 2012

Solera National Bank

For Solera National Bank, diversity wasn’t an afterthought or a second thought. It was the whole point.

"It’s really the key fabric of everything we do," President and CEO Douglas Crichfield says of Solera, Denver’s first and only Latino-, minority- and small business-focused, community-owned bank.

Solera’s commitment to diversity runs deep, from the bilingual tellers and customer service reps to its partnerships with minority organizations and businesses and its support of Hispanic and minority nonprofits.

"We’re not just reacting to some change in the marketplace," Crichfield says. "We were founded specifically to serve the community, small businesses and consumers in a very caring and inclusive way."

Co-founders Ron Montoya, James Perez Foster and 18 other organizers, including Crichfield and Chief Financial Officer Bob Fenton, set out to fill a void with Solera, catering to underserved consumers and small businesses, particularly those in the heavily Hispanic community around the bank’s Lakewood headquarters. That commitment is reflected in one of Solera’s slogans: "We embrace our community one individual, one family at a time."

The bank’s founders wanted those individuals and families to have a stake in Solera, ensuring that the people backing the bank would also be banking there, Montoya says. They attracted more than 750 investors and $26 million in an initial public offering.

Solera’s success – despite opening its doors in 2007, just as the nation was sliding into recession – bears out the idea that it’s possible to both do good and do well, even when the economy is doing badly. The bank turned a profit in its third year and has been profitable for six of the last eight quarters, increasing earnings by 80 percent in 2011 over the year before.

"We’re actively reaching out to folks," Crichfield says, noting that the bank maintains relationships with the Hispanic, Asian, Indian and Women’s chambers of commerce, among others. "And we appeal to larger companies that have diversity units or departments where they have a specific goal of reaching out to the community we serve."

Solera’s community involvement includes everything from sponsoring fundraisers for a low-income health clinic to hosting Small Business Development Workshops; it supports organizations including Junior Achievement Summer Scholars, the Latin American Education Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council and its Business Opportunity Fair.

The bank’s community- and minority-centered approach has won fans across the state, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who invited Montoya to Washington in March to discuss supporting small-business development and job creation in the Latino community. Montoya, who chairs the Solera board, told the Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force that small banks need regulatory flexibility to work with small businesses and community-based organizations and nonprofits to boost opportunities for job creation.

"We’re trying to be as focused as we can be on servicing and working in the Hispanic community," Montoya told the committee. "They’re small businesses, small loans, and they do make a difference. Every small business, every nonprofit with access to capital will create new jobs."

With that in mind, Solera is ramping up its U.S. Small Business Administration loan programs, and loan officers are calling potential customers to get the word out about a bank that is welcoming, respectful, inclusive – and eager to lend both money and a helping hand.

"We envision Solera being one of the premier independent community banks in Colorado," Crichfield says. "We want to do that by giving exceptional service to people from all walks of life – and by giving back to the community."

– Lisa Ryckman

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