Women Leading the Finance Industry: “We have something that we can bring to the table, and we should own it and share it with other women aspiring to be leaders.” with Laura Brandao and Tyler Gallagher

Everyone’s point-of-view is what drives creativity and game-changing projects. In addition, people should learn how to network properly. Women have a tough time with this, but we need to dig deep and understand that we are experts in our positions, and we got here given our hard work and commitment. We have something that we […]

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Everyone’s point-of-view is what drives creativity and game-changing projects. In addition, people should learn how to network properly. Women have a tough time with this, but we need to dig deep and understand that we are experts in our positions, and we got here given our hard work and commitment. We have something that we can bring to the table, and we should own it and share it with other women aspiring to be leaders.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Brandao. Laura’s vision of bringing families home has become the foundation of the culture at AFR. For the past 12 years she has developed a mindset within the company to make it the personal responsibility of each employee to bring the families of AFR’s lending partners home. This is an unconventional, yet effective way to do business within the wholesale lending market — one that sets Brandao apart from the rest. With more than two decades of experience in the mortgage industry, Laura brought the Wholesale division to AFR in 2007 and became an AFR partner in 2009. She began with AFR as Director of Operations in 2007, moved to Executive Vice President, followed by Chief Operations Officer, and is now President. Laura is the driving force that has catapulted AFR Wholesale to the top of Manufactured Home, One-Time Close and Renovation lender in the USA. She has seamlessly rolled out new products based on market demand, including VA renovation, USDA repair escrow and One-Time Close construction to permanent loans for FHA, VA and USDA. Laura’s hands-on approach also propels AFR to remain on the cutting edge of technology with mobile-friendly applications that cohesively integrate the borrower, realtor, broker and AFR. Laura is a 2019 Best 50 Women in business award winner, a current member of the NY Forbes Business Council, HousingWire’s 2018 “Women of Influence” and named one of “Mortgage Banking’s Most Powerful Women” by National Mortgage Professional. She was also one of Mortgage Professional America’s “Hot 100 Mortgage Professionals” in 2017, and an “Elite Women of Mortgage” in 2014, 2016 and again in 2017. Laura is also actively engaged with a number of organizations and initiatives including the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

When choosing a career in banking/finance, you either fall into it by accident, or were led to the opportunity via a mentor. For my story, I accidentally found myself in this industry and can honestly say it was the best decision I made for my career. When I was a young mom — not even 20 — I was married and a stay-at-home caregiver to my son. As much as I loved (and still do love) being a mom and spending time with my son, I felt that there was a void that was missing when it came to my professional growth. After some research, I was able to find a flexible position that gave me the opportunity to work in the evening. The position was in telemarketing focused on residential mortgages. The first campaign that I worked on was cold-calling homeowners in the tri-state area to peak their interest in refinancing, which would generate leads for the loan officers. Once I dove deep into this position, I found myself excelling more rapidly that I would have imagined and was promoted to a supervisor at the company’s call center. After five years, I was able to help grow the telemarketing department to 200 positions.

Shortly after building my credibility within the industry, I wanted to find other ways to grow within my career, in addition to a more structured schedule. I was able to obtain a position at a mortgage company, which gave me the opportunity to build and manage an inside sales team. As the team began to grow, we started generating business that was too much for our processing team to handle. I took this as another opportunity to grow my skill-set and began teaching myself how to process and underwrite loans, which would support our inside sales team workflow. Within seven months of being in this position, I became the Chief Operating Officer, all by the age of 27.

By the year 2007, I was given the opportunity (to build from scratch) the Wholesale Division at American Financial Resources. I began as a director and over the course of my 12 years, I became the first woman partner/owner and president of the company.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

The most interesting story that’s occurred in my career thus far was the development of the wholesale division at American Financial Resources (AFR). During the subprime mortgage crisis, many companies were going out of business, which directly affected employees with multiple lay-offs. I knew that I had to figure out another avenue to ensure my security. I decided to reach out to a big wholesale lender, whom I knew, and asked them for help. Given my conversation with them, I was introduced to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AFR; a company that just recently became a correspondent lender. The CEO had brought the idea to me about opening up a wholesale division and wanting me as the lead/creator. With the enticement of having a role that I got to mold into my own, the other part was that this position was compensated via commission only. I kept this in mind given that I was in my early 30s, had a family with small children and a mortgage. With that all in mind, and several conversations with my family, we all agreed that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. So, I took on this challenge and began creating an entirely new wholesale division for AFR.

When creating this division, I went back to my roots of telemarketing and started cold-calling mortgage brokers, informing them of the AFR wholesale department and all the unique opportunities that we’re able to provide to their clients (ie: FHA loans down to 500 credit score). After the first month, I closed 10 loans by myself. In the coming months, we were growing faster than we could keep up with, so I hired a handful of people who had lost their jobs due to the declined market. Within our first year of having the division, we were closing $100 million a month.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As of recently, AFR rolled out a conventional version of the one-time close construction program.

When it comes to building your own home, people have a misconception that you have to be extremely wealth or have to walk into a builder with at least 20% down. This is not the case. For example, a Veteran today has the choice to build his own home on a piece of land without being required to put any money down. This is due to the variety of programs that Veterans have access to, such as a one-time close construction loan.

