Latinas in Banking and Finance
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
Latinas working in the finance and banking sectors are expanding the range of financial services available to Hispanics in the United States, including investments, wealth management, lending, financial stability, and more. They play a crucial role in the specific bank they work for, whether it be by filling the gap in Latina leadership representation or by ensuring that our community has full access to the financial products provided. Among these Latinas are Ana Maria Mitchell, Vice President, US Credit Operations at American Express; Celinda Farias Appleby, Director of Global Talent Attraction at Visa; Ileana Musa, Managing Director, Head of International Banking and Lending at Morgan Stanley U.S. Banks; Jennifer Lopez, VP of Product Development, Head of the Innovation Lab + Merchant Data Platforms at Capital One; Karelis Barrios, Global Head of Loans Operations at Citi Bank; Roxana Borges, Senior Vice President, Small Business East Division Performance Executive at Bank of America and Sara Vargas, Executive Vice President/Audit Management Executive, Internal Audit at Wells Fargo & Company.
Ana Maria Mitchell
Vice President, US Credit Operations
“When I began my professional journey in financial services about 20 years ago, I thought it would be “just a job.” A couple of years later, I took on an opportunity to lead a new team and launch a new technology,” shares Ana Maria Mitchell, Vice President, US Credit Operations, American Express.
“We were collaborating as a group, solving problems, creating strategies, and together we were learning and driving results. I still remember the excitement of that first role leading a team. Knowing that the work we did together helped to improve the financial lives of people, and during key moments that mattered, really ignited my commitment for a career in financial services.”
In her role at American Express, Mitchell leads the effort to provide the world’s best customer experience for Card Members who need financial assistance. In this role, she leads a diverse set of credit segments with an emphasis on reducing risk, identifying customer insights, and driving operational excellence.
“Early in my career, the corporate culture was about conforming to a male-dominated field,” she shares. “Being a woman, and Hispanic, put boundaries on what was expected of me and who I felt I could be in that environment. I was often the only woman in the room. I believe working hard and learning my craft helped to solidify my seat at the table, just like the example my grandparents set for me. Today, I am fortunate to work for a company that values me bringing my full, authentic self to work each day. Now I invest in building authentic relationships and connections with anyone I come in contact with, and that approach has continued to help me overcome obstacles along the way.”
Note, since the article published, Ana Mitchell has been promoted and is now Vice President, Customer Engagement Network, American Express.
Head of International Banking and Lending
Morgan Stanley U.S. Banks
“My greatest accomplishment is, I would say two things, being able to join Morgan Stanley and help build a business from the ground up with a strategic vision in a way that impacts the lives of our clients, of financial advisors, and of the teams that I lead,” shares Cuban-born Ileana Musa, Head of International Banking & Lending at Morgan Stanley’s U.S. Banks. “And working for Morgan Stanley gives me a platform to lend my talent beyond what I do in my day job.”
In this role, Musa leads the segment and strategy that focuses on Morgan Stanley’s International Client Advisors and international clients to ensure they have access to cash management and lending solutions, services and thought leadership to address both sides of their balance sheet.
Growing up, Musa didn’t have a financial career in mind. Her dream was to become a professional dancer. But at age 17, when she met her father –who had stayed behind in Cuba– she learned more about the business world. She also realized her love for math and re-evaluated her career path. “My dad was an entrepreneur at heart,” she says. “At almost 60 years old, he started his own business in the States. And it was through observing him and having a lot of conversations with him that I decided to pursue a degree in finance.”
After obtaining a scholarship, Musa went to the University of Miami and received her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in finance. Her father convinced her to keep studying and get a Master’s. “That’s when I went to Florida International University and pursued an MBA with a concentration in finance.”
Before joining Morgan Stanley, Musa was the Global Client Segment and Strategy executive for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Prior to that, she held several leadership roles in the domestic, international, and affluent banking platforms at Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, where she lent her talent to growing the cross-border wealth management business.
Celinda Farias Appleby
Director of Global Talent Attraction
Celinda Farias Appleby, Director of Global Talent Attraction at Visa, is committed to championing diversity and works to create a culture where diverse voices are celebrated and valued.
