Pub. 13 2023-2024 Issue 2

CBA Centerpoint: Going Beyond the Desk to Hear the Stories of Colorado Bankers

Vicky Aragon

Vice President, Young Americans Bank

How did you get started in the banking industry?

Prior to starting a career in financial services, I worked long hours as a manager at a hair salon. The schedule was rough and erratic, so I started looking for something with more predictable hours (like bankers’ hours) and applied to be a teller at World Savings and Loan. Given my management background, they offered me a job as a management trainee, which I accepted. I quickly progressed to managing my own branch. I didn’t know anything about banking. I didn’t even know what a CD was. But I learned quickly and really enjoyed the opportunity to help others along their financial journey.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I enjoy seeing the excitement on kids’ faces when they visit the bank to open an account, dump their piggy banks in the coin-counting machine, make a deposit or apply for their first credit card or personal loan. I truly enjoy helping youth develop good money habits at a young age and arming them with knowledge and strategies to avoid financial missteps in the future.

What makes your bank unique?

It’s the only FDIC-insured bank that caters specifically to children through age 21. We offer the same products and services as “adult” banks, but we incorporate financial education at every stage of a child’s development, starting with savings accounts for young kids, checking accounts with a debit card for children ages 10+, credit cards at age 12, and personal and auto loans for teenagers. By giving kids the opportunity to practice saving, spending, and borrowing while they’re young, we’re setting them up for long-term financial success.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a teacher. I always admired teachers and thought it would be fun working with kids. Now I get to be a banker and a teacher at the same time!

What is your favorite movie or book, and why?

I love the movie Where the Heart Is with Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd. I cry every time I watch it.

Who is one of the most influential figures in your life?

My mother. Her strength of character, work ethic and selflessness inspired me to be the same kind of mother to my own children.

Jack Kozlowski

SVP Commercial Banking, Citywide Banks

How did you get started in the banking industry?

I began my career after college with a large regional bank. I entered the bank’s Audit Development program, which was a multi-year rotational program through the different departments and functions of a bank holding company. I felt it was a great way to see a very large, complex industry without the stress of immediately deciding what I wanted my specific career-long passion to be. After completing and reflecting on the rotations, it became very clear that Credit and Lending were the right fit for my skill set and personality.

What do you enjoy about your job?

What I enjoy most about my job in Commercial Banking is the relationships we have built with our customers over the years. Whether it is helping owners at the start-up level, expansion level or transition level, helping them get access to capital can be a challenging yet exciting process. My role is to work with people and form connections to help them achieve their goals. It is incredibly rewarding to look at different projects that we have completed with our customers and the different strategies we collaborated on to get to a shared goal.

What makes your bank unique?

I believe that Citywide Banks truly provides a great, all-around experience for our customers. The bank has the personal touch and feel of a small community bank but with the strength and technology of a large regional bank. This combination allows our customers access to state-of-the-art banking tools as well as direct local connections to help with all aspects of their business or personal needs. The bank has also invested well in its employees, which is directly connected to the customers’ experience. I am very proud of how well Citywide partners with and sponsors different organizations around the state to foster economic growth.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

That is easy, a banker. My father was an economics professor, so I had access to the Wall Street Journal and The Economist at an early age. My father tried to make economics and financial markets exciting and fun. When I was in elementary school, he bought me five shares of the Boston Celtics and showed me how to track the stock in the Journal every day. I have tried that same approach with my kids to foster financial education without it seeming too complex or intimidating.

Jennifer Landini

Regional Market President, Bank of the San Juans

What makes your bank unique?

Bank of the San Juans is part of a community of banks. Under the Glacier Bank umbrella, our bank offers a unique niche with a community banking philosophy spread throughout our 17 bank divisions in 144 different communities. Bank of the San Juans operates in 20 locations throughout Colorado and 14 distinct communities. The majority of all decisions are made at the local level by employees living and working in our local communities. Our motto is One Big Happy Little Bank, and we are just that. Year after year, we have been ranked in the top 20 by Forbes magazine for America’s Best Banks.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The most rewarding aspect of my job is watching the growth and success of our customers, our employees and our communities. It has been rewarding to see other people’s success over the years, whether it’s the young newlywed couple who became homebuyers for the first time, the small business owner that was able to purchase their own building after years of leasing, or the legacy business owner that passed their operation on to the next generation. It is fulfilling to see our employees get promoted to the next level, and our local non-profits expand operations and services due to the philanthropy of not only Bank of the San Juans but other banks in our communities. As an industry, we play an important role in our communities, and it’s been a lot of fun having either a direct or indirect role in that growth.

What is the most important thing you have learned from a career in banking?

Banking is built on trust. Honesty and integrity are vital in this industry. Our customers entrust us with some of the most personal and confidential pieces of their lives — their finances. With the recent bank failures, many customers turned to their bankers for advice, questions and assurance that their money is safe, sound and secure. Having that open dialogue and confidence from a customer is vital to our success. At the end of the day, it all comes down to people and relationships. I am grateful to be surrounded by some of the best in our industry.

Tell us something about yourself most people don’t know.

I may be the only banker that doesn’t know how to play golf. I’ve tried it a time or two, but I am terrible. Thankfully not every relationship is built on a golf course. Maybe someone will have the patience to teach me someday. Until then, you will find me enjoying all of the other outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer. We truly live in the best state around.

Sam McKelvey

Senior Vice President, FirstBank – Colorado Springs

How did you get started in the banking industry?

Actually, I grew up with it. My father worked for the Nebraska Bankers Association, so I was introduced to financial services early on. As a young adult, I went to work for a banking software company that supports community banks. I would help with troubleshooting and training bank employees on how to use the software. I wasn’t particularly tech-savvy, but I really enjoyed working with people, so I made the switch from software to banking by entering the management training program at FirstBank in 2007.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy building relationships with customers and coworkers. I also enjoy having a measurable impact on the community and seeing that impact firsthand. It’s rewarding to help people build their dream homes or grow their businesses.

What makes your bank unique?

FirstBank is committed to serving all members of our diverse community and has introduced meaningful DEI initiatives, including a multicultural banking center where customers can receive banking services in their preferred language from team members who understand their culture and concerns.

In what ways do you like to give back to the community?

I personally serve on the board of Bryson’s Chase Foundation, a small, non-profit organization that assists families with the expense of mental health treatment for their children. I am also on the Finance Committee of the Independence Center in Colorado Springs, which provides information, resources and support to help people with cognitive, physical or mental health disabilities. FirstBank encourages all employees to participate within the community and provides volunteer time off as an added benefit. Additionally, FirstBank helped launch and continues to be the main partner of Colorado Gives Day, Arizona Gives Day and Coachella Valley Gives Day. Since each program’s inception, over $390 million has been raised for a variety of non-profits in these areas.

What do you listen to on your morning commute?

Bloomberg Radio for current events and entertaining and informative podcasts like Planet Money and Smartless with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, & Will Arnett.

Picture of By the Colorado Bankers Association

By the Colorado Bankers Association