What’s most important is that the consumer is educated on the types of programs that are out there when purchasing a home and/or property to build a home. When going through the pre-approval process and onward, it’s important for consumers to do research on all types of loans that are available, as well as consult with their local independent mortgage broker for further details. This also includes understanding the minimum percentage that they need to put down in order to purchase a home.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

AFR has always made it the company’s mission to take the road less traveled. Even during the refinance boom, we were one of the only companies that focus on projects that included renovation and construction. We thought it was important to become more involved in these labor-intensive projects, because we knew that it would have a better effect on the market in the long run. Also, given that no one else was willing to dive into these types of programs due to the risk, we knew that it would be a huge opportunity to be wildly successful, if done correctly.

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?

Just 20 years ago, it felt as if women didn’t have a voice, and were not heard within the corporate workplace. As we continue to evolve as a society, companies are realizing that women leaders bring a number of inspiring qualities to the environment including creativity, empathy and culture.

Having people of all types of ethnicities and age is important to help a company grow. Every single person on a team can contribute new and fresh ideas, which can spark endless amounts of positivity.

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?

To support this movement by CNBC, I believe the following:

For individuals, they should not be afraid to share their voice. It’s important to provide value and to not hold back because they feel that they aren’t worthy to be heard. Everyone’s point-of-view is what drives creativity and game-changing projects. In addition, people should learn how to network properly. Women have a tough time with this, but we need to dig deep and understand that we are experts in our positions, and we got here given our hard work and commitment. We have something that we can bring to the table, and we should own it and share it with other women aspiring to be leaders. Lastly, it’s important that we follow our gut instincts. Stop the negative self-talk and the second guessing of ourselves. When we have a strong feeling about something, go with it and provide hard facts as to why you believe this is the right or wrong choice.

For companies, they should be including men and women to all types of outings, lunches, events, etc. It’s important to include everyone on the team in order to build professional relationships and encourage collaboration. Another important concept for companies to adapt within their corporate portfolio are mentoring programs for women by women. For young women to succeed and excel in their roles, they need the appropriate resources given to them to do so. This includes mentorship opportunities for women to confide in other women to help with any questions, hardships or positive reinforcement. Lastly, make sure that half of your leadership team is comprised of women. Allowing women in managerial, executive or C-suite positions is something that will affect culture in a positive light. It’s not just about meeting numbers but improving the overall corporate workplace environment and providing a well-rounded, diverse team of leaders.

For societies, it begins with our young girls. It’s important to push equality from the very beginning and let them know that they have no limitations when it comes to their career. Also, we need to continue promoting that women leaders can still have it all. If you want to climb the totem pole in your job, but also have the desire to have a family, it can be done. There is no reason why one should be given up for the other. It’ll take some hard work and family/friend support, but it is achievable. Lastly, women need to work on supporting other women within the workplace. We all need to be allies of one another and continue helping women grow within their positions. It’s time for all of us to make a promise to never tear each other down.

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?

When advising my adult child about how to become more financially literate, I would tell them the following:

  1. Set up an automatic savings. When my youngest son got his first job out of college, I had him take $400 out of his paycheck every two weeks and invest it into a savings account. Given that he never saw the money, he never knew that it was missing from his original paycheck. This would be my number one recommendation to all young adults just starting out in their career.
  2. Download an investment app. These are very accessible through all app stores via your mobile device. You have the ability to set up your account to your debit card, and it will take the change from your purchase and immediately put it into an investment. You’ll also be able to control how much is taken out of your account and thrown into an investment of your choice.
  3. Build up your credit score. Anyone that is starting out, needs to educate themselves on building credit the appropriate way. From personal experience, when I was helping my children build their credit, I cosigned for their car loan, but made sure that the loan was in their name. This is one of the easiest ways to help build credit.
  4. Be aware of the flashy credit cards. Majority of these credit cards that are being promoted offer some great rewards, but they can come with high interest rates. Even though they may offer no payments until 2022, once you’re required to start paying, the interest rate will be higher than you may have anticipated. Always read the fine print and make educated decisions when signing up for a new credit card.
  5. Don’t change jobs during large decisions/purchases. This is imperative to know because majority of large decisions ask for pay stubs to ensure that you have the ability to make the payments (ie: mortgage). Slow down and take your time. Things will work out as they should.

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?

That’s easy! My mom. During her career in the 1980’s, she was a manager of an office, which was very uncommon for women during that decade. Unfortunately, she lost her job during that time, but she took that energy and made the decision to go back to college to better educate herself for her next position. Regardless of her minor setback, she continued to have a positive attitude and that shined through in every aspect of her life. While going through this career hardship, she continued to reinforce the positive message to me that I can achieve anything that I put my mind to. She never told me that I was limited to a certain position or career. Her continual support helped motivate me to become the strong woman leader that I am today.

In addition to my mom, I would have to say that my husband has been another positive advocate of mine. We’ve been married for 30 years, and he’s been through it all with me. Even when I made the decision to take a job that was commission based only, he supported me on every endeavor that I chose. He knew I was someone who can accomplish any task that is in front of me and turn it into a success story.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world. — Harriet Tubman.

This stems back to my childhood and has been with me throughout my journey. The relevancy begins with my mom always encouraging me to ‘reach for the stars’ and to never settle. She knew then that I was destined for greatness and this quote continues to remind me to keep pushing forward.

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. 🙂

Recently I’ve been inspired by the book “The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage.” With our world today being so involved with technology and social media, it’s important to be present and to be kind. This book has really taught me a lot about living in the moment and taking a step back from living through the filter of social media. Although I do believe that technology and social media play a positive part in our society, it’s important to take it in small doses. As a community we have to take a step back and stop living each other’s lives through the eyes of a screen. Be present and exude natural kindness.

Thank you for joining us!

About the Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member.

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