Episode 41 Transcript

Published: Thursday April 4, 2024

Banking on Change | Joanne Lopez, Financial Literacy Champion

Charting Financial Success with Joanne Lopez


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia, I am Alycia Anderson and I am so excited about our guest today.

She embodies basically everything that this podcast is about. She’s an immigrant from Trinidad Tobago. She is an advocate for financial literacy, which is something that I discovered when her and I met, and it’s fascinating.

Her life story serves as a testament to really what the American dream is, and I’m so excited to introduce, Joanne Lopez.

Thank you so much for coming on and spending some time with me today and sharing your beautiful story.

Joanne Lopez: Alycia, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to, you know, have a little chat with you, and I’m very honored actually, you know that you picked me just to learn a little about my past, my present, you know, [what] my future goals are.

So, thank you so much for having me.

Alycia Anderson: I’m so excited. Where do we start? I think we need to look backwards and maybe you could share a little bit about your story as a child?

Joanne Lopez: So, for when I was 11, I came to the United States on vacation. It was myself and my brother. And so, we visited a family member here and it was lovely. We had a wonderful time.

At the age of 13, though, I came back to the US and it wasn’t because I necessarily wanted to come here. It was because my dad had a brain aneurysm. And so after surgery, he was basically paralyzed. He was unable to move to communicate. My mom at that time thought that the best option for me would be to come here, you know, have a better opportunity. And so, I came here at 13.

It was difficult. It’s really difficult when you are removed from something that you’re so accustomed to and then really just having to start over. But most importantly, doing it at the age of 13 because at that time you’re really also going through those teenage years trying to figure out who you are. And not having that support system that you’re used to.

So, it was it was challenging at first, but you know, having that family member with me to help me get through it, it made it a little easy.

Alycia Anderson: So, I can’t even imagine moving to a brand new country alone. You must have grown up pretty fast, I can imagine.

Joanne Lopez: I did. I had no choice. I had no choice.

You know, those high school years were tough. Just being someone you know from a different country who had an accent who didn’t necessarily dress like the other kids did. Who you know at that time was very skinny to say the least, and being made fun of, you know, being accused of being anorexic and just little comments like that.

I think it made me a stronger person because I knew then, like, I would never want to treat someone that way because I knew how I felt to be picked on.

Alycia Anderson: How did those challenges… #1… How did you face them at that age and overcome and push through that adversity, and how did it shape you, as a young woman, sort of transitioning out of probably high school to college or whatever that looked like?

What were the challenges there?

Joanne Lopez: Ohh wow, where do I even start with that? Well, first of all, at 13-14, I don’t know about you, but I lacked confidence.

I think the way that I overcame that was I had a couple of friends and we would talk about things, and I think that that was able to really help me to get through the challenges that I was facing. But my guidance counselor at school. That person definitely made an impact in my life because I felt safe. I felt comfortable in going into that room and speaking to this person and letting them know exactly how I felt, and then getting the advice that I needed.

So, I think that also shaped me to build my confidence level and to make me into a better person. And so today that really shaped me and molded me into being able to speak freely and to stick up for what I believe in.

And I think it’s important because there were sometimes in high school where you’re being picked on and there’s no… like it… it’s not right. It’s not the right thing to do, but they’re scared. They don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to fall into that trap.

But to me, I think it’s so important because if I think that someone’s doing something and it’s not the right thing to do, then I always speak up for it.

I think that we need that in our lives today.

If we can do one kind thing every single day to help someone, then maybe, just maybe, we might make the world a better place to live in.

Alycia Anderson: I think we all, but especially when you’re coming from a background that is different from others and you’re dealing with bullying and being picked on it’s really, really hard to overcome and figure out how to solve for that.

So, thank you for mentioning that. I love it.

You told me and your young years… your, I think it was after high school… going to college or something… that the financial industry saved your life.

Can we talk a little bit about that?

Joanne Lopez: Yeah, absolutely.

So, when I graduated high school, I started working. My first job was actually a bank teller at NetWest Bank. They’re no longer around in the United States, but that was my very first job.

When I was 19, my family member, who I was living with, you know that person decided that I needed to be on my own.

And I laughed. I at 19, I had my own apartment. I basically needed to… again, although I thought I grew up quickly, I now needed to become an adult and face the real world.

So, I felt alone. I felt like I had no one beside me, no support and work really was all I had.

I would go to work and just being around my colleagues and being around customers and being able to just have that conversation and learn about them. It gave me purpose. And so that really helped me to overcome again, once again, the obstacles, the challenges of being able to just live daily, and it was rough.

I’m not even going to sugarcoat this because mental health is also real.

And I will say this, it’s not easy to say this, but I found myself in a really dark place at once, one point and so, so dark that I… really thought about doing something. And I think I don’t even need to say it, but you know, it was one of those things where that… that’s how I felt.

But, work again was something that I look forward to.

