The first step for companies is to admit that there’s a problem. They need to acknowledge the lack of female representation, minority representation, and diversity that includes non-binary individuals. These companies need to start focused and explicit diversity and inclusion movements. This includes identifying people already on your team to promote from within. Organizations would be surprised by how many people they have who are qualified to take on senior roles. When you promote from within your company, you set an example of diversity and inclusion and show existing employees that they are valued and not overlooked.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Sanchez. As the Head of Mortgage Operations at HomeLight Home Loans, Jessica Sanchez oversees the functions of the entire mortgage loan manufacturing process. With over 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry, Jessica has been the go-to expert for mortgage underwriting, loan processing, closing, funding, and post-closing on the team and has created system processes that eliminate pain points for both her staff and clients. Focused on leveraging technology to ensure customer satisfaction, Jessica has been an integral part of making HomeLight Home Loans a leader in the lending world and the first stop for HomeLight’s agent network. Prior to joining HomeLight Home Loans, Jessica led the mortgage underwriting team and worked as a rules architect for the Fintech startup LendingHome. At LendingHome, Jessica helped build their proprietary Loan Origination System by working with the product team to add mortgage underwriting rules and functionality. Jessica is a certified DE CHUMS FHA Underwriter and has helped mortgage companies launch successful mortgage origination channels in Retail and Direct to Consumer channels across the country.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?
I was brought into the finance field by pure chance. In college, I was studying to become an English teacher. When I was looking for a part-time job, my friend’s mom, who was a mortgage broker, offered me a position to work as her front desk receptionist and loan assistant. Within a couple months, they trained me to become a loan processor and I continued to work there for about three years.
I was 20 years old at the time and had no idea what the mortgage industry was all about but I wanted to learn more. I decided to apply to other mortgage companies and took a position at E-Loan. They were one of the first Fintech companies at the time as an online digital mortgage lender. After several months, I discovered my passion for using technology to streamline the traditional mortgage process and I knew I wanted to work in this field long term. That took me to Chase Manhattan Mortgage and Countrywide. The rest is history.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
A couple years into my career, I realized that I wanted a customer-facing role. I wanted to learn about the finance goals of my customers and help them save money through refinancing. Though my background was in loan processing, which works with the mortgage lenders and gathers documents, I enjoyed the work of a loan officer who is at the frontlines with their customers.
At the time, I was working for a seasoned loan officer with more than 15 years of experience and he told me that the best way to start as a loan officer is to find real estate partners. Once you have an “in” with the agents, you’ll continue to work with them for years. So, I sent personalized letters to the top 10 agents in my area as a way to introduce myself and explain how I could help grow their business. I only got one response but I was still excited and set up a meeting immediately.
This was my first time meeting an agent face-to-face to discuss business. I was 23 years old, new to the industry, and felt intimated to meet a real estate veteran with over 25 years of experience. The moment I walked into the meeting, I felt completely unprepared. He asked me many questions about my company and I fumbled through, thinking that I bombed the entire thing. I left deflated but I told myself that this wasn’t the end of the world and called him again to thank him for his time. Much to my surprise, he decided to give me a shot and sent a loan my way.
The takeaway lesson for me was that while it didn’t quite go as I had imagined, I didn’t let this challenge stop me from continuing my goal. Once I got the hang of it, I closed several transactions at the company and was even able to find my own niche with Spanish-speaking clients, since I’m fluent in Spanish. I became my company’s go-to Spanish-speaking loan officer. So, while this opportunity was intimidating, it taught me to gain more confidence and to pick myself up even in times of failure.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on the HomeLight Cash Close program with the HomeLight Cash Close Team. HomeLight Cash Close is a revolutionary product that helps home buyers get into their new homes fast and without contingencies. Let’s say a borrower needs to sell an existing home — we can buy their home and also make a cash offer on their behalf for their dream home. Once we buy the home, we put it on the market to sell and give our borrower their net proceeds that they can use toward the down payment of their new home. We’re bridging the gap for customers who fall in these categories so that there’s no waiting period.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our real estate partners and clients make us stand out. Their feedback and testimonials show how what we do here at HomeLight is so beneficial to home buyers and real estate agents alike. For one client, we helped her relocate to a different state by purchasing her previous home, selling it on her behalf, then giving her the proceeds to use on her new home. She was thrilled and told us that this relocation wouldn’t have happened without the help of HomeLight Cash Close.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
The 2008 economic crash forced people and companies to take a hard look at themselves. Prior to 2008, people operated with the mentality that you can get rich fast in the mortgage industry since it was so lucrative. And that definitely included the male-dominated workforce. While it was tragic for many Americans, the crash made companies rehire and start to conduct business ethically. That helped to shift the boys’ club’s “let’s get rich fast” mentality to compliant and ethical means to help clients, which also opened up more opportunities for women and minorities.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
- The first step for companies is to admit that there’s a problem. They need to acknowledge the lack of female representation, minority representation, and diversity that includes non-binary individuals. These companies need to start focused and explicit diversity and inclusion movements. This includes identifying people already on your team to promote from within. Organizations would be surprised by how many people they have who are qualified to take on senior roles. When you promote from within your company, you set an example of diversity and inclusion and show existing employees that they are valued and not overlooked.
