Ask the Expert: Strengthening Diversity in the Mortgage Industry

February 25, 2021

Kristie King Welcome to Ask the Expert where we are asking industry leaders about their unique perspectives on how to navigate the most difficult challenges faced by the broader real estate and financial services ecosystem. And also to give you a chance to ask the expert some of the most pressing questions that are on your mind as well. 

My name is Kristie King and I’m the senior director of diversity and inclusion at States Title. Today, I’m excited to welcome Tony Thompson, founder and CEO of The National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America, to talk about the topic “Strengthening Diversity in The Mortgage Industry.” 

Tony founded the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America, or NAMMBA, in 2016 with a vision to positively grow, develop, and improve the industry by introducing women and people of color to the industry and investing in America’s youth. Tony previously served as vice president of growth and strategy at Silverton Mortgage Specialist, where he ensured the company focused on finding the right people to take the business to the next level. Welcome, Tony.

Tony Thompson First of all, thank you, Kristie. It is a pleasure to be here today and shout out to the States Title leadership team for having me to be a part of this event today. 

Kristie King Thank you. So, Tony, NAMMBA, or the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America, is a national trade association dedicated to the enrichment and betterment of people of color and women who work in this industry. Can you give us just a bit more of a deeper overview of exactly what NAMMBA is and also what inspired you to begin the organization? 

Tony Thompson Yeah, absolutely. And first of all, even though it’s the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America, aka NAMMBA, one of the things I like to make sure people know and understand about our organization is that NAMMBA is all-inclusive. In fact, 25 percent of our members are White because we really do one thing for the industry and professionals who are in the industry. And what we do is we help provide training, education, and professional jobs so that we can help people grow their careers. We can help them perform better on their jobs, and most importantly, we can help them impact their communities at a larger level, which will also impact their company. 

And so think of us as the MBA for everyone who doesn’t go to the MBA. A lot of times we have webinars, we’re bringing in industry leaders and industry speakers that you may not oftentimes get to hear or if you want to know and understand what’s going on with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. HUD or the FHFA. We like to bring those leaders to our members and to the marketplace so that a process or a title rep or a title attorney, they can hear from industry stakeholders and partners to understand what’s impacting our business. But to also grow and develop themselves professionally from a personal development standpoint. So at NAMMBA we focus on providing, and the bulk of our memberships are originators, real estate agents, operations professionals, and then also title companies and partners like States Title.

Kristie King Thank you for elaborating on that. Tony, I think is so important because people might be misled because it says, you know, mortgage bankers. So I think it’s great that it is all-inclusive and that there are so many other disciplines and titles of people that are really part of your organization, which is needed. We think about this push, which is very much needed to strengthen diversity in this industry. I am very new to this industry. It’s been about five months now that I’ve been part of States Title. But I will say that there is very much a need for diversity in this industry. Where do you think the greatest opportunity is to really support African-Americans and even other people of color when it comes to that? 

Tony Thompson I think for us, and I just got off with a live presentation that had almost a thousand people at the National NMLS Conference, which is around the licensing on the originator side, one of the greater things that I talk about was the importance to understand the difference between diversity and inclusion and how having both diversity means bringing together different people from backgrounds, different perspectives, different experiences, but then including them into what the organization is trying to achieve leads to greater fulfillment for those involved i.e, employees, as well as a greater fulfillment in outcome for the company i.e. higher turnover, more passion, more commitment. So for me, I think it’s important, Kristie, that one, companies are at the top about how to truly understand the importance of the value of not only diversity but making sure there’s an inclusive piece and I know States Title is doing that. So shout out to the organization and in terms of certainly moving that ball forward. And then conversely, I also talk to employees and say, look, you have a role in this D&I thing as well. And what I mean by that is really simple. The more employees become engaged to help make the company better, the better the company becomes, but also the better the employee becomes because they are really collaborating in the true partnership. So from an employee standpoint, I always make sure I made a difference in my organization, irrespective of what my title or my role was. Contribute to moving your organization forward. 

So from an employee standpoint, I always make sure I made a difference in my organization, irrespective of what my title or my role was. Contribute to moving your organization forward.

Kristie King Thank you for that, Tony, and thank you for elaborating on the difference between diversity and inclusion. Because it’s said so often, sometimes people think they’re synonymous and they really aren’t. There is definitely a difference in getting that representation and then making sure that once they are there, they’re engaged in their career opportunities, and then there’s growth and making sure that people of color and all people feel like they’re a part of the organization. 

