When it was first set up 11 years ago, the New America Alliance (NAA) embarked on a course to identify issues pertaining to the Latino community that few, according to its CEO Maria del Pilar Avila, thought about seriously at the time.
The NAA was founded by influential Latinos like Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary, and Roel Campos, former SEC Commissioner. Its membership is open to non-Latinos as well.
One of the most important items on the NAA’s agenda was addressing the lack of Latino participation in the financial services industry. While many financial firms might have had an interest in tapping into the Hispanic population, few actually knew that there were pockets of deep wealth among the masses. These highly successful people had accomplished great things and if represented in the right way, they could do their bit to further wealth building and increase the financial inclusion of a population that’s become the fastest growing minority in the United States.
“Our efforts have led us to work directly with legislators to provide them the proper tools to influence and re-direct programs that control the flow of capital back into the Latino community and to ensure an inclusive financial services industry,” Avila says.
In Washington on Nov. 17 and 18, the NAA will kick off its 10th Annual Latino Economic Summit, focusing on Latino economic advancement, access to capital and political empowerment. The event will be attended by a large number of highly prominent Hispanic and non-Hispanic businessmen and politicians.
“It is imperative that we identify opportunities for progress as well as to recognize our wins, both of which will be accomplished at the Summit,” Avila says. “The Summit will address critical issues facing the American Latino business community, including access to corporate and pension fund boards, greater allocation of private equity funding by major institutional investors, and investment in education and mentoring for American Latino students and entrepreneurs.”
While significant progress has been made since the NAA’s inception, and a greater number of Latinos are not only availing themselves of financial services but are also entering the financial services industry as professionals, there is still a lot of ground to be covered.
“We’re in a different world now but the issues are still pretty much the same,” says Enrique Cortez, chief spokesperson for the NAA.
Perception – by both the financial services industry and the media – is perhaps one of the greatest challenges that the NAA has to contend with. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding among Wall Street firms and Fortune 500 companies, for instance, about the Hispanic community, and a lack of knowledge as to the fact that there is wealth in the community, Cortez says. Continued efforts to change that deep-rooted perception (a session at the Summit will, in fact, be dedicated to Latinos in the media) is paramount, he says, in order to progress further and enable higher participation of Latino financial services firms in the institutional investor space; increased Latino control of capital and access to capital markets and the increased influence of Latinos in public and private financial institutions as well as on Fortune 1000 boards of directors.