The president of a Morton Grove-based credit union believes two awards he recently received represent his credit union’s efforts to keep minority businesses alive during the ravages of the pandemic.
Negocios Now magazine has named Northwest Community Credit Union President Jose Garcia to its list of 120 winners in “Who’s Who in Hispanic Business-2022.” This was the second year he had received the award; he also received Chicago United’s 2021 Business Leaders of Color honors.
“This year and last year (the awards) were a reflection of the diversity of membership and the ability to provide financial services where none existed,” Garcia said.
He was president for 10 years of the credit union, whose headquarters are in a three-story red brick building with white columns at 8930 Waukegan Road.
Similarly, in an hour of need, Garcia said his credit union stood apart from conventional financial institutions when businesses first closed and then crimped when the pandemic hit hard in the spring of 2020. He felt that He needed to take action to help facilitate pandemic relief loans to small business operators who have been overwhelmed by the application process for federal assistance.
“There was a lot of demand coming from the Latino community, with many struggling to get in front of big banks and financial institutions,” Garcia said. “We’ve gone the extra mile to create a program for small businesses to have capital. Banking policy procedures and paperwork are usually the problem.
“But a bigger challenge was small businesses that didn’t understand tax reporting. We spent a lot of time explaining the necessary financial statements to them. We walked them through the process and took a lot of time. Personally, I’ve spent time after hours meeting companies in neutral locations. »
The vast majority of Northwest Community customers are in Chicago and nearby northern suburbs, including Morton Grove. Part of Garcia’s job, pandemic or not, is educating potential customers about the functions of a credit union.
“I think credit unions are the hidden gems, from a financial institution perspective, that have almost all the products of a bank,” he said. “The difference is that a bank is focused on profit and return to shareholders. Credit unions are not-for-profit and owned by their members. There is no pressure to meet profitability targets.
“We offer personal loans, mortgages, auto loans and business loans. On the deposit side, we have almost every deposit product from a bank. »
Supplementing a natural talent with numbers was a long training cycle where Garcia learned financial management through simple hands-on, starting as a youth on the Southwest side of Chicago.
“Everyone has a life event that brings you closer,” he said. “In 1984, my father Ruben Garcia, Sr. passed away. I had to become my mother Rosalia Garcia’s aide in making financial decisions, how to make mortgage payments, how to maintain the household. I was considered the smart kid in the family.
He eventually landed a scholarship to St. Xavier’s University when the student body was less than 5% Hispanic and was awarded a scholarship. He worked full-time during the day while attending full-time classes in the evenings.
Garcia eventually became president of a credit union in Chicago’s heavily Hispanic Humboldt Park neighborhood at just 29 years old. He held several CFO positions at other credit unions, a health care company, and the Illinois Finance Authority before landing at Northwest Community. .
He was determined to give back by starting a student-run credit union at St. Xavier, which now has a nearly 50% Hispanic student body.
“I wanted the students to have peer-to-peer training,” Garcia said. I wanted students to work with students, to teach them banking culture. There’s always someone like me when I was 16, 17 going to college needed that help.
Garcia’s work built a reputation that preceded it. Those who ran his awards were happy to bring him more recognition.
“We profile people who deserve to be there,” said Clemente Nicado, publisher of Negocios Now. The latest members of the “Who’s Who” were honored at a gala on July 15 at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in Chicago. In business since 2007, the nationally distributed Negocios Now has run its “Who’s Who” list since 2014, recognizing Hispanic leaders in business, government, law, finance, real estate, healthcare and other areas.
Successful minority businesses now earn multiple accolades, as Garcia did at social activist organization Chicago United’s biennial Business Leaders of Color awards in 2021.
“The past two years have been a challenge, but Chicago United and business leaders like Jose have risen to that challenge and taken a leadership role in strategically addressing diversity, equity and inclusion as part of a move,” said Tiffany Hamel Johnson, president of Chicago United. and CEO.
“Chicago United honors Jose’s tenacity and courage. Our vision is to transform the Chicago area into the most inclusive business ecosystem in the nation.”
A bunch of awards don’t overwhelm what Garcia sees as a simple message about his business.
“Open your eyes to a credit union,” he said. “Everyone thinks of a credit union as affiliated with some kind of union. But this is not the case. We just want small businesses and people in our service area to open their eyes. »