Barbara Martinez is an AFC® Candidate and scholarship recipient working with Illinois’s unbanked and underbanked residents, championing to close the racial wealth gap and aiming to create more equitable opportunities in financial well-being for everyone.

Can you tell us a little about your origin story and how that shaped the work you have highly do?

I was born on the island of Puerto Rico and attended college at the University of Northern Iowa. My origin story is the emotional trauma of growing up with a mother with a mental illness and the ramifications that illness caused us regarding our emotional, housing, and financial security. All these early experiences served as the bedrock that forged my financial independence and a sense of safety and security. The journey was long, but I did find my way to AFCPE and this world of Financial Security, but my early experiences of hardship and trauma-informed still inform everything I do today. For the past 20 years, I have worked in economic development, management, consulting, and financial coaching services in New York City and Chicago. Propelled by the knowledge gained during my early years in the for-profit sector, I decided to use that corporate knowledge and use that expertise to aid in the economic development of low-income communities in both NYC and Chicago. I worked as a consultant and trainer for small business entrepreneurs, helping them with business planning, marketing strategies, and access to capital. Today, I oversee the Heartland Alliance’s Community Partnerships & Asset Building Programs. I sit on the BankOn Illinois commission. I received a Bachelor’s in the Business Administration University of Northern Iowa and a Master’s in Public Relations degree from the University of Northern Iowa.

The Latinx community is extremely culturally diverse, but when it comes to finances, they may face unique challenges. What are some financial barriers faced by this community that you want financial professionals to know about?

This year I worked with many women, especially foreign-born immigrants, Latinas, mothers, and full-time workers for the most part. During the programs, these Latinas demonstrated a hunger for learning as much as possible about banking and financial services. My Latina participants were great savers and bargain shoppers. They absorb all the tips, including all the FinTech products we highlight during class, to monitor their credit and do their budgets. However, since their incomes are still low, we need more support to overcome system barriers these Latinas face, such as what we met last year with the Stimulus and the Child Tax Credit. This past year, in particular, many low-income families could access incredible benefits, but many others had incredible systems and structural barriers.  For example, let us talk about the Child Tax Credit. A family of four could receive up to $18,600 from the three stimulus checks and expanded Child Tax Credit in 2022. But Latinos experienced a lot of barriers that were hard to overcome: particularly people without ITINs and people experiencing homelessness. There is a huge need for things like Financial Navigators that could provide culturally relevant financial information in Spanish that could be critical to help families access complicated and inclusive systems. There is a huge need for free Spanish tax preparation assistance, especially if they continue to see tax credit expansions for low-income people. These benefits and stimuli were incredible in helping low-income families survive these past years and, in some instances, even thrive. We need more programs to help Latino families scale up and exit low-income levels, but these programs need an inclusive, functional infrastructure devoid of biases and structural racism. 

You are currently an AFC candidate. How did you learn about the certification and why did you decide to pursue the AFC?

In late 2021, I saw the AFCPE announcement about the Capacity Building Group Scholarships:  AFCPE Strategic Impact Fund allocating $100,000 in 2022 in capacity-building scholarships to community-based organizations. I immediately contacted my boss because I wanted the entire Asset Building team trained and certified as AFCPE. I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to level up the team knowledge and therefore bring to the low-income families of Chicago we serve the best, highest standard of financial education care. My leadership team could not apply by the deadline for the Capacity Building Group Scholarships because of internal organization delays. Still, I decided not to let that deter me, and I took the opportunity to apply for the Individual Certification and Training AFCPE Strategic Impact Fund Scholarship. In December 2021 AFCPE Strategic Impact Fund Scholarship. I am taking my AFC examination this November, so I have been studying very diligently for it, and I hope that some of my team members can get AFC certified soon as well. 

What have you enjoyed most about the program so far and/or what would you say to someone who was considering pursuing the AFC?

My favorite part of AFCPE so far has been the experience of studying with my peers. As part of the AFCPE Strategic Impact Fund Scholarship, we have the privilege to meet twice a week with a dedicated instructor that provides us with the lesson and interactive excellent application exercises of the lesson learned to practice with other AFC candidates and colleagues for a period of 8-weeks. They are just in time to prepare me for my November test. I love going to my Zoom class and interacting with my instructor, as well as with my other AFC candidate colleagues, ad we train together for our AFC test.   

What advice would you give someone from the Latinx community who is thinking about working in personal finance and earning their AFC?

If you are a Latino entrepreneur and starting your practice as an AFC when you pass your examination this year. I will encourage you to continue your ties with AFC forever because they are the ones that set the standards for our profession but also make new alliances with influential think-tank such as the Aspen Institute, which is investing in building a pipeline of American Latino thought leaders and creating opportunities for Latino economic mobility. Also, look into how FinTech can democratize the delivery of strategies for the financial security of the people we serve. Organizations such as Change Machine, Commonwealth, and Financial Health Network are great places to start because although Latinos do not run them, they do have a lot of research into how to help Latinos financially prosper. 

Do you have any resources & tools that you would like to share with the larger AFCPE community and public?

It can be challenging for neurodiverse people to navigate and keep up-to-date with the new Financial technologies, research findings, and best practices in the industry but luckily individuals and organizations are creating audio content that works like a charm for dyslexics like me. I recommend this to anyone that likes to learn (audio learner like me) while listening to podcasts any of these four excellent podcasts. 

What is the best way to connect with you (social links, etc.)?

Connect with me on LinkedIn: 

Friday 5:

  1. My Why: Love 
  2. My Favorite Quote: “It’s Better to Light a Candle than to Curse the Darkness” Eleanor Roosevelt
  3. My Hero: Elizabeth Warren 
  4. My Favorite Resource is: iPhone 
  5. My Best Advice: Make sure to sleep at least 5 hours a day no matter what. 
  1. For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Face the actual balance; it is not as bad as you think. You have to face the darkness to start walking toward the light. 
  2. For a new professional: Take the time to strategize and create your Vision Board/1-year/or 5-Year Plan. 

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