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First Coast

Belarusian-born Jacksonville Banker Draws On Faith To Help Others

David Malinowsky
David Malinowsky and his wife

David Malinowsky recalls the day he arrived in Miami from Minsk, Belarus, in 1997 with his sister and parents. He was 7.

“I said, ‘Where are all the Ferraris? Where’s all the fancy stuff we saw on Miami Vice?’” 

He was told they could be found on Star Island, where the celebrities lived, and not in Miami. And when it turned dark, don’t go outside. Weeks later his family relocated again, this time to Jacksonville to be near his aunts.

Religious Persecution

As Baptists, Malinowsky’s family experienced religious persecution in Belarus, despite the fall of communism in 1991. 

“When you clean up a big mess that has been creating a stink for so long, there’s still a fragrance there,” he said. 

Credit David Malinowsky
David Malinowsky plays violin as a child

During the era of Soviet communism and following Belarus’ independence, most people were atheists. Christians – especially Baptists - were targeted, according to 30-year-old Malinowsky.

“My dad bred us to be strong, so if we got popped we could take it,” Malinowsky said. He recalls how his grandfather made his mother do sit-ups. “My mom told me, ‘Because we were Christians, there were times people would take a random swipe at me and if I didn’t have the physical and mental strength, I would fall down and people would walk all over me.’” So, when a boy punched her in the stomach in grade school, she barely felt it. The sit-ups paid off.

Starting Over

That toughness, along with his faith and resilience from starting over in a new country, helped Malinowsky succeed in America.

Like most refugees, Malinowsky’s family started from scratch. They settled in Jacksonville’s Southside, where David learned English by watching Power Rangers. 

His mom, a nurse in Belarus, took a job at a bakery while studying at night to earn an American degree and nursing license so she could re-enter the medical field. Today she is a surgical nurse at a local hospital. 

Before leaving Belarus, Malinowsky’s father sold his successful international trucking business and started at the bottom in Jacksonville loading trucks. With no credit, he worked his way up, eventually financing his own rig. He now owns a consulting company that helps other immigrants navigate the trucking business.

Becoming a Banker

Malinowsky experienced firsthand how money troubles could threaten his future and his family. He didn’t learn about finance in school or have an understanding of American economics and went into debt right after high school graduation. During the Great Recession, his father’s business struggled, but eventually recovered. 

“My perception was, ‘Wow finances can really tear a family apart,’” he said.  

It was these personal experiences, a knack for numbers and a passion for helping people that drew him to banking. 

“I like to help people grow, especially the motivated ones,” he said. 

Helping During Covid

When Yelena Budnik, co-owner of Jacksonville’s Country Cabin Restaurants, sought a personal bank, she switched to BBVA, where she met Malinowsky, a senior financial sales consultant. She credits the move with helping save her family’s business.

Pandemic lockdowns brought indoor dining to a halt. Sales at the family’s three restaurants dropped to almost nothing. 

“Even though we weren’t making any money, we didn’t want to close down. We still wanted to keep our employees because everybody has to pay their bills,” Budnik said.

Eventually, they did have to shut down one location, on Dunn Avenue. But before that, at Malinowsky’s urging, Budnik successfully applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and a BBVA $30,000 express loan so she and her husband could keep their nearly 80 employees on the payroll.

“He goes above and beyond what's expected of him, not just doing the job. He is really a person who cares for our business and wants it to grow and succeed,” she said. Malinowsky made corrections on Budnik’s PPP loan application to ensure its approval and assisted with a loan forgiveness strategy. 

Malinowsky finds much gratification in helping clients. 

“They’re surviving. Their life hasn’t been ruined and all their work that they built is still there,” he said.

For Malinowsky, being a banker aligns with his faith – it’s about serving people and building community.