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non-profit banking

Non-profit banking matters, says NJFCU CEO Lourdes Cortez

Lourdes Cortez has worked in non-profit banking for her entire career and has served as the President and CEO of North Jersey Federal Credit Union for over fifteen years. In that time she has impacted the financial lives of countless people. She is passionate about her work and first and foremost helping others.  

Rise to leadership   

non-profit banking

Lourdes Cortes, President and CEO, North Jersey Federal Credit Union

Beginning as a bank teller over thirty years ago, Lourdes has worked her way up the corporate ladder to where she is today. After high school, she began working full-time at North Jersey Federal while also attending college at night. In 1984, she became a Financial Services Representative and was later promoted to various other positions with increasing responsibilities from Mortgage Officer to Loan Department Supervisor and Loan Collections Manager. 

Since her early days, Lourdes has learned the business of non-profit banking from the inside out, having worked in or managed every department at one point or another. 

In 2004, Lourdes’ hard-work earned her a promotion to Vice President of Operations and by 2005 she was named President and CEO of the company. Over the course of her tenure she has used her leadership and business skills to spearhead growth for the company from $168 million to $220 million in assets. 

Leadership lessons learned

These responsibilities put her in new leadership positions, but leadership was nothing new for Lourdes. 

Being the elder sister in her family, she had responsibility thrust upon her at a young age. 

“I have always prided myself on being responsible,” Lourdes says. “I remember my father giving me a step stool to stand on so I could reach the pots on the stove to cook for the family.”

With both her parents working long hours to support the family, Lourdes took on the role of “den Mother” for her sisters and brother. “My siblings might have called me bossy, but it did train me well for my career of managing people,” says Lourdes. 

At the same time, she also participated in her local Girl Scouts troop, which had a great impact on her. With the troop she gained crucial skills in leadership and service which have followed her throughout her life and into her career.  

Breaking the glass ceiling 

non-profit banking

Lourdes Cortes at North Federal Federal Credit Union.

Lourdes success however was not without some struggle. 

“I can tell you that it wasn’t always a plus to be a female in business in the old days,” she says. “I was always knocking on the door of the boys club. I didn’t give up knocking until they let me in.” 

The challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field pushed Lourdes to persevere and never give up on herself. She built up her self-confidence and fostered a strong belief in herself, her capabilities, and what she deserved. This perseverance is what helped her break through the glass ceiling and reach greater heights in her career. 

“I learned not to show fear and to believe that when I walked into a room where I was the only female executive in that room, that I belonged to be there,” says Lourdes. “That I deserved to be there.”  

In addition to her strong will, being a Latina gave her an unexpected edge in business. Speaking Spanish and having and understanding of Latino culture helped her credit union be the first in New Jersey to focus on the Hispanic market. By offering specialized services such as the first bilingual website and having Spanish speakers at their branches, Lourdes’ was able to use her abilities to reach more people that otherwise would not have received aid. 

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Why non-profit matter

Lourdes has spent the majority of her career working in non-profit banking. During this time she has had the opportunity to help many people with their financial needs, from first time home-buyers to struggling families. This is what matters to her, the people not the money.  

“Anyone working in non-profit will confirm that you don’t do it for the money,” says Lourdes. “I did it for the difference the credit union makes in people’s lives on a daily basis.” 

non-profit banking Lourdes Cortes

NJFCU President and CEO Lourdes Cortes (C) interviewed by Bellas Fashionistas CEO Fleriser Bello (L) at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo Fireside Chat, and Latinas in Business President and CEO Susana G Baumann (R).

Thinking back to her past clients, Lourdes recalls recently receiving a thank-you note from a young couple she helped. The couple were first time home-buyers who Lourdes met at a first time home-buyer seminar. With the help of Lourdes and the credit union, the couple then worked to improve their credit score. Now they have closed on their first home. 

“That’s why I do it,” says Lourdes. 

non-profit banking Lourdes Cortes

Lourdes Cortes with her mother

Another client’s story comes to mind when thinking of the impact her credit union has had. She recalls a family struggling to purchase a van with a wheelchair lift for their child who had been paralyzed from the neck down in a drive-by shooting. The family had bad credit so no one would lend them the money needed for the van. Without the specialized van, the child would not be able to get around or even go to school. North Jersey Federal loaned the family the money when no one else would. 

“These are my moments of satisfaction and proof that I have spent my career in the right place,” Lourdes says. “My mother taught me that it’s not what you get in life that makes you a success, it’s what you give.” 

Lourdes believes in giving first. The rest will follow. To others who are struggling or searching for success in their careers, she urges you to keep the faith in yourself. Success starts in believing you can achieve it. 

“Never give up,” says Lourdes, “agree with your inner voice that you deserve a place at the table, and pay it forward.”

leader

Fatima Pearn received Latina Leader Award at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo

Fatima Pearn was honored with the Latina Leader Award at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo and Pitch Competition where she also participated as a guest judge. As the current VP Business Development Office at Valley Bank, Fatima has had a lengthy and successful career in banking. She has shown exemplary skills and has acted as a leader and mentor to others while contributing to the expansion and success of multiple banks throughout her 15+ years in the banking industry. Taking to the stage to accept her award, she shared some of her professional journey, inspiring those in the audience with her success story. 

leader

Fatima Pearn, Vally Bank, receives the Latina Leader Award from Susana G Baumann, Latinas in Business Inc.

Working up from the bottom

Fatima’s banking career began in 1989 at First Fidelity Bank where she worked in the Import and Export Department. After only two years, she put her own career on hold to help her husband at the time with his own business. The couple later divorced, leaving Fatima to support two young boys as a single mother. The four years that followed were difficult, with Fatima working multiple jobs to support her children. Then, in 2001, Fatima decided it was time to make a significant career change.  

