Serafin Mariel

Serafin Mariel

Emeritus Director
Business Consortium Fund
305 7th Avenue - 20th fl
New York, NY 10001

Serafin U. Mariel
National Hispanic Business Group, Board Member Emeritus New York City banker, entrepreneur, and community advocate Serafin U. Mariel thought 
of himself as somewhat retired after selling the New York National Bank (NYNB), an enterprise he started with several Hispanic and African-American investors in the early 1980’s. But someone like Mariel doesn’t just walk off into the sunset. A man of the people, Mariel had built a reputation as a person who cared about the community and minority entrepreneurs in particular. So four years ago, Microsoft’s Tim McBride who chairs the Business Consortium Fund (BCF), tapped Mariel to come back and run the fund Mariel actually helped start 27 years ago. As president of the fund, Mariel today helps minority businessmen and women who need working or expansion capital. And he provides the kind of business consulting expertise small businesses typically can’t afford.

Mariel also believes in the power of networking and solidarity among Hispanic business people. As one of the founders and the first chairman of the National Hispanic Business Group (NHBG) in the early 80s, Mariel helped leverage the influence of successful Hispanic businesses to advocate and increase social and economic resources available to minority residents in the Bronx and Manhattan.

The work with the NHBG and the BCF is simply a continuation of Mariel’s labor of love since his early days in banking. Starting as a Bankers Trust teller in 1965, he worked hard and was promoted to branch manager and then to regional director in charge of multiple branches. By the late 70s, Mariel had advanced to Vice-President in the Latin America group of the Bankers Trust International Department.

At Bankers Trust, Mariel experienced how a people-friendly bank could help advance a community’s economic development. In the early 1980s though, Mariel witnessed the exodus of banks serving minority communities like his own Spanish Harlem. Mariel recalls, “They were abandoning our people…we should start a bank I said…because our people deserve a bank.” 

So Mariel set out to build one of the first minority-owned and operated banks in the country—one to serve local community needs. Starting a new bank might have proveddaunting to some, but for Mariel it was imperative for the community. His approach to the project was embodied in a simple refrain he uses often: “You just have to do the work.”In large measure, Mariel’s success at Bankers Trust and NYNB was possible because of the good will he sowed throughout the years. While at Bankers Trust, for example, he helped Elsie Brown, who managed a cash-strapped substance abuse social service agency. Mariel arranged lines of credit on secured contracts by Brown’s agency and others throughout the city so they could meet payroll and operating expenses. Mariel recalls Elsie saying, “I have to pay you back. I have to talk to the commissioner…they have to give you an account.”

Now that was easier said than done. The city’s accounts were held downtown on Wall Street. But Elsie Brown was persistent and one day Mariel got a call from the commissioner who said Elsie was driving him crazy. In helping to solve the cash flow problems at the social service agencies, Mariel secured a $4 million deposit of city money for Bankers Trust, unexpectedly making himself a “known quantity” within the bank.

Later, Erastro Torres, president and CEO of Ponce de Leon Federal Savings and Loan was experiencing a cash crunch and Mariel arranged a warehousing line from Bankers Trust. In turn, Torres taught Mariel how to lend to churches. And when NYNB was launched, Torres told Mariel, “You’re going to be my clearing bank.” Back then, thrifts had to clear their checks through commercial banks. Torres’ thrift had grown to $150,000,000 in assets so Mariel could not believe what Torres was proposing. He said to Torres, “that’s a little ridiculous, we’re just starting. That’s crazy.” Mariel says Torres’ response was, “Listen, you helped me when I needed it. I’m just saying thank you.”

It’s stories like these that illustrate the level of trust, loyalty and respect Mariel garnered over the years from the business and non-profit sectors. So it was, that with the help of private funding from friends, business associates and corporate investors, Mariel and his partners were able to open the doors of NYNB in February of 1982. 

As president and CEO of NYNB, Mariel built a thriving financial enterprise with multiple branches in New York City. He oversaw more than $750 million in loans to inner-city residents and businesses. The bank also financed $191.6 million in contracts held by minority-owned firms to supply goods or services to Fortune 500 corporations through the NYNB-originated Business Consortium Fund (BCF), which has assisted 758 minority business entrepreneurs and created 7,073 jobs through the program.

Mariel’s legacy as a proponent for increased minority access to resources is also evidenced by this work on many civic and business development boards. He has served on the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, Central Park Conservancy, the Ad Hoc Committee for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB), Early Steps, New York/New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council, Promesa Foundation, United Way of New York City, and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

Mariel’s effort to help create the National Hispanic Business Group is also noteworthy. The organization is one of the oldest minority business development groups in the country, and to this day continues to promote access to capital and Hispanic civic participation. Almost 30 years after its creation, Mariel feels the NHBG is still vital. 

“Unfortunately the gap between the minority community and the establishment community, the white community, has widened. There is a lack of capital, there is a lack of family wealth (in minority communities),” says Mariel. For many Hispanic and minority businesses, Mariel explains, this lack of capital prevents them from growing as they cannot do business with major corporations that expect their vendors to carry receivables for extended periods. And that is why Mariel continues to be engaged. “We’ve made a lot of progress,” Mariel continues, “but you have to find the funds to fill the gap.”

For all of Mariel’s professional and civic accomplishments, he almost always credits his formative years in Spanish Harlem and his grandmother as the foundations for his work ethic and concern for the community. Mariel recalls asking his grandmother once for a quarter to go to the movies. “She told me, ‘we have no quarters for the movies here. If you want to go to the movies you have to work for it…you can shine shoes, sell shopping bags at la marketa.’ My grandmother taught us to work hard,” says Mariel. 

His grandmother likewise instilled an appreciation for diversity in the community. On one occasion, Mariel was perplexed about the negative comments some of his Puerto Rican friends were saying about the Jewish merchants in Spanish Harlem. He remembers asking his grandmother, “ma’ this is what I hear, but I don’t hear you say anything. What do you think? She said, ‘let me tell you something. There are good Puerto Ricans and there are bad Puerto Ricans. There are good Jews and there are bad Jews. Don’t look outside the person. Try to perceive whom that person is inside. And you will have friends of many nationalities.’”

“And you know what? I do,” adds Mariel. “And I’m grateful to her.”

Mariel’s contributions have been well recognized. The Community Banking Award is just one of his many on a long list. In 2010, he was awarded the Spirit of the Bronx Award by the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. And recently, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented Mariel with the Paul Harris Award for his contributions in reenergizing the Bronx economy.

Serafin Uwaldo Mariel was born November 14, 1943 in Spanish Harlem, the oldest of two siblings. He is married to Milagros Lora and together they have one daughter, Laura Marie Mariel.