Maria Martinez, president/CEO at $147 million asset Border Federal Credit Union in Del Rio, Texas, received the National Credit Union Foundation’s 2017 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for her service to the credit union movement and leadership in the fields of community development, philanthropy, and advocacy.
She recently discussed her career and her approach to serving the Hispanic community with Credit Union Magazine.
CU Mag: What does receiving this award mean to you?
Martinez: It's a dream come true, and I consider this a great honor. I've been attending the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards dinner for several years and my favorite part of the gala is when the videos are shown of the award recipients.
Each story is unique and very motivating. So motivating that one dreams of being up on the stage someday with a story that would touch someone in the audience.
I get so inspired that every year I walk out of the gala wanting to conquer the world, to help others, to build better communities, and more than anything, to establish programs that would help the underserved.
And every year I bring that inspiration back home and try to motivate others. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by people that have supported my ideas throughout my credit union career.
I credit my success and this award to the immense support I’ve always received from my family, my peers, my board, my staff, and the people in our community. This is not “my” award. This recognition is to honor all the people that believed in my ideas and worked with me to successfully serve others.
CU Mag: What drew you to your CU?
Martinez: When I graduated from college with a degree in accounting, I was offered two jobs the same day. One was in banking and the other one was in the hospital administration industry. I opted to go into banking and worked for a couple of savings & loans institutions for about three years.
One day there was a job ad in the local newspaper looking for an accounting manager at a credit union. I didn’t know much about credit unions. I had never belonged to one either.
I researched the credit union and it interested me, so I applied for the job. During the interview, I sensed a very positive atmosphere around the credit union and very people-friendly. I knew I would be a great fit for the industry and I prayed that I be chosen to fill the vacancy.
Out of over 70 applicants I was fortunate to be selected for the job. And the rest is history.
I’ve been in the credit union industry now for over 28 years. Although I was in a back-office position, this didn’t stop me from becoming involved in extracurricular functions. I would volunteer for fundraising activities and many other special functions to the point that I became a leader of some of these activities.
Anything that meant helping others, I would jump in and become active. Helping others became part of my regular duties, and I found it so natural, easy and very rewarding.
In 2005 I attended the National Credit Union Foundation’s Development Education training in Madison, Wis. The training just reinforced my devotion for credit unions and for serving others. I became hooked on the credit union philosophy and cooperative principles.
CU Mag: Why is serving low-income Hispanics and working with youth on financial literacy so important to you?
Martinez: In 2006, I joined some of my credit union peers who wanted to form a networking organization to promote the credit union philosophy within the Hispanic community and provide support to credit union professionals who were engaged in serving the Hispanic market. From this idea, the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals (NLCUP) was born, and I’ve been one of their key members.
NLCUP organizes conferences and workshops, does advocacy, and hosts networking receptions to propagate service to Hispanics. Members are frequently contacted to speak and provide advice and tools on serving the Hispanic market.
Each year we host a networking reception during CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference to exchange ideas and give our credit union peers a chance to learn from each other. I’m very thankful to the dedicated group of my credit union peers that serve on the NLCUP board, of which I’m the co-chair.
And I’m also grateful to the many vendors that year after year provide us monetary support for us to host NLCUP events. NLCUP could not exist without their support.
As for financial literacy and working with the youth, since 1999 Border Federal has hosted a Youth Fair to create financial awareness among kids and parents in our community. I brought up an idea to our management team in 2004 of organizing a summer financial youth camp at our credit union for youth between 14 and 18 years old.
We came up with a schedule, marketing strategy, and class content, and Border Federal’s Youth Financial Summer Camp was born. The camp has been successful in our community.
Youth that attend the camp rave about it every time. Topics covered at the camp include budgeting, business etiquette, how to buy a car, applying for a loan, plastic cards, job interviewing, marketing products, understanding credit, and many other financial topics.
We all look forward to it every year. We have fun and at the same time we build educated consumers. I’ve run across many participants after they’ve gone on to college or work and they tell me that the camp really helped them.
Hearing that we made a difference in someone’s life is the best compliment we can receive.
A few years ago we started fundraising campaigns and events that have allowed us to provide scholarships to students and educators in our community. To date, we’ve given out more than $70,000 in scholarships.
In 2014 I started Border Federal’s young professionals group, called The PULSE (Professionals United to Lead a Successful Economy). This group is made up of Border Federal employees that are 35 years of age or younger. It meets on a monthly basis to discuss credit union programs and issues affecting this age group.
They’re very active in the community and have organized Border Federal’s 5K run and a coat drive called “Cold Drinks & Warm Hearts.” These events have raised funds for the credit unions’ political action committee and to help the underprivileged. I’ve empowered them to be active and they have wholeheartedly embraced the idea.