So, I will wake up daily with the purpose, knowing that I’m going to go to work, I’m going to be the best person that I can be. I knew at that time that it was my passion, because when I would help a client, even if it’s something as simple as cashing a check, you know, just having that conversation with them and learning about them, I felt that.

So, I was actually doing something good. And so, I wanted to move forward. I wanted to, you know, move to the platform at that time. They would call it. And I think it was just my my motivation… just to help others and my passion to help others.

That made me move quickly into the banking world. And so, after my teller years, I moved into the platform area where I was able to help clients with their banking needs. And I think the first time I helped someone with a mortgage… OK,,, to buy their first home. That was something that really it just… I felt like I did something so amazing. Because it was your first home, it was this couple they had just gotten married. I remember them, and so they were just so thankful they even bought me flowers. I didn’t do a thing. I just, you know, referred them to the mortgage officer, and they did everything.

But they just, you know, they came back and they thanked me, but I think it was at that moment that I realized that I’m actually doing something good to help others.

Alycia Anderson: That’s so amazing that that triggered something for you on the other side of the desk.

So, that’s so cool.

Joanne Lopez: Absolutely. Thank you.

An, then from there on, you know it’s just a matter of just climbing the ladder as they say because I knew I wanted to stay in banking. It was something that I really enjoyed and it really did save my life.

You know, I can’t thank banking enough for being here for me when I needed this. I needed a job. But, it was more than a job to me. It was just something that gave me purpose.

So, I’ll forever be thankful to the banking industry.

Alycia Anderson: As a woman who comes from a diverse background who was not from our country, who had to overcome all of these challenges, what is the advice that you can give to our listeners about the climb and what you need to do to be successful to go from a teller to vice-president of marketing?

Joanne Lopez: Yeah. So, what a great question. And it’s… it truly is all about you as an individual, right, because you need to have that drive… you need to have the motivation, and sometimes along the way you’re going to be faced with so many different obstacles.

And I, myself, have been faced with them.

It wasn’t easy and as an example, when I first became a branch manager at… I wont, you know, name the company. It was great. I felt as if I was on top of the world. It was at that time that I decided that I wanted to start my family.

During that time, I had some challenges, and so I needed to have treatments. My supervisor at that time did not like that.

And so, I although I knew I was doing a good job, I thought that still I wasn’t giving 100% to that company.

And so, what did I do? I took a step back. I said, you know, I want to be fair. I want to do the right thing. I know I am giving 100% but I don’t think you think that I’m giving 100%. So, I am going to take a step back and I am going to step down to an assistant branch manager.

I shouldn’t have done that and if I had the right supervisor at that time, they would have said to me, Joanne, no, you’re doing the right things. You’re not going to take a step back. We’re going to work through this.

But that did not happen… so, long story short, you know I finally, after a lot of challenges I was able to have my first daughter. Came back to that bank company, and I was told, well, you know what… you’re an assistant branch manager. You need to prove yourself again.

OK, that’s not a problem. You know, I’m all about hard work doing what’s right. And, it took about a year, Alycia, for me to now move back into that management position.

So, we go through so many challenges and it’s up to us… if I were that person I am today back then… that would not have happened. Because I know, I know… that I am doing what I’m supposed to do. So, should I be penalized for that?!? I should not have been penalized. But again, I didn’t have that person to guide me.

So, it’s all about learning. It’s all about overcoming those challenges, and knowing your value and your worth.

Alycia Anderson: I stayed like… one of the very first companies I worked for… I stayed at too long.

I felt in my heart. I knew my value was larger. I wasn’t being moved up. It was very linear. There was no promotions. And, I looked back after I left and said OK, like, I should have listened to my gut.

Know my value, ask for what you want and if you don’t get it, it’s time to move forward and whatever that is. So that’s a really, really powerful story!

Let’s take a quick break. You’re listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I am Alycia Anderson, and I am so excited about our guest today. She is an advocate for financial literacy.

I’m so excited to introduce Joanne Lopez.

Can you talk about how your career… and your knowledge… and expertise… translated to giving back, and advocacy work within those spaces? And, a little bit about what you do?

Joanne Lopez: Absolutely. So, although I started in banking when I was 19. It didn’t necessarily mean that I knew for my personal life what my finances should look like.

And I, at that point was so thrilled when I first received that credit card. You know, the one that you’re at college and they have the tables and you sign up because you get a free gift. I was victim to that.

And so, what did that mean?

Now, here I am with the credit card and I’m thinking, ohh well, this is fantastic. I can use this money. All I need to do is pay back $25 every month. This is great. I have no idea about the interest charges about the annual fees.

And so, I found myself in trouble, right?

So, to me it’s so important that we teach our youth now about life because there is no right time and wrong time to learn. But if we start early, and we get them into that mindset that maybe, just maybe, they can have a financial future… you know that’s going to be so impactful to them by the time they graduate college.

And so, that’s my mission. I really just want to be there to educate, you know, anywhere from our elementary school students… are high school students… are nonprofit organizations.