So I appreciate you stressing the difference in that and the role that the employee plays, too because sometimes that is forgotten. A lot of times people are talking about the company and the employer. And that employee piece is very important, too. I want to talk a little bit about homeownership. So African-Americans have some of the lowest percentages of homeownership in the US. According to the Census Bureau, in the first quarter of 2020, 44 percent of Black families owned their homes compared to over 73 percent of White families. So we’re talking about a 30 percent gap between Black and White homeownership in the US. Why is there such a large gap in this ownership? And what’s the current state of housing for African-Americans?

Tony Thompson At NAMMBA, this is something that we’re very passionate about, which is why we focus on training, educating, and developing professionals in our industry, but then also the second part of our mission is to introduce and connect young people to this industry and provide them with financial literacy education. The latter part. Financial literacy is so important in communities of color. It is so important in communities, period. I don’t care if you have a White high school pupil or a Latino or African-American or a Native American, go into any high school in America and ask them, what do you need to do? What is your FICO score? Have they ever heard of a FICO score?  Or do they know what it takes to purchase a home? And they will probably look at you like you’re from Mars. So the education piece, I think for our industry, irrespective of the ethnicity, is really important for lenders to understand. If we are going to really help communities grow, we have to make a much more intentional focus on connecting with students at a younger age to embed and instill around sound financial management practices. Secondly though, from an opportunity standpoint, if we take a look at the numbers that you spoke about earlier and you look at the Latino homeownership rate, which is somewhere around the 47, 48 percent. What that says to me from a business perspective is there’s an opportunity for companies to do good by doing this. And what we mean by that is we can actually move the Dow where there are significant gaps in Latino, Asian, African-American homeownership. We as an industry can actually help close that gap and make the communities that they do business in even more vibrant and more successful while also at the same time growing the overall goals and objectives in achieving those goals and objectives for your organization. 

Kristie King Thank you for that insight. Do you feel like there’s any piece around the history of, you know like, redlining? Any of that? Do you feel like that might also be contributing to the current state at all? 

Tony Thompson Well, it’s amazing how just last year, 2020 was the best year ever in our industry. If you rewind the tape and go back just a decade ago, what happened was part of the worst time in our industry. And so we’ve seen the worst from bad to good as an industry. But the consumer has also seen that it’s a good thing.

We have to understand that there were certain communities more impacted differently than other communities in 2010. And that has left a scar, that has left mistrust, that has left uncertainties around how to approach homeownership.

And I think right now if you think about the state of the first-time homebuyer, those are the individuals that potentially, based on where they were, one or two of their parents, or maybe they may have been involved in a situation where their house was foreclosed upon. And our industry had a bad rep because of everything that was happening around subprime, everything that was happening with the Great Recession, we took and bear the brunt of that, rightfully so in many instances. And so that lack of trust, which is also very similar to some of the current concerns around will communities of color embrace the vaccine? Whether you think it is right or wrong. Some of that is stemming from past perception. So we as an industry have to be understanding of that. That’s where diversity comes in. We have to understand that there were certain communities more impacted differently than other communities in 2010. And that has left a scar, that has left mistrust, that has left uncertainties around how to approach homeownership. Who can I trust? What can I trust? Because I saw what happened to my neighbor, my aunt, my uncle, my mom, my dad, my grandfather. And so we have to understand that we have to increase our level of engagement of making sure that we can help the consumer understand that we’re here for their benefit.

Kristie King Thank you for that insight. So we have a new administration. The new Biden administration has made the issue of housing inequality a priority, acknowledging the role of federal, state, and local governments in creating and implementing racist housing policies, just like we just talked about for quite some time. What are you seeing done on a federal, state, and local level that will help support communities of color and others to really break down this housing inequality? 

