Nov. 18: Career advice from women & people of color for those in the lending biz

Tolerance is in the press, but we often hear about how we need to be more “equal.” Despite the progress we’ve made in the residential lending industry, there still exists a divide that is totally unwarranted when it comes to minorities and women. Women are underrepresented at every level. As a society we are still largely segregated, but that that doesn’t mean lenders can’t take the lead in continuing to press for equality. “The best person for the job, regardless of race or gender.” What could be simpler?

And there is indeed movement. For example, the hit of the MBA’s National Conference last month in Denver was the mPower event led by Marcia Davies. And National MI has partnered with the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers (NAMMBA) to further its outreach to women and minorities in the mortgage industry.

I asked people of color and women in the industry about their early careers, and appreciate the time they spent responding. I will happily circulate more responses if you care to write, and have more already to publish. “What do you think the best advice you can give women starting out in the mortgage industry?” or “What is the boldest move you made that helped advance your career?” or “What do you wish someone would have told you about being successful in this industry?”

Maria Vergara, President of NAHREP Consulting Services, thought, “I wholeheartedly believe in the motto ‘Everything happens for a reason’ but even so, I reflect on a few things that if I could do differently, I would have early in my career. After twenty-five years in this industry, I still admire those that stick their neck out to express their ideas or opinions. I was way too quiet… even when I had a good idea or answer. Mostly, I wanted to make sure it was fool proof before I shared it. Many times, after thinking of a brilliant idea and while mustering up the courage to speak it aloud, someone (many times a man) would beat me to the punch.

“Though not a male versus female issue, I do believe more men speak out and ‘lean in’ much more than women do, albeit things are changing. I encourage my daughter, nieces and other young women to take a chance and speak up. I recently read a great book by Elizabeth Gilbert called ‘Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.’ The book is a great read and had many thought provoking ideas of how to live creatively regardless of career. In one chapter the author likened ideas as ‘floating around in the universe waiting to be matched with an owner’ (I don’t do the author justice). When I read that, it hit home because so many times I’ve been in situations where someone articulated the exact idea, thought or opinion and ran with it. As I mature, it’s still counter intuitive for me, but I make a conscious effort to speak up and express myself. It’s opened so many doors of opportunity both personally and professionally that otherwise I would never have had.”

Paola Kielblock, EVP of Products with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., replied to the question, “What do you think the best advice you can give women starting out in the mortgage industry?” “In looking back at my 19 years in the mortgage business, the best advice I would give women who are starting their career in the mortgage industry is to be persistent about learning and educating yourself and seek out multiple mentors. People that can help educate and guide you through the different facets of the industry. It is so important that we see the entire vision, have a good working knowledge of what we do, and how all those pieces fit together.

“The boldest move I have made to help advance my career was taking a leap of faith and doing something outside of my comfort zone, something completely different than what got me into the business. I moved away from loan origination, and threw myself fulltime into product development and secondary markets. When you start to feel complacent and unchallenged in your role, that’s your sign it’s time to make a move.”

And when asked, “What do you wish someone would have told you about being successful in this industry?” Paola replied, “In order to achieve long term success in this business, you have to act thirsty and be humble. The mortgage industry is consistently evolving, and changes will occur daily. Embrace the challenges and mistakes and more importantly learn from them both. The knowledge you gain from those real time, real life experiences will catapult you to the next level of leadership.”

Annemaria Allen, CEO & President of The Compliance Group, Inc., remembered, “When I first started in this industry I was just out of high school. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so it was impressed upon me to get a job that paid decent and provided health insurance. The only place I could think of where I didn’t need a degree was working for a bank which also meant weekends off. At that age weekends were way more important than health insurance. Nonetheless, I spent 12 years in operations, processing, funding, underwriting and appraising. I never felt completely fulfilled.

“What I didn’t realize at the time about myself was that I was very methodical, analytical and creative and those areas of the mortgage industry that I was working in just didn’t hit my heart. I felt like I was pigeon holed in this area of the business and there was no growth for me. It wasn’t until 12 years in… that I started really looking at the entire industry. I had no idea there were so many facets to our industry, all the way from taking an application to selling a loan into the secondary market and beyond. I found that I loved researching all the legal requirements that pertained to WHY we make a loan. It was fascinating to me to understand the history of RESPA and the REASON I was providing a Good Faith Estimate. When my eyes opened to the road of possibilities, I quickly found my niche in Compliance.

“When the compliance door opened up I decided that it was extremely important for me to educate myself as much as possible on all the laws surrounding the mortgage industry and take as many courses available to make this happen and allow me to grow and be successful in my job. As I continued with my compliance career and kept up with my education and networking one day I realized, that from the time I was a little girl I always wanted to have my own company. After 5 years of practicing compliance with my employer an opportunity arose to open my own company. This is where I was able to really tap into my creative talents which had significantly been missing in my life. Now, after almost 18 years as a successful business owner and 30 years in the industry, I look back and reflect, and I tell that young girl and all the other women entering our industry:

“Don’t limit yourself

Educate yourself and keep growing

Network to your heart’s desire and ask lots of questions

Know yourself and what makes you happy and don’t allow yourself to be pigeon holed

Work hard

Follow your dreams.”

