This year marks Al Arguello’s 53 years with Bank of America, and his retirement as Inland Empire president. We sat down with Al to talk about the evolution of the banking industry and the changes he’s seen within the Inland Empire overall.
Q: How has the banking industry changed since you began your career?
I started working for Bank of America right out of high school as a bank teller in 1968, so you can imagine I have seen quite a bit of change in the past 53 years. There were no ATMs, no online banking services, and certainly no smart phones. The bank was only open from Monday through Thursday, and not even for a full day – we closed at 3 p.m.
Everything was done on paper, carbon copies and files. Even deposits from the Inland Empire were sent every evening by courier to a central vault in downtown Los Angeles. And if a branch manager was late getting a deposit to a courier, he or she had to drive to L.A. to make sure it was properly recorded.
On some days, like when Social Security checks arrived, the local bank branch became the social gathering of the week for senior citizens as they waited in line to deposit their checks. I even used to set up 50 or more chairs for seniors on those days. Bank of America has always supported local community businesses, and on some days, we’d even have a local auto dealer bring over a new car to display on the branch lobby floor as an incentive for people to apply for a car loan.
Today, more than 80% of checks are deposited outside the four walls of a bank branch – which tells you a lot about how people have embraced technology for the most common self-service transactions. But bank branches will always play an important role for Bank of America, more commonly serving as destinations for more complex financial needs, loans and planning.
Q: How has the Inland Empire changed over the past years?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a resident of the Inland Empire for more than 35 years now and have seen incredible growth.
The Inland Empire is a large area, and that includes the Coachella Valley. When I started, the Coachella Valley was a tale of two cities – the wealthy areas and the very poor ones. What was rewarding was to see was the creation of some great nonprofit organizations that supported those less fortunate, and to help direct bank capital and grants to the region serving as a catalyst for economic growth for disadvantaged communities.
Another major change was the continued expansion of the Ontario airport as a major freight center, and the overall establishment of the Inland Empire as a major logistics center. More than 40 percent of all the imports that come into our local ports make their way to our warehouses. Add tourism, hospitality and leisure to logistics, and Ontario Airport truly fueled the Inland Empire’s economic muscle over the past decades.
Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments during your time as a bank president?
As an immigrant from Nicaragua, and the first to attend college in my family, working at the bank sparked my lifelong passion to help the financial lives of customers in our communities. In my 14 years as Bank of America’s Inland Empire president, I came into the role just before the great Recession and the foreclosure crisis that rocked the nation but certainly the region. As the crisis unfolded, I brought together many of the leaders across the housing industry to identify solutions for families at risk of losing their homes and to establish sustainable ways to maintain homeownership. This was the beginning of the Housing Opportunities Collaborative of the Inland Empire, which supports nonprofit agencies helping distressed families facing foreclosure and so much more today.
Coming out of the recession, small businesses in the region were also suffering along with new start-ups. I took the same collaborative approach in creating the Micro Enterprise Collaborative of Inland Southern California, which encourages micro-business development in the region and helps identify resources and access to capital. Today, the Micro Enterprise Collaborative has helped countless local entrepreneurs grow and succeed.
I also am proud of helping to direct tens of millions of dollars in philanthropic capital to many important organizations across the Inland Empire – from the High Desert to San Bernardino and Riverside, and out to Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley. The bank has one of the largest corporate philanthropies, and I had the important honor of helping nonprofits address basic needs like food and housing security, jobs and education needs, and even the arts that serve as important economic drivers. The new Cheech Museum for Latin Art in Riverside is estimated to generate over $20 million annually for the region, for example.
In the end, I hope I’ve made lasting impacts helping to address the region’s challenges to forward economic stability for families, workers, veterans, homeless and distressed communities.
Q: Given your tenure at the bank working closely with the Inland Empire business community, is there any advice you’d give to business owners?
As our local businesses slowly but surely regain their footing after a uniquely challenging year, we’ve seen encouraging signs of progress towards economic recovery with increased confidence from small businesses expecting their revenue to increase over the next 12 months and plans to hire. As business owners navigate the path forward, it’s important to take what we’ve learned from the past year and apply it to the changing future. Small steps such as investing to ensure you attract top talent, evaluating short and long-term goals, and implementing operational shifts such as increasing your digital sales strategy and reevaluating your company’s impact on the community all can help. And, as I have already pointed out, it’s also important to invest in your community to ensure overall strong quality of life.