Tony Thompson Well, first of all, shout out to the MBA, the Mortgage Bankers Association. They have a project that is really a better place called CONVERGENCE. And what we’re trying to do and what the MBA is trying to do is take the community. I’m a firm believer that when you buy a home, you build a neighborhood, you help build a community, you help build a city, one house at a time. And so CONVERGENCE is really a project that’s launched. It started out, and the first city is Memphis, Tennessee. The goal and the thought process is if we can increase homeownership and we can increase helping communities of color and people live in communities of color, get a job and be able to grow and sustain and accumulate wealth. That’s going to have a positive benefit to everything that is in that city and that community in terms of economic values. And so one of the things that I think is important for companies to understand, irrespective of the administration, but certainly I think you’ll see a little bit more questions and focus on are lenders doing the right thing for the consumer with the current administration versus the previous administration? However, when I talk to leaders and when I talk to organizations, what I tell is really simple.

If we know that homeownership is good for everyone and homeownership can increase communities, make them safer, help them build stronger neighborhoods, why would we not want to try to help make that happen?

If we had a vaccine that could positively impact a COVID-19 patient, would we give it to them? And most companies say, yes. If we know that homeownership is good for everyone and homeownership can increase communities, make them safer, help them build stronger neighborhoods, why would we not want to try to help make that happen? My comment to leaders is, it is better to be proactive than reactive. And that’s what we try to do here at NAMMBA, is help companies leverage diversity. 

Kristie King I love it. And that’s a perfect analogy, a perfect analogy. So we’re talking about lenders, we know how important it is for lenders to really better understand communities of color. And now we’re specifically talking about African-American communities when lending to them. What is the importance of marketing and technology when it comes to engaging the African-American market? And how important is that, for instance, to simplify and localize the mortgage process to this community? And what are some, maybe even some of the misconceptions that are often seen there?

Tony Thompson Yeah, first of all, I think it’s very important for lenders to understand that every demographic within the multicultural market is different. And so what I mean by that is you’re going to need to think about an omnichannel approach of how you approach the Latino market versus the Native American market versus the LGBTQ market versus the African-American market. 

The other piece is, you know, don’t take this the wrong way, but not all Black people are the same. So at the end of the day, just because you have one Black person and you’re getting one Black perspective, that doesn’t necessarily equate to everybody is going to feel that way. 

Kristie King Exactly.

Tony Thompson So from that, I think it is really, really important for companies to understand that we are really in an evolving, changing environment where it is going from being very broad strokes to really getting to know your customer. So it becomes more important to have a marketing strategy, a flavor where you truly connect with how the customer wants to connect, how the customer wants to feel. And I’ll give you one last example really quick. I think most people, Kristie, know that February is recognized as Black History Month. I think we would say that nine people out of ten know that. However, there was a post I saw recently on LinkedIn, that there was one company that put up a LinkedIn post and they have their company logo. And then they had this statement, “February is Black History Month”.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, like I said, you know, you have to understand. I think everybody knows this and that there could have been another way you could have connected and resonated with that segment if you were trying to say, hey, we support Black history or, hey, we support Latino, Hispanic Heritage Month, we support next month’s Women’s International Month.

So don’t just put up a logo and a picture of a woman and say, “Happy Women’s International Month”. You will annoy a lot of women by doing that. And so it is important that companies understand, and the way that they can understand is having diversity embedded in that. Have the diversity throughout the organization so that, again, those unintended consequences. I’m sure the company was trying to do a good thing. I am also positive that there are probably some people of African-American descent that probably saw that and probably a little bit offended. I think it is really important that companies understand that.

Kristie King Very good. That’s a wonderful statement. And it’s about the fact that this is not cookie cutter. So be willing to roll up your sleeves and develop these very specific strategies. That’s how you get ahead.

So are you or is NAMMBA partnering with or supporting any efforts like with the lending organizations on education and training? Is that something that you or your organization is involved in? 

Tony Thompson Yes. So part of Mission 2025, which is to connect college students to careers in our industry and provide them with financial literacy, our goal is through partners like States Title, we have a vision to launch chapters on college campuses over this next decade. And then from there, we want to go into high school. When I was in high school, we had something called the Future Business Leader of America and they say, hey, at lunchtime, if you want to be going into business and college and career, go to FBLA around 3:10. So I showed up around 3:00 p.m. because I thought I wanted to learn about business. We want to do the same thing, very similar to junior achievement. We want to go all the way down to the high school level and have a club so that students can learn about homeownership. They can understand the importance of financial literacy and build that skillset early on so that ultimately, Kristie, they can come out and own a home much sooner to help close the gap. Where that becomes exciting. Our partners and their employees will be able to go into their own community, their own colleges, and universities, locally and represent their brand, their company, while also sharing their journey about what they do and how their company impacts our industry as an employee. 

