Planting the Banking Seed


Planting the Banking Seed


A commemorative bill marking launch of First National Bank of Mercedes in 1920.
A commemorative bill marking launch of First National Bank of Mercedes in 1920.

A drive into town for Jose Platon Ortega usually meant a stop at the bank.

For Ortega there was only one bank – the First National Bank of Mercedes. He was greeted there by friendly tellers, with one in particular knowing his account number by memory.

Veinticinco, cuarenta dos, diecinueve,’” said Saul Ortega, Jose’s son, who grew up knowing his Dad’s account number of 254219. 

Jose Platon Ortega was a pull-himself-up-by-the-bootstrap farmer. Saul Ortega grew up as the sixth of his seven boys and often accompanied his father to the downtown Mercedes bank. Both the feel and friendliness of the bank’s lobby with its buzz and activity gave young Saul an idea of what he wanted to do – and become. 

Saul Ortega, chairman of the board and CEO of Texas National Bank
Saul Ortega, chairman of the board and CEO of Texas National Bank

“It’s where the seed was planted,” he said. “I wanted to go into banking.”

Ortega now sits as the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Texas National Bank. The company Ortega heads up has roots that go back to the 1920 charter that started the First National Bank of Mercedes. It held that name for 65 years before becoming Mercedes National Bank in 1985. It then became Texas National Bank in 2006. This financial institution’s family tree goes from Texas National to First National Bank. Ortega is now the CEO of a company that goes back to his father’s bank he knew as a youth.

“I pinch myself sometimes,” Ortega said. “Never in his wildest dreams could have my dad imagined all of this.”

Ortega recently sat in the spacious board room at Texas National’s administrative offices just off Trenton Road in Edinburg. He recounted stories of his youth growing up north of Mercedes. His father was a farmer who outlasted the Great Depression. Ortega describes his mother Genoveva as being “five feet tall and tough as nails.’”

He and his brothers were reared on hard work. Ortega hoed cotton in West Texas and then, as a teenager, drove a harvester over white hot cotton fields in South Texas. Ortega took the real life lessons of his youth to craft a 30 years-plus banking career. There have been challenges along the way, above all surviving the Great Recession, a crisis that shook the U.S. banking industry.

Texas National today is past all of that turbulence and is growing with six banks across Hidalgo County. A seventh is soon coming to San Juan. Ortega wants his banks to emulate the sort of Main Street/hometown kind of banking his dad knew at the old First National in Mercedes. 

His staff should know customers by their first name, he said. They should also provide a personal working relationship with those they serve. Make loan decisions efficiently and never keep customers waiting. Community involvement is a must at Texas National. Ortega points with pride to his company’s connections to the cities where it has banks.

“I want our customers to have a great experience with us,” Ortega said, just as his dad did with account number 254219, the one that launched a career in banking.