The growing support for female mortgage executives

Leaders outline what factors are influencing the change

After speaking with several other female mortgage executives in celebration of International Women’s Day, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a few women leaders who are making waves. I asked them their thoughts on “the growing surge of support for women in the industry,” and am honored to share their voices.

Susan Stewart, CEO at SWBC Mortgage Corporation, is the current Chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association. Steward currently serves as a member of MBA’s Board of Directors, sits on MBA’s Residential Board of Governors (RESBOG), and is on the board of the MBA Opens Doors Foundation, and both Stewart and SWBC Mortgage Corp. have been recognized as Guardian-level donors of the organization.

Stewart shared:  For decades, women have filled many roles in the mortgage industry but the climb to the C-suite was difficult or unattainable for many. Many took note, women began to channel their efforts toward professional networking, we learned to actively lobby for positions in profit-driven areas with growth potential, and we learned the value of stepping up to challenges and taking chances.

Much has been written about the financial and intrinsic value of diversified leadership and our industry – recognizing the value we bring – is supporting women in leadership roles like never before.

Kristy Fercho, executive vice president and head of Wells Fargo Home Lending, currently serves as vice chair of the board of the MBA, vice chair of the MBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, co-chair of the Affordable Housing Council, and a member of its Residential Board of Governors. She also serves on the boards of City Year and the Detroit Zoological Society. Fercho joined Wells Fargo in 2020 from Flagstar Bank, where she had served as president of the company’s mortgage division since 2017. Prior to joining Flagstar, she spent 15 years with Fannie Mae.

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In Fercho’s words:  As mortgage professionals, we have the privilege of helping families achieve the dream of homeownership and all it entails – safety, security, stability, wealth creation and more. I am proud to see so many incredible women leading the way and leaving their mark on our industry as we do this crucial work. Women at all levels of the housing finance industry have an opportunity to continue to shape our landscape during this pivotal time, and I’m humbled to think of the role I can play – as head of Home Lending at Wells Fargo and chair-elect of the Mortgage Bankers Association – in the years ahead.

Our business and the millions of families we help with homeownership are better off thanks to the contributions women make every day. I know our role will only grow in years to come as we give one another support and sponsorship, both one-on-one and through groups like MBA mPower (MBA Promoting Opportunities for Women to Extend their Reach).

Suha Zehl is chief analytics officer at Equity Prime Mortgage, recently selected for her vast technology and digital expertise to architect EPM’s business intelligence initiatives to be a core pillar of EPM’s modern platform. Zehl, MBA, CPM has more than 18 years of experience in the mortgage and real estate industry, and over 34 years of global business and analytics experience. She leverages innovation, new technologies, and business intelligence to drive digital transformation and create actionable insights to support the business vision and strategy, and develop data strategies to make the dream of home ownership a reality for everyone.

Although 2020 was an unprecedented year marked by crisis and uncertainty, it still culminated by seeing many women rise and break ceilings across all industries, all the way to the Office of the Vice President with the election of Kamala Harris. But make no mistake, this surge did not happen overnight. Personally, I believe the flame for this growing surge ignited a couple of years back with the “Me Too” movement. Women had had enough; they began to stand up for themselves and for each other – putting a stop to the “old boys’ club” mentality they had endured.

As women, we began to listen, really listen, and support one another. Suddenly, instead of fighting each other for a position at the table, we began to champion and cheer for one another. The rise and popularity of organizations like mPower, NAWRB, NEXT Mortgage Event, and Women With Vision have notably helped pave the way as well to promote an inclusive, nurturing environment where women can thrive, share, and learn from one another.

And while only 7%, that’s 37 CEOs, of the Fortune 500 are women, numerous studies show that women-led companies tend to outperform those led by men. And survey after survey reveals that women-led organizations are also more likely to have engaged, inspired, and satisfied employees. Really, what it all boils down to is this: having more female executives is good for business, which in itself is now fueling this growing surge.

Christine Beckwith is founder and president of 20/20 Vision for Success Coaching and Consulting, following an award-winning 30 years as an executive sales leader in mortgage finance. Beckwith is also a best-selling author and founder of the Women With Vision coaching, awards program and community, created to fan the flames of women’s progress and support that will define a professional vision for decades to come.

I think that the reason that there is support for the surge of women coming into the mortgage industry is multi-faceted, the perfect storm, if you will. First, national and international recognition and a larger scale women’s movement has carved a clear path in recent years that cannot be ignored now by any industry. So that momentum has taken women to their feet to make moves that will continue to propel the advances we are finally beginning to comfortably fight for and we are still fighting, make no mistake. 

As a consultant with the largest women’s business coaching school for the mortgage industry, I am privy to the stories every day, that are countless, in acts of diminishment and discrimination. We are so honored to help these women and provide sound advice for them to navigate their business obstacles, often to winning results, but sometimes still to losses. 

Nonetheless, our generation of female leaders, many of whom are my friends, have worked hard to create organizations and places that women in our communities and networks can gather and combine their collective power for philanthropy, for evolution of our movement, and most of all here at Women With Vision, advancement in the prowess of their business results that render them more respected and more formidable competition.  

All of this has us making a clear and sustainable path for the generations of women behind us and that is part of my personal mission. I took the road that lead me to the top of this industry that I was given. I won’t call it hard, it was simply a road, I found my way. I had hard moments and I battled those as they came. I am proud today of what I have accomplished and my career, and now legacy will be left in the next decade through the educational work I will do to help other women establish their businesses.