First generation Chilena and raised in Silver Spring, MD, Appleby is the daughter of immigrants who instilled in her hard work and entrepreneurship as her dad opened his own company despite his immigration status and language barrier.
From humble beginnings, Appleby’s role at Visa is impactful and her greatest accomplishment is to be a part of amazing global projects at Visa. From designing targeted talent strategies that attract and engage diverse talent to leveraging talent and market insights to curating tailored experiences, she is excited to bring more culture and different perspectives to the career site. Appleby also sits on the creative advisory board at Visa, where she ensures commercials are inclusive and Latinas are represented.
“As a Latina, I’m able to make sure that it’s inclusive. I’m able to make sure that we’re represented and not just me because I care about all people of color,” she shares. “I hate to say minorities are underrepresented talent, you know, they are historically overlooked talent and should be represented in all aspects. Also, this year, we heard all the way up from the Chief People Officer has said that talent attraction is a very big focus point for the next fiscal year. I know that there’s going to be a lot of attention on my department – and that makes me proud.”
For Appleby, being guided by leadership principles is the best part of working at Visa.
“Where we value open communication, come as you are authentic leadership, everyone here values and respects direct communication feedback in real-time. And that type of environment produces such good people. Everybody is equally invested in keeping the business growing in Visa’s profitability regardless of what department we work in. While everyone has very big jobs and important roles in that work, I genuinely feel that Visa cares about me. And I’ve never worked somewhere where people really did care, and you feel it in the good and the bad times. I am fortunate to sit on a team that really rallies for you.”
Appleby recommends Latinas invest in their personal branding in efforts to continue excelling in their careers. Having changed career paths successfully, she wants everyone to know that anyone can pivot their career. It will require a little bit of work and commitment to making a change, but it is possible. Appleby is a marketing enthusiast who loves her job and today doesn’t see herself leaving Visa.
“I want to stay at Visa,” she shares. “I’m enamored with our commitment to the community. I am also proud of all the money and investments we’ve put back into the Latino community. There is more to come, and I want to be at the table that helps move the agenda forward. Visa is hiring globally for roles across the organization, you can review the open roles at visa.com/careers.”
Global Head of Loans Operations
When Karelis Barrios, Global Head of Loans Operations, Citi Bank, was a young child, the need in her family drew her to the financial sector ultimately seeking financial literacy. Her advice and document translation assistance were sought after by family members and neighbors who needed financial help be it for a line of credit, inquire about a credit card, or wanted help with their mortgage paperwork. She had started working as a branch teller in the banking sector by the time she was a junior in high school.
“I worked full time during my undergraduate education and found it liberating to know how mortgage documents worked, what good financial terms really meant, and what was a good versus bad interest rate in relation to the fed funds rate,” she shares. “If you’re not born in this country or grow up very modestly as I did, you don’t have parents to provide these foundations.”
Accountable for the strategy, planning and execution of Loan Operations at Citi Bank, Barrios is responsible for building a Target Operating Model (TOM) for loan operations. In this role, she’s accountable for the management of complex/critical/large professional areas and leads an organization of over 1,000 loan operations professionals across more than 25 countries. She focuses on improving processes, controls, and enhancing technology to achieve best-in-class processing capabilities to support their client franchise.
“I’m proud to serve as the Global Head of Loan Operations,” she shares. “Ultimately, as a Citi associate, I help support and champion our mission to serve as a trusted partner to our clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress.”
Barrios joins Citi from Capital One, where she oversaw people development, technology implementations, and process reengineering for the Commercial Closing and Loan Operations Organization.
Grateful for the opportunity to work with outstanding colleagues from across the bank she strives to demonstrate leadership and mentorship among her team.
“I want to make sure the professionals in my organization feel challenged and rewarded in their work – and know they have opportunities for career advancement and that their opinions are critical to our continued success.” she shares. “When I take a step back and think of Citi overall, there are countless reasons I am proud to work here but a few are deeply personal to me. The first is our commitment to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050. Secondly, the fact that Citi has been the largest U.S. affordable housing development lender for the 12 consecutive years and last, but not least, the fact that Citi just expanded its Diversity representation goals.”