Such as, I work closely with New Jersey Reentry, which you know this is a nonprofit organization that was founded 10 years ago, and this organization actually helps folks who have had some sort of court involved incident. They’re now looking to really just get their lives back on a positive, you know direction and they provide them with so many different resources.

But the one thing that they were lacking was financial literacy and being able to have a bank account.

So, Valley Bank… and I love my company so much. They do so many wonderful things for, you know, just the communities in which we serve, but just being able to have that, uh, you know, support from Valley Bank to be able to open bank accounts for clients who normally would not be able to have a bank account.

To me that’s so impactful.

So, what I do is I actually have one-on-one conversations with their clients. We talk about, you know, what are you looking to accomplish. We talk about what are your goals, right and how you, how are we gonna get you there.

So, we help them with opening a bank account, helping them with credit where they’re looking to build credit, repair credit, so it… it is so many different things that we do, but I absolutely love the fact that when I get that phone call from someone who now they are working, they have their direct deposit. And they say to me, Joanne, you know what that secure credit card that we were talking about.

I finally have money and I want to apply.

With that, to me, I’m doing something good because now they remember we had that conversation a while ago. She’s going to help me build my credit. They remember that.

So, I think that it’s so important that we’re there to help and support each other because what happens, we don’t have these resources. Are we gonna go to a check cashing place and pay that hefty fee? And then what? The money sits in your pocket. You spend it. It’s gone with that organization it’s very powerful and I love helping them.

Along with a couple other organizations that I work with as well, New Jersey Latino Law Enforcement Coalition, we also do the same.

Many of our officers, you know, they work tirelessly around the clock and so they may not have time to go to a bank. So, we make a point to provide financial literacy to them as well. Whether they’re looking to learn about credits or buying their home, or whether whatever it is that they’re interested in learning. But we think that it’s so important to be there and provide that support to them as well.

So, that’s just a couple of things that I do with Valley Bank, and once again, I think that this is the company that’s really allowed me to… really. I think I was confident, but once I started working here, I felt even more confident and I felt even more empowered to really go out there and make a difference.

Alycia Anderson: And, I feel like we don’t hear enough about financial literacy advocacy.

I just, even me, as a young girl, like I did the same thing with credit cards and I had debt from college for… I mean, I’m embarrassed to say how long I had it because nobody taught me how to be financially literate.

So, where does this all come from? Like, did this all translate from your journey from that 13 year old little girl?

Joanne Lopez: It absolutely started when I first came here and having, you know, to really just be able to overcome so many of the challenges that I was able to.

But I think for me a lot of it has to do with the experiences that I’ve had, and again, I’ve been in banking since 1996. A lot of it has been positive experiences, which I’m so thankful and grateful for, but there were those times where the experience was not that great. You know, being able to… like the example that I shared previously.

But just having someone there to help and support you is so important and when you are lacking that can really make or break your career.

And so, I really strive to ensure that my team. They are 100% being listened to. That I am actually taking the time to mold them and groom them because someone took a chance on me at some point. So, it’s for me, I need to do the same thing.

And like you say pushing it forward, Alycia, it’s so true because again, this is how we’re going to change the world.

If we can be that one person to someone and we can change their life, think about how amazing that is.

So, I just don’t want to do one life, I want to be able to impact multiple people and I’m just… I’m just thankful that I’m able to do this. I do volunteer a lot. Sometimes my kids would say mom, you know, it’s OK. You can say no. And my answer to that is, but baby, I am able to do it, and you know what?

As long as I’m able to do it, I am going to do it because this is why we’re here.

We need to be able to help each other and make the world a better place, and I really do every single morning when I say goodbye, I let them know… you have a great day in school… you make sure that you’re kind to everyone because you have no idea what they’re going through, OK.

So you keep that smile on your face and you’re going to be kind to everyone. If you see someone that’s being treated unfairly, then you need to say something.

It’s just the little things. I think that we don’t do enough of, but if we would just every single day do something special to help that one person, again, I think that we can make a difference.

Alycia Anderson: I always end the show with a pushing forward moment, a little inspiration, a little nugget that our listeners can be inspired by.

Joanne Lopez: Yeah, so… Live your life with a purpose. Don’t just wake up and get through the day. Really think about what you want to do. You know, we were given that gift to wake up this morning.

So, what am I going to do with my day today? You know what…?

I’m going to set a goal. I am going to speak to five people today and really let them know how special they are… or they did something that was so great, and I just want them to know that.

But, I think just having that purpose, right! Would… it makes such a big difference and it’s definitely going to impact someone.

Again, just live your life with the purpose.

Alycia Anderson: Live your life with a purpose. You’re definitely doing that, sister!

I’m so happy to have had this conversation. I think you’re going to inspire a lot of people, and you definitely have inspired me as a woman.

And, I just wanted to say also thank you to our audience for jumping on and listening again. We really appreciate you being part of this community.

This is Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is absolutely how we roll on this podcast.