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Growing Wealth for Latinos

Patty Juarez doesn't give up

By Eric Garcia

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Growing up in Mexicali, Patty Juarez would stop by her father’s office after school. He ran an American-owned maquiladora near the border in Baja California. Patty noticed that occasionally he would put in money from his own pocket to make payroll. When she asked why he didn’t go to the bank instead, her father just shrugged. That’s when Patty decided what  to be when she grew up.

“I wanted to be a banker and help people,” she said. “Since then, I always knew it’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

When she was eleven, the family moved north to El Centro, east of San Diego in the Imperial Valley. Though it was only a twenty-mile move, it was enormous challenge for young Patty to finish 7th grade without knowing much English. But California was her new home and she made the most of it, a quality that would serve her well in corporate America.
Doing well in high school, especially in math, she entered the prestigious Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Wells Fargo recruited her right after graduation, and she began her lifelong career at the storied financial institution that went back to 1852, when Henry Wells and William G. Fargo delivered payments across the frontier by stagecoach. 

The self-described “baby banker” rolled up her sleeves and went to work in the Santa Clara office. At the time, this was Ground Zero for the dot-com boom, and Juarez gained a keen appreciation on why some startups succeeded while others failed. Juarez used these insights to help the bank lend to technology companies that had no product, much less any revenue, just an idea whose time had come. Juarez hints that some of those startups are now household names.

In 2007, she advanced her professional development by getting an MBA at St. Mary’s College of California while still working full-time and starting a family. Today, she and her husband Manuel have a son and daughter, Max and Bella. Like many professional Latinas, she is successfully juggling  family and career. “Sometimes it’s crazy, but we make it work,” she laughs.  

Juarez continued her climb up the corporate ladder at Wells Fargo, which has over 268,000 employees, rising from credit officer to senior vice president in commercial banking in Anaheim. Fast forward to 2016, when she had a “Shark Tank moment,” as she remembers.

Her experience in commercial lending as well as her stint as chair of the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce made her realize how many of her customers were women and minorities. Plus, a growing number were Latino-owned businesses---that was where much of the growth was coming from, not just in Southern California but around the country.

“I started doing research on weekends,” said Juarez, “and saw that this was the future. Latino-owned businesses were growing at three times the rate of others. We needed an intentional and specific effort to help them grow.”

So Juarez marshalled her data and used her hard-earned skills to craft a detailed business plan. Then she called for a meeting with the Head of the business, John Adams, who ran the powerful commercial banking group. In corporate America, such things are not undertaken lightly, and can often make or break a career. 

But Adams’ response was, “Why aren’t we already doing this?”

The weekend work had paid off.  The result was the creation of an entirely new position for Juarez as Head of Diverse Segments for Commercial Banking. For the first time, the bank had a holistic approach in Commercial Banking for businesses owned by women, Latinos, Blacks, Native Americans, and other segments, with specific strategies and culturally relevant advertising campaigns as well as training and education programs.

“We needed to help business owners achieve their financial goals and grow wealth in these communities,” said Juarez. “Our goal was to be the bank of choice for women- and minority-owned businesses.”

Juarez proudly notes that this was not just a first for Wells Fargo but for the entire commercial banking industry. And that other banks were taking notice. But Wells Fargo continued to grow its engagement with the Latino community through ongoing support for organizations like the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), Latino Business Action Network, and a $2 million grant to the Smithsonian to develop the Molina Family Gallery as part of the National Museum of the American Latino [see LATINO, Nuestro Museo, Spring 2022].

Juarez herself served as chair of CASA-OC, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County, which helps children in the foster care system, and joined the Board of Governors of Chapman University, a private research institution in Orange County. 

Within Wells Fargo, Juarez served as president of the Hispanic and Latino Connection, the employee resource network (ERN) representing over 35,000 Latinos at the bank. Juarez explains that the Hispanic and Latino Connection supports its members but also connects with other ERNs and helps elevate the Latino agenda. 

“I’ve taken that role to heart,” she said. “I speak to many  bankers across our company and understand what keeps them there. People come to me for that.”

Juarez takes mentorship seriously and offers this advice to young Latinos starting at a company like Wells Fargo: “There’s no replacement for hard work. You have to impress upon people that you are ready for responsibility, and that you can be relied on. But part of it is also finding work that you like to do, that you are passionate about.”

This passion drove Juarez to a new position earlier this year. In February 2023 she assumed the role of Head of Latino and Hispanic Affairs, another first for the bank.  Juarez now has an “exclusive focus on the Latino market, across the enterprise, and all lines of business,” she explained. “The Latino community continues to grow, and we want to support that growth.”

This newly-created position was ideated by the top executives of the company, and supported by the   Hispanic and Latino Forum, which meets monthly with Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf and the Operating Committee. Other Latinos participating in the Forum besides Juarez were Kleber Santos, CEO of Consumer Lending, and Ruben Barrales, Senior Vice President, External Engagement.

“I have a sense of pride that Wells Fargo has proactively created a new role focused specifically on Latino and Hispanic Affairs, and has put such a strong Latina leader in the role,” said Barrales.

Juarez divides her new responsibilities into three areas: First, continuing the focus on the Latino community, with support for organizations like the USHCC and many others. Second, making sure that Latinos are represented inside the bank, particularly at executive levels. Third, “ensuring that we are serving our Latino customers in all segments, and understanding when we have opportunities for growth,” she said.

We’ll be following her career in LATINO Magazine, but as this issue goes to press, Juarez just announced she’s been appointed to the board of the USHCC. 

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