Passionate about serving others, Barrios volunteers her time teaching and educating the community on issues her parents needed guidance on. Today she leads the Garland Financial Literacy network at a local middle school and spends time teaching retired adults how to draw from their retirement funds, how to use their electronics, and even use Uber or use social media.
“With younger Latinas entering the workforce we spend time educating them on how to save and the fundamentals of retirement programs,” she shares. “Our most popular conference is “understanding your FICO score. I really love showing people that they can see their FICO score and that it’s free! So much information we take for granted about our financial DNA I want to demystify it!”
Barrios’ roots have instilled in her a deep desire to accomplish things for herself. She adds that education and continued education is a grounding value in her life.
“As Latinos, some of us leave our countries, material possessions, and even family behind, but our education and values come with us and are an equalizer across geographies,” she shares. “I carry with me the weight of the struggle and hard work my family and specifically my parents made for me to be in this country and to have the education and opportunities that I have been afforded to me. I carry this weight with honor and humility to have a deep sense of awareness that my family and my community have taught me through example what can be achieved through hard work and resolve.”
Senior Vice President Small Business East Division Performance Executive
Bank of America
“As I was taking classes at the University of South Florida, I knew I wanted to get into business as my dad always instilled in me a focus on money and saving,” shares Roxana Borges, Senior Vice President, Small Business East Division Performance Executive, Bank of America.
“I started with an accounting degree but later switched to finance where I felt there was more of a connection to people.” The daughter of Panamanian parents, Borges was between the ages of six and 12 when her mother worked for Bank of America in Venezuela and Miami; as an executive assistant in the Latin America division. Borges recalls that as an adult, she worked in several fast-food chains and became a store manager. But her mother noticed she was unhappy at her job. She took Borges’ resume and asked the recruiter for Financial Center Managers to look it over.
Twenty-three years later, Borges is still at Bank of America and wouldn’t want it any other way. Joining Bank of America in 1999, Borges has held various leadership positions, most recently as the Small Business Region Executive for South Florida from Palm Beach to Miami. Today she leads a team of Performance Managers and drives Small Business Revenue growth for over 20 states across the Eastern half of the United States.
“As the East Small Business Performance Executive, I lead the development of small business strategy formulation, initiatives, and insights,” she shares. “I advise small business decision-makers on critical decisions, and partner across the enterprise to deliver integrated strategy and achieve growth objectives. Additionally, I influence process changes and investments with high impact, based on market insights and business strategy.” In the 10 months, she has been in this role, Borges has built a team of talented Performance Managers who on a daily basis are helping their teammates and clients in their communities in order for them to continue to thrive. She also leads diversity and inclusion sessions focusing on courageous conversations with leadership that has allowed a safe environment to listen and learn from each other.
“Every day I get to make an impact with my teammates through mentoring and coaching, helping them to be not only better bankers, but better leaders with the clients and communities they serve,” she shares. “We spend a lot of energy and focus on how we support local communities and partner with other organizations which champion small business owners.”
Borges sits on the South Florida board for Prospera, a nonprofit organization that empowers Hispanic entrepreneurs through training, support and resources so their businesses can grow and prosper. She has also helped coordinate a Better Money Habits training in Spanish last year in coordination with Ascendus, a community development financial institution (CDFI), to help their clients with financial literacy. “Bank of America has given me a sense of purpose,” she shares. “Here I found true friendships, mentorships and brought out the best in me. They have helped me find my voice and helped other teammates find theirs.”
VP of Product Development Head of the Innovation Lab + Merchant Data Platforms
Jennifer Lopez, VP of Product Development, Head of the Innovation Lab + Merchant Data Platforms at Capital One, began her career as a designer and has always created products that she hopes will delight, excite, address a real problem, and ultimately change the world.
She quickly mastered using her hands to solve her own issues, sew a bag, fix the toaster, and prepare meals because she had grown up making things.
“Early in my career I asked myself, ‘what problems did I see out there that needed to be solved to really help people in my community?’ and for me, that was what problems were troubling Americans,” she shares. “So with a newly minted graduate degree in design and innovation and experience in the tech startup world I looked at finance in America as a big problem that hopefully my skill set and unique experiences could help solve.”
