Bank of America’s AJ Barkley on accessible homeownership
2020 Woman of Influence AJ Barkley joins HousingWire Daily‘s Women of Influence podcast miniseries, which spotlights the program’s winners over the years. Barkley, who is the Neighborhood Lending and Community Lending Executive at Bank of America, discusses her passion to drive successful homeownership among low-to-moderate-income borrowers, underserved communities, and multicultural borrowers in all economic situations.
Along with her main role at Bank of America, Barkley serves as the co-executive sponsor of the Black Professional Group of North Texas and launched the Black Women Ready to Lead initiative. She also shares what her company has been doing over the past year and what she thinks it will take to get more women and diversity into the industry.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Brena Nath: What does the next year look like for you?
AJ Barkley: The next year is filled with an ongoing focus on demystifying the end-to-end homeownership process. As we went through the pandemic over the last 18 months — we’re still obviously in the middle of a health situation for our country — I think that people have stopped or paused, thinking that they cannot continue this journey of homeownership. So for us, it’s continued education and engagement with strategic partners, nonprofits, housing agencies and others to help people that are still on this journey for homeownership and do it through the program we launched that we’ve made significant commitments on, which is our community, homeownership commitment.
We initially made a commitment of $5 billion over five years and outperformed that very quickly. We announced this April to expand our commitment to $15 billion to help people, individuals and families realize the power of homeownership, sustained homeownership. For us, this is extremely important, and the program really addresses the barriers of homeownership, which really is reserves, its closing costs and downpayment.
HousingWire’s Women of Influence podcast miniseries spotlights the significant contributions of women who are driving the U.S. housing economy forward, interviewing our honorees over the years on the impact they’re making today. Hosted by Brena Nath and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.
Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Brena Nath: Hi, I’m Brena Nath, HW+ managing editor here at HousingWire, excited to continue, and it’s always my privilege, this Women of Influence podcast mini-series, where we’re spotlighting the accomplishments of our Women of Influence award winners over the years, and what they’re doing today and how they’re making an impact in the industry.
Today, I have with me AJ Barkley. She is a neighborhood lending and community lending executive at Bank of America. I’ll let her dive a little bit more into her role, but to start out these podcasts, I always like to say, first, congratulations on being a woman of influence.
AJ Barkley: Thank you so much, Brena. I’m excited to be here with you today, and just honored, again, for the recognition. I can’t tell you how many of my friends and family called to acknowledge not just myself, but others. And then, the other piece that we take for granted is how inspiring it is for others to see women get recognized, and, you know, people that I mentor, that I coach, also reached out, and it continued to strengthen the bond and the relationships that we had in terms of them being even more insightful and thoughtful about what they may need to do as they think about their careers. But anyway, thank you for having me today.
Brena Nath: I’m glad that you mentioned that. I appreciate that you mentioned that, because watching these women, and having the pleasure of interviewing them, it’s really amazing to see the waterfall of knowledge and mentorship that carries through, to your point. I think all of you are mentoring the next generation, which is great to see.
I like to start off, since this award… No, we have the profile on you from 2020. You’ve done, I’m sure, so many things since then. So, just setting this foundation of can you talk about your role and what you’re doing today at Bank of America?
AJ Barkley: Thank you. I have a phenomenal opportunity every morning when I wake up, and I try to keep it in its most simplistic terms, to help individuals, families, and people that are first-time homebuyers, multicultural buyers, people that, across multiple…the end-to-end economic spectrum, realize the power of homeownership, and also starting their own business. And I do that because I work on strategies and tactics to really focus on those areas for those clients and individuals and families, as I stated.
I do that in looking for ways, tools, and resources to help them understand the process of, whether that’s homeownership, whether that’s opening a small business, and then the tactics to help them get there, with tools and resources. So, it’s a phenomenal opportunity. We are transforming our company, leveraging the power of the feedback and the current trends around housing and small business, and just the complexity and the simplicity, depending on where you are in the journey. So, I get to do that every day. And it is extremely rewarding. I get to work with people across the company, across Bank of America. But more importantly, I get to work with community advocates, I get to work with people who are focused, just like we are, whether that’s nonprofits, and others that are also focused in the same space.
So, it’s a pretty cool job. I mean, it’s a lot of work, but I so enjoy it. And many times, people don’t have the opportunity to wake up and be able to serve a community and go to sleep feeling like you’ve done…and lots more work to be done, but that you’re making a difference. And I’m hoping that’s what’s happening on the behalf of Bank of America, and then myself, personally.
Brena Nath: And really, you’re an expert in this area, and it’s a topic that Housing Wire has been covering over the years. My next question for you really looks ahead, you know? You’re doing so much right now to change the conversation, to make an impact on the communities. So, what does the next year look like for you when it comes to driving successful homeownership among low to moderate-income borrowers, when it comes to underserved communities, and multicultural borrowers in all economic situations, as I know this is an area that you’re working? Like you mentioned there’s always stuff to be done. I’m sure there’s so much impact being seen in those communities, but what does the next year look like?