Kristie King That’s perfect. OK, so we talked a little bit about vaccines and COVID-19 brought a lot of changes. Clear changes to the market. The move to suburban areas and increase in millennial homebuyers. You know, the refi boom. Have there been any similar trends in market changes for African-Americans and communities of color as a result of this?

Tony Thompson Well, I think it’s a little too early to tell, but I think, you know, anecdotally what we’ve seen on to our real estate partners and our lender partners is I think you’re going to see a boom in terms of a lot of pent up demand of millennials wanting to move out to the suburbs. And the reason for that is they were first in the city because of the lifestyle. The ability to do a lot of things. Now, because they don’t have to necessarily work in a location downtown and their job can theoretically be anywhere within the market or the country for that matter. Now, I think you’re going to see more millennials that say, you know what, I want to move to the suburbs. I want to be home in a town or condo versus an apartment. And so I think you’re going to see over the next five years a radical shift because of the new shift, the new paradigm of remote working even more acceptable at all levels of the organization. You’re going to see a really big movement on the millennial side towards homeownership out to the ‘burbs. 

Kristie King Yes, OK, thank you for that. So, Tony, I wanted to shift a little to our Q&A. We received this question that says, so much of what you’re telling us will require local grassroots effort. How do you think we can mobilize groups of people to work together on this?

Tony Thompson Great question. So we have 30 chapters across the country. We’re adding another 12 to 15 over the next 18 to 24 months. Once we get to a point where we can see and touch and high five people again, we will be back to launching our chapters. And so the goal for us is a lot of what we’re talking about will be executed in Dallas and New York and San Antonio, wherever your employees are. Our goal is to have a local chapter so that they can get involved, represent their organization, but also get the career and professional development. And then most importantly, when we launch our college initiative in that city, then we’ll be able to get involved, pay it forward, while giving back, and represent the organization at the same time.

Kristie King Thank you for that. So thinking more towards the future, what do you hope things will look like in five to ten years from now for the African-American community, communities of color, and women in this industry? What progress do you hope is achieved?

Tony Thompson You know, we started NAMMBA five years ago, because one of the primary reasons was every time I would walk into a conference, there would be literally hundreds of people in the room. And then, for the most part, there would be one or two people of color. One or two females. Other than the waitstaff, there was no one that looked like me. And so my goal and my vision is that we, at NAMMBA, want to help companies understand how to leverage diversity, as a competitive edge, by including everyone and benefiting from the leadership. By benefiting from the diversity of thoughts and ideas and experiences that they bring to the table. So when I look out over the next five years, we want to see more women in a leadership position. We want to see more people of color in leadership positions. But in order to do that, we first have to help frame those leaders. We first have to help find those leaders. And we first have to help seek out those leaders and cultivate that talent and have us here to help companies and employees. I have my CMB designation. I wasn’t forced to do that. But as I tell people all the time, whatever job you’re in, be the best person at that. So I made a commitment to myself. This is the industry I’m going to be in until the day I die. So I want to be the best at it. So whether you’re a title agent, whether you are an attorney, whether you are working in the processing and the operations side, whatever your role is at this point in time. Leave your mark on your company. Help impact your company. But what you will also find is when you invest in you and when you invest in your own professional development, you also impact so many other people. 

Leave your mark on your company. Help impact your company. But what you will also find is when you invest in you and when you invest in your own professional development, you also impact so many other people.

And that’s a true testament because I never dreamt that I would be having an organization like this. I’ve sat on nonprofit boards and I hate nonprofits. And guess what? I am right here with NAMMBA. And so you never know when you can be an impact to your company, to your industry, and to your community, but you first have to commit to becoming better. 

Kristie King Perfect. Tony, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Your insights and your experience are extremely valuable and your mission, the mission of NAMMBA, and all the work that you’re doing, especially investing in the youth, in financial literacy. 

All those pieces are so important when we think about closing this gap in our industry and bringing more people of color and women to the industry. It’s laudable and it certainly is needed. So we really appreciate you being with us today for Ask the Expert. We also want to thank everyone, our audience members, for joining us today for the excellent series. And we hope to see you next time. Thanks again so much, Tony. 

Tony Thompson Absolutely. Thank you, Kristie.

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