- As a society, we also need to build that awareness. Social media is a large part of our world today and can be used as a tool to promote that awareness. Women make up a small percentage of positions in finance and other minority individuals hold even less. We can change that number by encouraging women and minorities to apply for these types of roles through the use of social media. It can help them feel less intimidated in a male-dominated industry and more confident in applying for these roles.
- As individuals, women who are in leadership roles can also provide that encouragement and support. Seeing other women who are in leadership roles specifically in the finance sector gives other individuals the confidence that they, too, can grow in their careers. Identify someone that you can look up to as a mentor, who can serve as a physical representation of what is possible. I follow many female leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter. Social media, again, can serve as a great platform for these leaders to share their knowledge and educate other women and minorities.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
Financial literacy should start from junior high and high school as a curriculum. Not everyone is fortunate to have parents who can teach them about financial responsibility. Many teenagers get jobs in high school, so we need to start finance education to show them how to manage their finances, how to start a savings account, and how credit works. Once they go to college that conversation transitions into personal loans, student loans, and credit cards. College students are often blindsided by the amount of debt they will have for years to come. Credit card companies show up on college campuses and encourage students to apply for their cards without talking about the responsibility of credit, which follows us all for the rest of our lives. We can’t buy a home or a car without good standing credit. Our education system needs to teach students how to make better financial decisions.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
1. Take a finance or economics course. If not in high school, then college. It’s important for teenagers and young adults to learn how money works and how to manage it. From personal experience, I wish I understood money management and credit in my early adult years. I had to figure it out on my own when I got my first credit card in college. Students need financial guidance.
2. Understand credit. Often, young adults carelessly get into credit card or student loan debt without understanding the repercussions. Learn about the impact that credit has on the rest of your life and know what the consequences are when you miss payments. I hear stories today from borrowers that are applying for home loans. They never realized that the APR was so high on their credit cards or they didn’t know when student loan payments were due. The backstory of someone with bad credit always points to the same sentiment of, “I didn’t know.” I’ve also come across cases where people have co-signed on a loan for someone else, which is extremely risky. It doesn’t matter if they’re your relative or best friend. You’re putting your credit at risk for someone else and if they miss a payment, your own credit takes a hit.
3. Open a checking and savings account as soon as possible. When you have a place to deposit your paychecks and use that to pay bills, you start to teach yourself about money management. You see where your money is going and also see the money you’ve saved up. It’s easy to swipe a card and forget about it, but with an account, you have visibility into what you’ve spent.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had a mentor early in my career who took me under her wing. She told me that I reminded her of her younger self and that my drive would get me far in my career. Through her, I first learned about mortgage underwriting, lending guidelines, and much more. She gave me homework on the weekends and I remember printing out sets of guidelines, taking them home, and reading them over and over until I internalized every guideline. That’s how I learned about the fundamentals of mortgage underwriting. I worked with her for many years and even followed her to a couple of companies after the market crash in 2008. Whenever there was something I didn’t understand, I would go to her for support and education.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Trust, but verify.”
This is a quote that serves me well in this industry. We work in a field that can change by the minute, and as mortgage professionals we need to be nimble and quick. Often when we do shift gears, there are associated risks, especially in the current COVID-19 environment. Right now, it can feel like the world is on fire when companies are changing their guidelines, but we still have to be disciplined about making a plan of action before we make any decisions. So, when we’re told one thing about a certain transaction, I tell my team to trust, but verify. Pause, research, confirm, and then communicate.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I were to inspire a movement, I would encourage people to educate themselves about the home buying and loan process. The main takeaway from my 20 years of experience in the finance and mortgage industry is that knowledge is power. We need a reliable source for all of this information from a consumer standpoint, such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau website. It has resources geared specifically towards first time homebuyers, so I would encourage anyone thinking about buying a home to visit that website first. From there, partner with a great lender and loan officer, and ask a ton of questions upfront about what to expect. There are many surprises that can come up along the way and homebuyers often feel blindsided once they’ve started the process.
This self education will give you the best idea on what you’ll need, such as how to complete a loan application, required financial documents such as pay stubs, income statements, asset statements, and more. You’ll get asked questions about your credit, large purchases, which will put into perspective what your expectations for homeownership and finances should be.
We often have conversations with people who fall in love with a dream home, only to find out that they haven’t even gotten pre-qualified yet. They get excited about the idea of owning a home and ignore the financial implications until it’s too late. I’ve seen people who think they can qualify for a loan find out that they might not qualify for as much as they need.
Others are discouraged from buying a home or applying for a loan even when they may actually qualify. So, the movement I would push for is homebuyer education that includes what to know about qualifying for a loan and what the actual buying process will be like.