“I needed to make a change in my life and start thinking about a new career,” says Fatima. “A career that would give my family and I better health benefits, and also allow me to contribute to a retirement plan.” 

leader

Fatima Pearn accepting the Latina Leader Award during the WINNERS Reception at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo

Fatima decided the best option would be to return to banking, since she already had some previous experience in the field. When an opportunity as a Teller opened up at PNC Bank, Fatima took a chance and applied. 

“I wanted to learn the retail banking industry from the bottom up,” she says. 

Never having pursued a formal higher education, Fatima gained all her expertise by learning on the job from mentors and taking specific courses and accreditations in her field. Beginning from the bottom helped Fatima quickly learn the ins and outs of the banking world and soon became a leader to others.  

New love and opportunities

During this same time, Fatima remarried to the love of her life. Her husband had two children of his own, and together they raised their four children before growing their family with another child together, a baby boy, who is now fourteen years old and a blessing to their lives. Fatima’s husband and their children gave her the drive to better herself and encouraged her to further grow her banking career.  

Soon Fatima was promoted from Teller to Financial Sales Consultant, and then in 2005 she was offered the opportunity to be a Business Development Officer by her Team Leader. This position put her in charge of five branches in Essex and Hudson County with book of business to grow. 

“My job was just to bring new business to the bank and close a minimum of $5 Million dollars in new money in lending, C&I, owner-occupied, Loc and Investment Real estate,” says Fatima. “The first question my Team Leader asked me was: Where do you think you are going to target new clients? I thought about it for a couple of days and got back to him with a plan.” 

Her plan involved three steps. First she did research on Reference USA. Then she reached out to her husband’s relative who was a fireman in Kearny at the time. She asked him if he could share a list of new businesses that opened in Kearny from January to that date. Lastly, she registered to be a member of the Kiwanis, Rotaries and the Chamber of Commerce in the area. This plan proved to be successful as one year later, Fatima was invited to be the Treasurer by the Portuguese American Chamber of Commerce in Newark.

“I also took private lessons to learn the basics on how to play golf in order to be able to participate on golf outings at the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce,” Fatima says. 

After a few months, she started showing great results in her position, and she worked with her retail partners and loan officers to have client appreciation days at their branches after work hours. These events made their clients feel appreciated which lead to the building of Center of Influences (COI’s) for the business.  

Conquering language barriers

Being a Latina has also been incredibly instrumental in Fatima’s success, opening her up to many opportunities to expand her relationships in her career. 

“I was able to connect with many different cultures because of my background and the connections I was making in my community,” says Fatima. 

Her Latina background was especially helpful when it came to language connections. While working in Kearny, Fatima was the only employee who was able to speak Spanish and Portuguese. This allowed Fatima to bring in a lot of new business and relationships to the bank that otherwise would not have been possible due to language barriers. And Fatima knows all too well the struggles of working around a language barrier.  

“When I first came to the USA, I didn’t speak English and it was hard to adjust,” says Fatima reflecting back on her early beginnings. “I worked hard and connected with American people to learn the language. It was very challenging, but also would up being very rewarding.” 

Now Fatima is able to give back and help connect with clients who do not speak English or are not as confident with the language yet. This unique opportunity has driven Fatima to success and has also made her very proud of her past and where she started from. 

“Be proud of your past and who you are today,” says Fatima, “keep working hard, reach out to those around you to gain support as well as provide support. You can be successful in your profession too.”

leader

The Valley Bank Team (L to R) Sofia Cordero, Fatima Pearn and Dorothy Kahlau,
First Sr VP
Valley National Bank

Being a leader to others

Following her time working at Provident Bank in Kearny, Fatima’s reputation as a leader and successful worker offered her multiple opportunities in the years that followed, such as the position of Assistant VP Business Banker II at PNC Bank in 2007. She worked there for eight years managing a book of business with over a hundred clients which grew her book of business to over fifty percent. She then was contacted by Santander Bank where she was offered the position of Vice President Middle Market Relationship Manager. This position covered Essex and Hudson County where Fatima managed a book of business of over 150 clients. During this time she also served as President of the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) of the West Orange Chapter in NJ and led her department in Small Business Administration production which included the largest deal size of over $20M in revenue.

In 2018, Fatima accepted a new opportunity at Valley Bank, where she currently works, as the Vice President Commercial Lender. Here she develops and monitors business plans to support the company’s strategic goal of increasing client based and corporate branding. She also participates in community and non-profit organizations. 

Her professional journey has taught Fatima that success is always possible no matter where you begin. It all comes down to your goals and actions. “You may feel like you are nowhere near accomplishing your goals right now, but there is time to change that,” Fatima encourages. “Great things can be accomplished if you put your mind to it and work hard. The first step is to plan and to give yourself goals.” 

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She believes in the process of working toward short-term goals to build on and reach one’s ultimate goal of success. Additionally Fatima stresses the importance of resources and support. 

“It never hurts to ask for help or support from the people around you.” Reflecting back on her journey, she says, “I never thought that I was going to be the position I am in now. I dreamed of being a nurse because I wanted to help people. I was always a natural leader, always worrying about my friends and family and trying to help them. I realized that nursing wasn’t a good fit for me as I got older. So, I chose to be in banking because I liked to help the small and medium size businesses to grow. I would like to encourage everyone not to give up on your dreams.”

Valley National Bank

Thanks to Valley Bank’s Team for being a constant supporter of Latinas in Business Inc.

Sponsor of the 2019  Latina SmallBiz Expo and Pitch Competition