Patty Arvielo is the co-founder/president of New American Funding. A first-generation Latina, she leverages more than 39 years of experience in the mortgage industry to lead the company’s sales and operations efforts. Arvielo created the company’s Latino Focus and New American Dream initiatives to improve the home lending experiences for Latino and African-American homebuyers. A popular keynote speaker, she is also a member of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals and the Housing Counseling Federal Advisory Committee, frequently visiting Washington, D.C. to lobby for the industry and homeowners.

We have always worked hard at New American Funding to create an inclusive and supportive environment that enables amazing women to thrive. I’ve long believed that it is one of my responsibilities to support and encourage women to find their own success in this great industry. That’s why we’re incredibly proud that approximately 60% of our team are female.

The fight for equality is one that I’ve been fighting my whole career, but I know the fight is not over yet. I’m happy to see support for women growing in the industry. We can only reach our goals if we’re all pulling in the same direction.

Marcia Griffin is president and CEO of HomeFree-USA, which profitably connects partners to black leadership talent and influencers, prepares homebuyers for mortgage approval, and homeowners for mortgage sustainability. Griffin is also a member of the Freddie Mac Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the Fannie Mae Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the Ocwen Financial Community Advisory Council, America’s Homeowner Alliance, Wells Fargo Housing Foundation Steering Committee and the Affordable Housing Advisory Councils of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, and the Mortgage Bankers Association. HomeFree-USA serves as a bridge between financial institutions and the community.

The growing surge of support for women in the mortgage industry is a good thing. Women bring a social and economic equity lens to business. This adds value to the industry as women will expand and grow it by leveraging new markets.

Katie Sweeney was recently promoted to CEO of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts. She previously served as EVP of strategy, where she led partnerships with top wholesale mortgage lenders and industry vendors. Prior, she introduced a revolutionary technology portal for wholesale brokers as senior vice president at ARIVE, and served as vice president at Pacific Union Financial. Sweeney is leveraging her consumer lending and data implementation experience to fulfill AIME’s vision to champion the broker channel and to increase the wholesale channel’s market share.

As the digital revolution and disruption caused by COVID-19 continue to rattle most business verticals, female leaders in the wholesale mortgage space are uniquely positioned to serve, grow, and reshape an industry currently experiencing a massive boom. The pool of potential borrowers is shifting, with millennials and single women becoming one of the largest demographics of new homebuyers. lt takes savvy professionals in our industry who represent this demographic to know how to build relationships with potential clients in real and sustainable ways.

AIME believes so strongly in the future of women as leaders in the wholesale channel that we recently launched our Ignite and Spark initiatives with a mission to educate and financially support aspiring mortgage professionals in underrepresented communities. A large focus of these programs will be placed on making sure women are given the opportunity to learn about the industry, grow their skills and become a qualified resource for borrowers.

I see no better professional ready to tackle this challenge of meeting the moment in an incredibly complex and innovative mortgage landscape than the female leaders of the broker channel. In turn, our community at AIME has sought to prioritize the advancement of female mortgage professionals by dedicating support through our Women’s Mortgage Network to provide real-time knowledge sharing and networking opportunities to amplify this growing movement.

Mary Ann McGarry is the CEO of Guild Mortgage. She also serves on the MBA’s investment and servicing committees, as well as on the Fannie Mae advisory council.

I’m very encouraged by the growing support for women in the industry. There are more and more opportunities for women to pursue a career in mortgage banking every day. Guild has strong women throughout our organization, including many top producers, and 60% of our leadership team and 50% of our board of directors. I’m proud of our team and thank everyone for their hard work and dedication in helping us finish 2020 so productively. 

Elizabeth Karwowski Sdoucos is CEO of Get Credit Healthy Inc., a technology company that developed a platform and cultivated a network of nonprofit partners, to transform unqualified applicants into creditworthy borrowers. Through her leadership, the company has evolved from a credit education and remediation business into an innovative fintech enterprise that helps lenders access a previously untapped market, utilizing its proprietary processes, platform, and software to integrate with lenders to make it easier to recapture leads.

Almost 20 years ago I took the bold move to become my own woman and start a business. I was tired of being plugged into preconceived corporate slots and having a future that was controlled by others. Determined to succeed, my journey was not an easy one. The learning curve was steep, the battle scars and mistakes made along the way were many. To champion sisters in the mortgage industry, I’m excited to mentor and share what I have learned to continue the growth of women leaders. Without the scars!

Fortunately, this is not an all-inclusive list. There are many more women executives making waves, but this sampling speaks volumes. I applaud each of these ladies for taking the time to lend their voice to this article.

In addition to all the incredible women leading the mortgage industry, I am proud of the unprecedented progress with our representation in Washington. Janet Yellen was sworn in as the Secretary of the Treasury department by Vice President Kamala Harris in what The New York Times described as “a history-making moment,” as both are the first women to hold two of the most powerful jobs in the United States government.

Ascending to the cabinet position vital to our industry, Yellen was confirmed with broad, bipartisan support. As head of the Treasury, she will have the opportunity to address several key issues that will have a significant impact on our nation’s real estate finance market, including working with key stakeholders to support the implementation of effective rent and mortgage payment assistance and the expansion of minority homeownership. It is also critical that the Secretary works with Congress and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to fashion legislative reforms that promote a robust secondary mortgage market and provide long-term stability to all housing finance system participants.

There is still much work to be done, but the growing swell of support for women in positions of power will help ensure it gets done!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of HousingWire’s editorial department and its owners.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Sarah Wheeler at [email protected]

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