When Lopez started working in consumer banking there was no digital access to finance products, and mobile penetration was not as widespread as it is now.
“People weren’t checking their credit scores on the bus, they weren’t buying crypto on the bus, they weren’t checking their bank accounts on the bus or buying anything on the bus other than a bus ride,” she shares. “It was clear that technology could make finance more understandable and accessible to Americans but it needed to be built for them, with empathy and integrity. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Today Lopez runs the Innovation Lab at Capital One. As general manager of the Enterprise Innovation Lab, she enables teams across the company to experiment and find leverage utilizing technology that transforms their work, their business or the customer experience.
“When people hear I run the Innovation Lab for Capital One they imagine I get to work on the only innovative things happening at the company, but I would argue innovation happens everywhere and me and my team get to be an enabler for cross-company innovation,” she shares. “That enterprise role and enablement aspect of the role gives me a lot of life and energy because it can have massive impact. I always say I hate the narrative of two dudes in a garage coming up with the next big thing. I much prefer an entire company with the space, encouragement, and support to come up with the next big thing for their part of the ecosystem, or any part of the ecosystem for that matter. That is the narrative I want to hear talked about. In my job I feel like I get to do this, I may not come up with all the ideas, but me and my team spur ideas and help bring the most promising of them to life.”
Lopez sits on the HITEC Corporate Advisory Board, and also serves on the board of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College. Lopez believes good humans are a prerequisite for innovation, inspiring workplaces and sustainable growth over time. For her, working at Capital One is working at a place where the person in the elevator puts their hand in the elevator door preventing it from closing, then helps you carry the boxes up. And along the way they might help you figure out a better way to carry boxes or question if you needed the boxes in the first place.
“I talk to my teams about taking the time they need to be healthy humans because if they aren’t healthy humans they can’t be strong contributing members of the team, and the work can wait for them, we can and will wait for them,” she shares. “I try to create the advocacy I had to learn to give myself to my teams because we may all like working hard and in many ways hard work is table stakes but fear and constant concern isn’t what should be considered the norm.”
Executive Vice President/Audit Management Executive, Internal Audit
Wells Fargo & Company
Born in Medellin, Colombia, and raised in San Andres Island, Sara Vargas used to work as a cashier at her parent’s business when she was young. She shares she had a strong interest in how her parents managed their day-to-day business using financial institutions. She also recalls that in high school, while reading a financial journal, she came across an article about a Colombian woman who was very successful in Wall Street and that day, she decided she wanted to go to Wall Street as well.
“My parents could not afford an education in the United States, so I started my undergraduate degree in Colombia and in my third year when I was required to complete an internship, I focused all my efforts on getting an internship in the U.S.,” she shares. “I secured an internship for six months and then transferred to the University of South Florida, where I was able to secure a scholarship to complete my last two years of college.”
As a first-generation college student, she relied on mentors to provide career support as she did not understand the importance of networking, sponsorship, and mentorship. She also relied on Employee Resource Groups to provide professional development and networking opportunities.
Joining Wells Fargo in 2019, Vargas is the executive vice president and audit management executive of Internal Audit Quality Assurance at Wells Fargo & Company. She is responsible for providing assurance that Internal Audit is meeting industry standards and regulatory expectations.
Today, the passionate auditor is proud to have built a new team and strong foundations of a Quality Assurance program in the first six months of her new role, which contributed towards the overall effectiveness of the audit function. Vargas is also involved in Wells Fargo’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She is also the executive advisor to Wells Fargo’s Hispanic/Latino Employee Resource Group (ERG), where she provides strategic direction to the network.
“Wells Fargo is focused on increasing diverse representation at all levels of the company, creating a more inclusive workplace environment, and better serving and growing our diverse customer segments and diverse suppliers across all lines of business,” she shares. “As the executive advisor to the ERG, I get involved in working on 1) Empowering and developing inclusive leadership, 2) Expanding opportunities with the Hispanic/Latino marketplace, 3) Enhancing our reputation in Hispanic/Latino communities. I have represented Wells Fargo in several events to increase our reputation around DE&I efforts with employees, clients, and communities.”