After a career in finance, Jan Miller has been appraising Bay Area properties since the early 1980s and runs Miller & Perotti in San Rafael, CA. “The day after graduation I had two jobs waiting for me and in the final hour, a decision had to be made; the corporate world or a government job. I was told the government job, while it paid less had more benefits, so I took the government job. I gave 110% each day, learned what I could from every person I met, and took every bit of education they made available. I soon realized I was finding my ‘niche’. I also learned very few others gave 100%. I then took my skills and went to the corporate world.

“My next job was seasonal, and I was coming in on the end of a big project. They explained all my duties and the timeline of what I would be doing during the ‘high season’, I could hire 50 to 75 additional support staff. Again, I gave 110%, met everyone I could and learned everything about the business in general. Computers were just coming into the business world and I took every class I could (remember I had 5 months with virtually nothing to do except create a plan to accomplish the job). With my newly learned computer skills I created an amazing ‘spread sheet’ that I believed would make my seasonal project easier with less support staff. As it turned out, the project was completed in half the time and I used no support staff at all. I thought I would get some ‘atta boys,’ but what I got was attitude that I was ruining the company budget by not hiring more staff! Shortly thereafter, I decided to leave and when I left they did not what to know or understand anything about my amazing ‘spread sheet.’

“I moved to another corporate position, one where I had a great amount of people contact and realized that, as much as I like numbers and computers, I really enjoyed interacting with people. Again, I gave my usual 110% effort, shared ideas and learned every job that was around me. When the market went sideways they kept me on longer than any other employee. They just kept moving me around to do whatever job was needed.

“When I was asked to work with a friend in a ‘one man’ shop I jumped at the chance. I had an amazing mentor and followed my own work ethic, we became an amazing success.

Eventually, I went out on my own with a family member/ business partner. Now 25 years since that last move, when I look back there is not a day or a move that I would change. I wake up each morning looking forward to my job and to all the amazing people I will meet and talk to that day.

“My advice to anyone entering the business world would be to give 110% each day, start each day with a smile, learn as much as you can from every person you inter act with and take every educational opportunity offered to you. It will take time to find your ‘niche’ it is not typically something you learn while in school. It takes life experience.”

Marina Walsh, VP, Industry Analysis, Research and Economics with the Mortgage Bankers Association, advised, “First, try and get your credentials early. Life gets busy, which makes it tougher to pursue your CMB, CFA or other career-building credentials as time goes on. Second, know that your career is a marathon and not a sprint. That means that the pace in which you work, and your career ambitions, may ebb and flow depending on your other priorities and needs. Accept it as part of the process. Finally, if you don’t like the mortgage business, get out. It can really be a tough business given its innate cyclicality and you have to be of a certain mindset to deal with the highs and the lows.”

And this from a mortgage veteran in the Southeast. “The best advice I would give women just starting out in this industry would be to find a mentor. Someone you truly respect and feel you can learn from. Then spend the time to establish and nurture that relationship. My mentors, that I started my career with over 20 years ago, are still my mentors and great industry friends today. Make time to network with your peers. Again, you will find some of your connections will become great friends and a wealth of support throughout your career. Lastly, truly love what you do and who you work with/for or make a change.”

(Thank you very much to these folks who took the time to write these. More soon!)

(Warning: Rated PG for language.)

A cowboy appeared before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

“Have you ever done anything of particular merit?”, St. Peter asked.

“Well, I can think of one thing,” the cowboy offered.

He went on. “On a trip to the Black Hills out in South Dakota, I came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So, I approached the largest and most tattooed biker and smacked him in the face, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground. I yelled, ‘Now, back off or I’ll kick the —– out of all of you!”

St. Peter was impressed, “When did this happen?”

“Couple of minutes ago.”

Visit for more information on our industry partners, access archived commentaries, or to subscribe to the Daily Mortgage News and Commentary. If you’re interested, visit my periodic blog at the STRATMOR Group web site. The current blog is, “Servicing: All It’s Cracked Up to Be?” If you have both the time and inclination, make a comment on what I have written, or on other comments so that folks can learn what’s going on out there from the other readers.


(Market data provided in partnership with MBS Live. For free job postings and to view candidate resumes visit LenderNews. Currently there are over 300 mortgage professionals looking for operations, secondary and management roles. For up-to-date mortgage news visit Mortgage News Daily. For archived commentaries, or to subscribe, go to Copyright 2017 Chrisman LLC. All rights reserved. Occasional paid job listings do appear. This report or any portion hereof may not be reprinted, sold or redistributed without the written consent of Rob Chrisman.)

Rob Chrisman