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Posted: November 02, 2012

Executive edge: Richard Martinez

Bank CEO infuses youth with entrepreneurial spirit

Lynn Bronikowski

Richard Martinez grew up in Pueblo, the son of a steel worker who witnessed first-hand the ups and downs of the steel industry – long layoffs, strikes and several injuries to his father.

"Even after being injured he’d continue to return to work, and work very hard," said Martinez, president and CEO of Denver-based Young Americans Bank, which this year marks its 25th anniversary. "My parents had a value of hard work but also had a value that education was No. 1 in their priorities."

Martinez’s parents operated on a cash basis, struggled from paycheck to paycheck and rarely discussed finances.

"Money was always a mystery to me. I always knew I wanted to do something with money, so banking was at the top of my list," said Martinez, who majored in finance at Colorado State University and landed a job as a bank examiner for the Federal Reserve where he worked until joining Young Americans Bank in 1999 as a vice president. He later would earn an MBA from Regis University. In 2011, Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed him to the Colorado State Banking Board.

When Martinez took over the reins as CEO of Young Americans Bank in 2007, the economy was shrinking and so did his organization, which was founded by cable pioneer Bill Daniels as a state-chartered bank whose customers are under 21.

"We had a few layoffs and streamlined things to get ourselves into a more financially stable situation," Martinez said. "We started building reserves, maintaining all of our programs and continued to serve more kids."

The bank operates as a nonprofit with 16,000 customers, of which 33 percent have accounts under $100. Educational programs in the schools also are a part of Daniels’ dream for Young Americans.

In January, Young Americans Bank will open a $400,000 branch in Denver’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood.

"This is an opportunity for us to reach a very needy population with the branch being close to Montbello and in Green Valley, which was heavily hit by foreclosures," Martinez said. "It will be interesting to serve a population that doesn’t necessarily have good perceptions of banking. We can show them a bank is not a scary place and educate kids that banks are a way of life."

Martinez rattles off stories of children who built businesses by taking out loans from Young Americans Bank. In one case a youngster bought coin-operated laundry equipment for his father’s apartment complex. In another case, a brother-sister team grew a chocolate business called the Chocolate Farm into a $1 million business, winning wide publicity, including an appearance on "Oprah."

"We’re fostering that entrepreneurial spirit so these kids are hard-wired to start businesses and be entrepreneurs," said Martinez, 42. "This is what Bill Daniels envisioned – kids coming in and feeling comfortable about starting a business."

Next year, Young Americans is starting a program to encourage even more youth to take a leap and start a business. In addition to publishing a tool kit on starting a business, they’ll pair youngsters with people in the community to provide a glimpse into the real world of business.

"We’re going to be entrepreneurial ourselves by starting this program," said Martinez, who is adding staff to run the yet-unnamed program.

"People said Young Americans Bank was a fun little thing, and 25 years later we see the impact that this has had on the Denver community and the nation as a whole," Martinez said. "Every day we get to impact a new group of youth – whether it be in the bank or our educational programs. It’s powerful to come in here every day."

 

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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