DSC02324CCGrowing up in Sicily and emigrating to the U.S. at 15 gave Maria Holloway a unique brand of professionalism. Rather than go to a four-year college for a finance degree, Holloway, now 41, began climbing the ladder in the banking industry at 18 while living in Florida. She moved to Colorado Springs with her husband and three children in 2008, and has worked as a loan officer for Eastern Colorado Bank since November 2013. The Italian wife, mother, banker and cook spoke to the Business Journal this week about those things and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I was born and raised in Italy and moved to the U.S. when I was 15 after my mother married a man in the Navy. The first place we lived was Virginia. From there, I went to Florida and fell into the mortgage world by accident. I was a receptionist and doing office work, payroll, and I saw the money that could be made in mortgages. I was really curious because I was from another country and wanted to learn as much as I could about everything. The owner of the bank actually asked me if I want to do this for a living and I said, “Well, I want to make that money.” So he took a file and put it in front of me and said, “if you can close this loan, I’ll give you a chance.” … I had no idea what I was doing, but there are two things I learned coming here from another country: I can, and I will. So I did. It took me a long time to close that loan, but he gave me that shot. I was 18 years old and from that point on I’ve been in the business.

You have a nontraditional education in the industry. Can you speak on that?

I didn’t go to college, but I’ve taken every class I possibly could. I’ve done titling, I’ve done processing, I’ve done closing, I’ve done everything I possibly could to learn … and understand all of the pieces of the puzzle. That’s why I’ve stuck with it, because I have a passion for it.

Did you ever imagine, at 18, that you’d end up here? What were your initial plans?

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I always knew it would have something to do with people. I’ve always been a people person and I’ve always wanted to help people. Believe it or not, I always wanted to be a psychiatrist or someone who helps children and other people. This still gives me the ability to do that, so I never saw it as just papers on a desk in front of me. I think about the stories. I feel like I do have that ability — even if I have to turn them down — to help them.  … You can either come to work and feel like you are bringing something to the table or you’re not.

I like to learn and to be able to do whatever is needed of me, and that’s just always how I’ve been. I think it comes from not being from this country. I never was able to go to college, so I tend to think outside the box.

I just want to help as best I can.

Tell me about joining Eastern Colorado Bank and how your role has evolved.

They hired me as a loan specialist in November 2013 and I recently was promoted to loan officer on the residential side. … I help them with really whatever they need — from when the applications come in all the way to funding them. This is a little different than working at a larger bank because we have to wear many hats, which is nice because you learn more. I enjoy the smaller bank because you really have that “home” feel for the customers who come in and there is that gray area where it’s not just a loan application, if you will. If you really want to help the customer, there is a lot of room to do that. I really enjoy that.

Is it common to not have a college degree in this industry?

From the people that I’ve worked with, I would say no. … I’m not against going to college. Going to school is great, but it doesn’t necessarily make or break you. It’s not all you have to learn in life. I’ve taken a lot of classes for what it is I specifically do. … For me, I had my first child at 20, I needed to get to work and be sure my bills were paid … and I had to think outside the box to figure out what I could do to really build my position in the industry. … I still have a portfolio of classes and certificates, which is still “school,” just not your typical college degree.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Well, because I’m Italian, I do love to cook and I spend a lot of time doing that and teaching my kids those skills. I love to roller-skate with my kids — we always go to Skate City.