1990s: Paying it Forward

Rich Martinez
Rich Martinez, a first-generation CSU student who later earned a Master of Business Administration, rose from a blue-collar background to run the world’s only FDIC-insured bank for young people. He has served as chair of the Colorado State Banking Board, among other leadership roles in statewide finance and education.

Bank executive gives back through unique financial services for Colorado kids

by Bruce Horowitz | Photo by Brian Buss

Rich Martinez Jr. and his family faced challenges as he grew up in a trailer park in Pueblo, Colo. When his father was laid off from the steel mill and the family was short on money, his dad an avid hunter sold the family shotguns. There was zero money for college.

Yet, Martinez knew he had it better than others. “My parents would feed breakfast to the neighbors’ kids, who otherwise wouldn’t have eaten,” he recalled.

Lessons in scrimping, saving, and sharing have shaped Martinez and his career. As a first-generation college student, he attended Colorado State on a full scholarship, earned his bachelor’s degree in finance in 1992, and sought a profession that steeps rising generations of young people in the very financial principles he has absorbed. At 48 years old, Martinez is president and chief executive officer of Young Americans Center for Financial Education, an FDIC-insured bank and related nonprofit organization laser-focused on teaching Colorado youth how to make and manage their money regardless of background.

His own background as a Latino in a white-majority culture never held him back, Martinez said. If anything, it motivated him: He’s not only a bank president, but a Latino running a financial organization that teaches money management to a racially diverse population.

That work is significant in light of changing population demographics: Multiracial people make up the fastest-growing segment of the country’s population, with children driving the trend in racial and ethnic diversity, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2060, one in three Americans is projected to be a race other than white. Hispanics make up the largest minority group in the United States, accounting for about 18 percent of the total population in 2017; that number is expected to grow to about 28 percent by 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Colorado, meantime, is one of 10 states in the nation with a Hispanic population estimated at more than 1 million people, or about 20 percent of the total state population.

In this context, the mission of Young Americans Center working with kids from all backgrounds is all the more relevant. For Martinez, it’s personal.

“My parents never had savings,” Martinez said. “That shaped my view toward money. At a very young age, I decided I would be a saver.”

His path to CEO began when a high school counselor pointed Martinez toward a CSU first-generation scholarship. An adviser on campus introduced Martinez to an internship at United Banks of Colorado. During his two-year internship, Martinez tried a handful of bank positions and was hired. After graduation, he spent seven years as an examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Denver Branch.

He volunteered at Young Americans, then progressed from volunteer to boss; he became president and CEO in 2007, charged with carrying on a mission established by the late Bill Daniels, center founder, philanthropist, and legendary cable-television entrepreneur.

Young Americans Bank lets kids open checking and savings accounts, like other banks. But its programming, delivered through its nonprofit arm, goes well beyond that to teach young customers money management and related skills that will help them prosper in a free enterprise system. Kids can learn to start and run a business and can even learn about and practice running a town.

In the time Martinez has overseen Young Americans, the number of kids participating in programs has more than doubled, topping 67,000 students last year. The $6 million nonprofit enterprise has more than 50 employees vested in shared goals.

“I’m living the American Dream,” Martinez said. “I’m running an organization with a great mission.”

Kai Suematsu, an 18-year-old intern at Young Americans Bank, represents the next generation to uphold the organization’s ideals. Suematsu made $2,700 working at the bank last year and with his earnings has established a scholarship for students in need of financial help. Of his donation, Suematsu said: “It’s important to pay it back.”