AJ Barkley: Thank you for the question. The next year is filled with ongoing focus on demystifying the end-to-end homeownership process, because as we’re going through the pandemic over the last 18 months, and we’re still, you know, obviously in the middle of a health situation for our country, I think that people have stopped or paused, thinking that they cannot continue this journey of homeownership. So, for us, it’s the continued education, engagement, again, with strategic partners, nonprofits, housing agencies, and others, to help people that are still on this journey for homeownership, and do it through the program we launched, that we’ve made significant commitments on, which is our community homeownership commitment.
We initially made a commitment of $5 billion over five years, and outperformed that very quickly, and announced this April to expand our commitment to $15 billion, to help people, individuals and families, realize the power of homeownership, sustained homeownership. And so, for us, this is extremely important, and the program really addresses the barriers of homeownership, which really is reserves. It’s closing costs and down payment. And so, [inaudible 00:05:22] in the next year or the future, what we’ve been doing, we’re not stopping, I think is probably the quickest way I could have answered that. We’re continuing this journey. We continue to retool our resources and the capabilities for people to be able to do a lot of these things remotely, in terms of education and demystifying the process, through online tools and abilities to, like, look for homes that qualify for our programs remotely.
So, we’ve had to adjust, Brena, as you would imagine, with everything that’s going on, but we know how powerful homeownership is, and how it is the beginning, for many people, on the path of wealth and building a legacy for their family. So, that’s what we’re doing and my focus is, going into next year. Doesn’t stop, right? We’re continuing the path we started.
Brena Nath: Interesting that you mentioned how things have even shifted with the work from home element going into next year. You see that all across, kind of, the board, I think, regardless of industry, and it’s interesting to see, you know, educational tools, that guidance, all-important, and find it notable that even, you know, in all elements, you have to transition to this work-from-home, people are at home, concept.
AJ Barkley: Yeah, it is, because the day that, you know, just the home ownership space has changed, Realtors’ engagement has changed, and so, people do a lot remotely. They, you know, you can do a full mortgage. I mean, you can do, through our digital mortgage experience, in the convenience of your own home, you can do the things that you would have normally had to sit somewhere and talk to someone about face-to-face, and I think we’re reacting to the environment and we’re reacting to the needs of the communities we serve, and just what people are doing differently.
So, I do think it’s extremely important. The other thing I would say, when you talked about the future and why it’s important that we stay focused, is, a lot of times, people don’t want you to know that they don’t know as much as they think they should know around homeownership. And so, having the ability to use our first-time edu series, and do the stuff online, which is in English and Spanish, and really making sure that you have the ability to touch people and meet them where they are, I’m hoping opens up the door more. Because one of the challenges we have is everybody, you know, realizing that they don’t need to wait any longer, that homeownership is right around the corner.
So, this focus is personal for me, because I believe it is the means of building wealth, and I think we all know that. But also, for the bank, it’s extremely important.
Brena Nath: One unique element of our Women of Influence winners that I think is really special is you all volunteer and serve and lead in other areas outside of your roles, so outside of your role at Bank of America, and really making an impact in other ways. I know you specifically, you serve as the co-executive sponsor of the Black Professional Group of North Texas, and you launched the Black Woman Ready to Lead initiative. Can you not only talk about, you know, both of those initiatives, but also why, your passion behind them and why you think it’s so special or important to give back and to serve in these ways?
AJ Barkley: Great question. So, Bank of America has over 11 employee networks, and one of them is the Black Professional Group, and it really, our employee networks are designed to help development, talent development, career development, provide an opportunity for both the diversity, but also the inclusion space, where people can learn about people and learn about our cultures, ethnicities, just things that sometimes people aren’t comfortable asking. So, the Black Professional Group exists across the country. I just have a phenomenal opportunity to co-lead that, and what we do, and the reason why it’s so important, is there’s a lot that people want to ask when they’re thinking about their careers, and they want to sometimes ask those questions in a place that may be comfortable for them, where they can be vulnerable, where the person receiving and giving the feedback can be vulnerable. So, it’s been extremely helpful.
We do also, when I co-lead this with another colleague, we bring other people in to spend time with the Black Professional Group, and really help them think about what’s their next career move, what are some of the skill sets they should be thinking about, how do they own their career, how do they then pay it forward, which gets to why we all do this, right? Because if we are not paying it forward and helping people understand the days that are good and the days that aren’t so good, and how you react, and how do you protect your brand, and how do you become impactful in your company and live your company’s culture and values, and be your authentic self, which is most important. So, that’s why I do the Black Professional Group as a co-executive sponsor. It’s important. Our company is passionate about diversity and inclusion. It’s not just the word. It is how we do what we do, to affect the communities we live in, and authenticity is important.
