Even as a teenager, EVP and Head of External Affairs Andy Navarrete knew where his professional life was likely to take him. “When your parents are forced to leave their home as refugees, it’s hard to avoid conversations about money, law, and politics,” he says.
Navarrete has built a career at the intersection of banking and public policy and is leading a large external affairs department at Capital One. He manages the company’s interactions with state and federal legislative bodies, as well as communications, and leads all aspects of corporate philanthropy and community relations.
It’s a big job, and one Navarrete does with his family’s legacy in mind. His parents left Cuba in August 1960. The day before they left for the United States, never to return to their homeland, they stood before six hundred guests at their large wedding celebration. Navarrete’s mother was the daughter of a respected businessman; his father was a successful lawyer. They arrived in the US with nothing but a few hundred dollars in their pockets.
The family eventually settled in Dallas, and Navarrete’s father enrolled in a comparative law program designed for foreign-trained lawyers. Both a desire to seek new opportunities and the economic needs of a young family drove him to change careers.
He was a claims adjuster and insurance salesman before being selected for a training program to help launch the Latin American sales division at Xerox. A final career change took the elder Navarrete to the International Finance Corporation—the private-sector arm of the World Bank—in Washington, DC, where the young family was finally able to lay down roots.
Watching his parents’ experience taught Navarrete the critical importance of hard work and self-advocacy, even if the latter presented some challenges. As a teenager, he lived a couple of miles outside of the nation’s capital, where he attended school with the sons and daughters of senators and congressmen. While Navarrete’s friends held loftier positions, he took a job as a busboy at a local restaurant.
It didn’t take long for the treatment from demanding clients and bosses to wear on the young student. He thought his parents would be proud of him for standing up for himself when he quit in protest, but he was surprised when they expressed concern and insisted that he immediately find another job. Navarrete decided to look for something more meaningful instead.
An unpaid internship at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus gave Navarrete his first opportunity to connect his personal circumstances with his professional and political interests. This was the mid-1980s, and at the time the group was focusing on issues around immigration and political unrest in Latin America.
Navarrete went on to study English and psychology at William & Mary. When he graduated, a colleague from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus hired him for a position with the United States House Banking Committee (now the House Financial Services Committee). Other connections propelled Navarrete into roles with Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign and a start-up federal relations firm. These experiences underscored for him the power of a law degree, and he enrolled at Boston College Law School.
Navarrete was eager to return to public service upon leaving Boston College, and took a role in the Legal Division of the Federal Reserve Board before spending time as an associate at the law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius. In 1999, a recruiter called Navarrete on behalf of a fledgling credit card company known as Capital One.
While Navarrete lacked experience in consumer law, the growing company wanted to expand and needed a regulatory lawyer who knew the Federal Reserve well. Navarrete seemed like the perfect fit, but there was just one problem. “It was the single worst job description I’ve ever read,” Navarrete jokes.
The four-year-old institution was focused on a specific need within the regulatory space, which while logical, somewhat undersold the value of the function. But the strength of the company’s culture, the integrity of the people he spoke with, and the chance to influence the company’s long-term strategy convinced Navarrete to take a risk and accept a new and somewhat unclear role.
Twenty-three years later, Navarrete is glad he bet on himself and the young company. “I saw at the start that this is a place where creative thinking is rewarded, and I’ve never lacked the opportunity to think beyond the job description and find fulfilling ways to contribute,” he explains.
Within months of his start date, Capital One was leading an effort to charter a bank in the United Kingdom. Navarrete volunteered to manage related legal and regulatory issues and has been growing alongside the organization ever since.
Over the course of his tenure, he’s led different functions in legal, represented each of its major business lines as chief counsel, served as assistant corporate secretary, managed government relations, and been part of an important digital transformation that’s elevated the company’s brand and remade its customer experience. “I always say yes to any opportunity,” he says. “I have no idea where it will lead me, but chances are it will be rewarding and worthwhile.”
As Capital One built its retail network, it went from a credit card company to a top-ten U.S. bank. Navarrete’s behind-the-scenes regulatory work helped enable this important evolution. While other banks pursued aggressive strategies and lacked transparency in their terms and conditions and pricing, Capital One embarked on a multiyear effort to eliminate anti-consumer practices.
When the federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 reshaped the industry and disrupted the business models of its competitors, Capital One was in a position to leverage strong relationships with regulators and its customers to thrive.
Today, Navarrete is leading a diverse organization of nearly four hundred people who work on government and regulatory relations, communications and public relations, and community functions like affordable housing. He is also the executive sponsor of an internal Hispanic business resource group known as ¡HOLA!.
As Navarrete prepares for the future, he’s thinking about the past. “Maybe a bank like Capital One could have put my parents on a path to financial well-being when they lost everything,” he says. “Now, I want to help others achieve their financial goals.”
Navarrete is creating a more inclusive team and working to help Capital One be the bank and partner of choice in underserved communities. In a much heralded decision late last year, Capital One totally eliminated overdraft fees and non-sufficient fund (NSF) fees for its consumer banking customers.
“We are working together to disrupt the industry,” Navarrete says. “We’ve started to change banking for good already, and we’re not stopping now.”