BECU Educator Helps Brighten Financial Futures
We talked with TJ Peguero, a financial educator who draws on his experience as a Black man in his work to inspire and empower his students to navigate toward financial health.
TJ Peguero's sister sparked his interest in working in the financial field. She was vice president of the Marketing department at a big bank. Money — and what people did with it — fascinated him.
He also wanted to help people.
"Growing up, I heard a lot about people struggling financially," Peguero said. "They had a lot of bills and they didn't know if they could make their rent. Part of the reason I went into banking was because I wanted to make things easier for them."
As an African American, Peguero could relate to some of the challenges people of color faced. He understood the obstacles to financial health and wealth building that disproportionately affect Black people, the result of centuries of oppressive laws, policies and systems.
He got a job as a personal banker, where he learned the technical skills to help people with transactions. But his engagement with them was relatively brief and often at the end of a series of decisions they had already made. He wanted to do more, especially for the people facing hardships.
Peguero joined BECU in 2017 as a Member Consultant. He was impressed by the diversity of races and cultures represented in his new coworkers.
"People were so open-minded," Peguero said.
He also appreciated that managers would listen when he suggested they consider giving a rejected loan application another look.
"Someone might not have the best credit or maybe they made a mistake on their application and the system would automatically decline them," Peguero said. "But if you look at the whole picture, sometimes we can find a way to help them."
Peguero began exploring other roles within the credit union. He discovered financial education, a job he previously didn't even know existed.
"I thought, 'This is exactly what I want. I can talk to people, be myself, have some fun and help people,'" he said.
It took a few years of persistence before a position opened, and he got the job.
Now he primarily teaches young people in Washington in schools where many of the students are Black. He's working to give them the tools and skills they need to take charge of their financial futures, and it helps that he can speak from experience.
"I can reach them because I know what it's like when it feels like no one is on your side," he said. "It's hard to believe in yourself if others don't believe in you."
It helps that he seems to have an endless well of optimism and encouragement. He inspires them to dream big and make their dreams known, to speak up when they have an idea or opinion and believe in what they want to achieve.
Beyond the importance of empowering individuals, Peguero thinks the greatest change needs to come from the systems and structures that have held back people of color for so long. He's proud to work for an organization that supports his efforts.
"If you want to change something, you have to get involved in the system," Peguero said. "Change needs to happen from the inside."