So, then you asked about Black Women Ready to Lead. We, across the country, I do a lot of work around multicultural women ready to lead, and then there’s Black Women Ready to Lead. But specifically, here, it gets even more detailed around vulnerabilities or questions around Black women, and an opportunity for people not to think that they’re alone around some of these perceptions and/or realities. And then we really help craft plans for them, and again, give them exposure. I’m excited to say, in North Texas, through our Black Women Ready to Lead, we’ve had over, we had about, I guess, about 70 women that were part of our program, and almost 30% of them have either expanded their roles at the bank and/or have been promoted, and a lot of that was because they felt they understood the path of how to improve their own skill sets, how to really influence with impact, and really create a level of confidence for them to be able to do things that they aspire to do.
So, really excited, and look, I always look for who’s next, and who’s my successor, and who’s the next person that gets to expand their skill sets and role and do some great things at our company.
Brena Nath: Throughout this conversation, we’ve kind of touched on mentorship, but even just there, to your last comment about who’s gonna be the next person. But I wanted to see the opposite direction, so, those people that you looked up to, and the people who I’m sure helped grow you to where you are today. So, who are the women or the people in or even outside of this industry that you look up to?
AJ Barkley: So, there’s not just one, because I could be on here talking to you for another 45 minutes if I just started with one, but I’ll just share with you the leadership or the skill sets of people who have inspired me to be me, right? And to be my authentic self while delivering upon the commitments of my company which I agree with, and the values. And there was a few things that people shared with me. One, have confidence in your ability to do whatever you’ve been asked to do. And move forward, learn, be intellectually curious about everything, not just what your day job is, you know, what you do every day, tactically, and all that, but be curious around what’s going on in the environment. Be curious about what’s going on in the industry, regardless if you are, you know, the person executing on the loan, you know, in terms of housing or whatever, but be curious, intellectually curious.
The other thing that I learned, for people I look up to, is this whole listen, learn, and apply. Because people in the industry, you know, it’s changed, it’s evolved, and you’re gonna keep learning, things are gonna change, but how you take in the feedback, and how you’re gonna make mistakes. How do you learn from those mistakes, grow from those, and just reapply… Don’t keep doing the same thing the same way, and then not understanding why it didn’t, you know, work out the way you want to. So, I looked up to people who are inspiring, who have been able to give me feedback. If everyone, you know, people that inspire the most, or inspired by the most, are people who gave me difficult feedback, and gave me the ability to learn, you know, around my blind spots, and really be able to adjust, and so, I admire those people.
I also admire and was inspired by people that said even though you may not have the background in a specific area, don’t let that limit you. And so, that’s, several people, Brena, not just one, but those are the things that helped push me forward in the company and in this industry, which can be challenging if you stay stagnant, and aren’t open to change and different perspectives.
Brena Nath: Great. So, that feeds right into the last question that I always like to ask, which is, just as much as you’re saying those are the skill sets that you like to look for, I think those are the same qualities that you look for in women in this industry, and how to get more women into this industry. So, to wrap, especially the Women of Influence awards, we spotlight the women who are making a difference. So, how do we create…I know we’ve talked about mentorship, but how do we create that next generation, get more females into this industry, and why is this important?
AJ Barkley: Well, it’s important because the industry needs to look like the communities we serve, and it needs to continue to be diverse, both in terms of ethnicity, race, etc., but also gender. And we need to be impactful because our voices help to create the solutions for people like us that want to realize, personally, the power of homeownership, but more importantly, being part of the impact, of bringing housing to women and people across the country. Look, I would say, I think in order for us to get people there, we have to make sure we are sponsoring programs, people, partnering with universities and colleges, working with nonprofit organizations, doing things that really help…pathways to leadership outside of our day jobs, and demystify this whole process, and how what may have been traditionally a male-dominated environment doesn’t have to be that way. We have the opportunity to make that change, and so, you know, get outside of the walls we function in every day.
The other thing I think we need to do is always say yes to the call. I speak to people all the time at different places of their career, and I don’t care how junior you are, I don’t care how senior you are, just having the opportunity to reflect 30 minutes with an individual could be impactful to the career decisions that they make. Because they don’t know what they don’t know. And so, the more we do that, and the more we are transparent, and vulnerable at the same time, because sometimes people think everything is always perfect, and through our careers, we all have ups and downs, share those, and share how you were able to overcome those, and be resilient in this industry. So, I would just say reach out, talk to people, engage with people, be authentic, and help them with their path, and help them map that out for themselves if possible.
Brena Nath: Well, AJ, it’s a pleasure chatting with you, kind of hearing all these insights, what drives you, what you do at Bank of America, and the impact that you’re having in the community. So, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.
AJ Barkley: Thank you, Brena. Have a great day.