When the Andover branch of Reading Cooperative Bank wanted to expand into the nearby Lawrence market, branch manager Gladys Martinez, one of this year’s Community Bank Heroes, knew just what to do.
“I went to school in Lawrence, worked there for over 20 years with TD Bank,” she said. “I have family in Lawrence, went to church there. I know the people, the market.”
Martinez approached Lawrence Public High School about offering a financial literacy course to sophomores.
“We got a great response from the school,” Martinez said. “They asked if we wanted to do a weekly course.”
After interviewing employees at the bank, from the CEO to lending to human resources to marketing, and tapping online and other resources, Martinez developed an 18-week curriculum focusing on “real world” topics high school students could relate to. Among the topics covered in the course are college financing, preparing for a career, learning how to budget, understanding credit and credit cards, skills for living on your own, understanding car loans, mortgages and insurance, and starting a business.
The curriculum, which was unveiled at Lawrence Public High School in fall 2016, is being repeated again this semester. The course has sparked considerable interest within Reading Cooperative Bank, with other branches expressing interest in adopting it for use in their own communities.
When several of her students at Lawrence Public High School started asking Martinez for extra materials to take home to educate their parents, many of whom do not speak fluent English and are unbanked or underbanked and often do not trust the banking system, Martinez led an effort to translate marketing materials and webpages into her native Spanish.
“One of the things we discovered when we went to different banks in Lawrence was that despite a large Hispanic population in the city, none of the banks had substantial material in Spanish,” she said. “We think it’s important to be able to reach out to people and give them good information in their own language.”
As a result of her efforts, Reading Cooperative Bank recently rolled out webpages, online and mobile banking, and collateral material, all in Spanish.
“What’s so special about working at a community bank is that so many of our decisions are made with the community in mind,” Martinez said. “We’re very involved in the community. I love that. I don’t want to do just banking. I want to find a need in the community, serve and meet that need.”
In fact, that need to serve the community is what led Martinez to join Reading Cooperative Bank in the first place after more than 20 years at TD Bank.
“TDBank is a great bank, but I wanted to get into a smaller bank where I could make a difference in my community,” she said. “I feel I am doing that at Reading Cooperative Bank.”