Denver’s history is a glamorous tale of the West, from the 1858 Pike’s Peak Gold Rush with covered wagons and cowboys to today’s light rails and modern skyscrapers.
Known as the Mile High City, Denver has been the hub of growth for the region since its inception, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Denver Branch has been part of the story since 1918, serving the three states of Colorado, Wyoming and northern New Mexico.
The Denver Branch opened Jan. 14, 1918, in the Interstate Trust Building at the corner of 16th and Lawrence streets. As the largest Branch in the Tenth District with about 150 employees, the Denver Branch has seen several changes over the years, but one thing remains:
“The 1913 structure of the Federal Reserve was designed to represent the entire country’s banking and business community—from the booming East and Midwest to the developing Mountain States and West Coast,” said Esther George, president of the Kansas City Fed. “It has been—and will continue to be—our job to take the pulse of the local economy and give a voice to those in all the seven states of the Tenth District. This regional representation helps to maintain a strong economy.”
From the beginning, the Denver Branch embraced its mission to serve the Mountain States and began developing strong relationships with community banks and businesses in the downtown area and outlying communities. A local board was established and the first organizational meeting was held Nov. 27, 1917.
Bank operations then and now
The Denver Branch’s current and historical role has focused on operations and activities that have supported the financial system. This includes processing paper checks, distributing cash and ensuring a safe banking system.
The Denver Branch was a hub of activity during its processing-checks era, operating 24 hours for six days a week. As the nation moved toward electronic forms of payment, the Federal Reserve responded to the changes in the payments system by consolidating its check processing operations to one national location. Denver was the last location in the Tenth District to process checks, ceasing its operation on June 27, 2009.
Cash operations in Denver, however, are as busy as ever. The department provides currency and coin for financial intuitions in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and surrounding states. More than $57.1 million is paid and received in Denver each day, and on a daily average, the Denver Branch takes $4.3 million out of circulation.
“The Denver Branch plays an important role in the local economy. It is one of the Federal Reserve’s main functions to provide banks with currency and coin when they request it,” said Victoria Field, assistant vice president of Cash Services. “Each day we fulfill those orders to ensure consumers have coin and currency at their fingertips.”
An additional area that is growing at the Denver Branch is the Supervision and Risk Management Division. The Division’s mission is to ensure a safe and secure banking system with examination of state member banks’ business activities and processes. The Division makes up more than half the workforce at the Denver Branch.
In 1971, as the financial system and economy began to evolve and change, the Kansas City Fed transferred responsibility and supervision of Wyoming banks from its Omaha Branch to the Denver Branch. The Denver Branch has been supervising banks in northern New Mexico since opening its doors in 1918.The Denver Branch’s current and historical role has focused on operations and activities that have supported the financial system. This includes processing paper checks, distributing cash and ensuring a safe banking system.
Connecting with the community
The late 1990s and early 2000s brought a renewed focus on outreach for the Denver Branch. The goal of increasing outreach to the community took shape through research, information, community development and education. This was achieved by restructuring the Denver Branch’s form of leadership. Instead of an operations manager, an executive who is a regional economist would lead the Branch.
Today, Alison Felix serves as the Denver branch executive and regional economist. Her focus is to identify economic trends, understand the region’s economy and work with the Branch’s board of directors. She publishes quarterly articles on the Mountain States region and produces monthly databooks focused on each state in the Tenth District.
“One of my favorite aspects of the job is meeting business leaders and community members to get insights into the local economy,” Felix said. “Those interactions help me understand potential issues on the horizon, which directs my research. It is important to have the pulse of the real world, not just data points, so I can share the most current information with President Esther George as she prepares to participate in the discussion at the Federal Open Market Committee meetings.”
It isn’t just speeches and meetings that help Felix see trends in the economy in the Mountain States; the Denver Branch’s Board of Directors provides real-time information. The seven-member board meets eight times per year to share what is happening in their industries. Representation on the board is designed to embody the three states in the Denver Branch region and key industries that are economic drivers in those areas. From technology and nonprofits to manufacturing, tourism construction and banking, board members provide antidotal information to the Kansas City Fed on key economic segments.
“When you have board members who represent different industries and geographic areas of the economy in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, you get real-time economic information from mom-and-pop businesses and huge corporations,” Felix said. “The more exposure and interactions that I have, the better I can provide a broad and diverse perspective of what is going on in our economy.”
That level of regional involvement is important, said Richard Lewis, president and chief executive officer of Colorado-based RTL Networks Inc. and chairman of the Denver Branch Board of Directors.
“Colorado has a robust and progressive business environment,” said Lewis, who has been a board member since 2012. “The Federal Reserve Bank’s Denver Branch is deeply engaged in that environment as it gathers information and perspectives about the region and helps shape monetary policy.”
Making a difference locally
As needs of the community and economy have grown over the past 100 years, so has the role of the Denver Branch in the community.
The Kansas City Fed’s Community Development Department, created in the 1980s mainly to help banks understand their responsibilities under the Community Reinvestment Act, has become more active in local issues. The department’s main area of focus include community investments, financial stability for the underserved, workforce development initiatives, neighborhood stabilization, and small business development.
“I feel a truly strong economy is one that fosters growth and opportunity for individuals at all levels,” said Ariel Cisneros, senior advisor in Community Development. “We work hard to promote fair and impartial access to financial products for not only small businesses, community organizations and nonprofit groups, but also all consumers who live in the Tenth District.
“We have forged new relationships and developed opportunities for collaboration to assist low and moderate-income populations through educational programs, workshops and seminars,” he added.
The Federal Reserve continually works to bring together partners to share ideas and find innovative approaches to issues. For example, the Denver community had a need to help match potential funders with organizations that had community and economic development proposals. In 2011, Cisneros piloted Investment Connection, a daylong event where nonprofit organizations showcase their community development proposals to funders. It has been so popular that Investment Connection added an online option in 2014. Since the inception, Investment Connection has connected nonprofits with about $30 million in funding.
The Denver Branch also focuses on community education, consisting of economic and personal finance topics for all age levels.
“We believe individuals—regardless of age—who understand how the economy functions will make better financial decisions,” said Erin Davis, senior Public Affairs specialist. “That is why the Kansas City Fed offers free resources for educators, bankers and consumers. These are great building blocks to help everyone make informed decisions.”
The Denver Branch also participates in several nonprofit coalitions and public awareness events across Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico to support economic and personal finance education efforts. Those efforts involve hosting a “Career Day at the Fed” for local middle school students or visiting a high school classroom to do mock job interviews.
“I love my job as I get to interact with students, teachers and the public to help share skills and information that can better a person’s future,” Davis said.
To further help the Denver community and Mountain States understand the Federal Reserve and its mission, the Denver Branch opened the Money Museum to the public in 2012. More than 60,000 people a year visit the Money Museum to learn about the Federal Reserve System, monetary policy, bank supervision and financial services.
“Without the Denver Branch and its work in the community, it would be much more difficult for the Fed to be engaged in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico,” George said. “We look forward to the next 100 years in serving and representing the Tenth District.”