Prepared Remarks of MBA Chairman Susan Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of SWBC Mortgage Corporation, at the 2020 MBA Annual Convention and Expo

Rob Van Raaphorst
(202) 557-2799

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 19, 2020) - Susan Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of SWBC Mortgage Corporation, was sworn in today as Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) during the association's virtual 2020 Annual Convention & Expo.

[Please Note: These are prepared remarks. Ms. Stewart may add to or subtract from these remarks during the course of her presentation. Portions of the text may be omitted during the speech.]

Thank you all, so much! You look great! And thank you, Tiffany and Michelle. 

I love you both. Thank you for your support and understanding during all of the many times I was unavailable to you due to long days and late hours, for the things I missed while traveling for work, and for the many times I spent too much time working during family vacations, and most importantly thank you for becoming such lovely people.

I am so proud of you.

As my daughters said, my name is Susan Stewart.

I am the CEO of SWBC Mortgage.

It is an honor to stand before you today.

I'd like to introduce myself, talk briefly about my history, and most importantly, talk about some of my priorities for the Mortgage Bankers Association in 2020 and 2021.

But before I do that, I want to thank a couple of people who have helped me along the way.

First up is Brian Stoffers.

You have truly been the perfect leader during an imperfect time.

From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of every member of the Mortgage Bankers Association, thank you for steering us through the stormy seas of the past year.

And on a personal note Brian, thank you for agreeing to share next June's chairman's conference with me in beautiful Newport Beach.

Brian, on behalf of MBA and all its members, I am proud to present you with the Chairman's plaque, a testimonial to all the time and effort you have given to MBA and for your years of extraordinary service and leadership to our industry.

We have also sent Brian's wife Katherine a beautiful flower arrangement as a token of our appreciation for all she has done to support Brian, and MBA, during his tenure.

Additionally, in accordance with their wishes, MBA has made a $10,000 donation to the Opens Doors Foundation in Brian and Katherine's name.

The Stoffers are personally matching the donation for a total ODF donation of $20,000.

I also want to thank Dave Motley.

Years ago Dave called and asked me to join RESBOG and get involved and has been a super supporter of mine ever since, always willing to advise and share thoughts and ideas.

Chris George - thank you for your generous heart, your exhausting work ethic, your passion for our industry, and your steadfast support.

Deb Still - you are my very own personal MBA mentor.

To me and so many you are a wise woman, an inspiration.

Thank you for your leadership, advice, and most importantly for your commitment to "do Good'.

I am grateful to all of you for choosing me as your chairman.

I will repay your trust by giving everything I have to this job, this organization, this industry, and our future.

So a little about me. I've tried to build my career on a foundation of honesty and integrity.

All of my early business advice came from my father.

My mother inspired, my father advised, and he stressed over and over again the importance of integrity.

The advice was:

Do what you say you are going to do and do it well.

Don't complain, work hard, and always be mindful of setting a good example.

Like many of my peers I did not choose the mortgage business, it chose me.

I was a single mother of two little girls ages 2 and 5 looking for my first "adult job."

I certainly had no idea when I took that first job that I had stumbled into a business I would soon come to love.

I love every aspect, the people, the mission, the opportunity to be part of a life changing event in people's lives.  

I started at the very bottom, definitely entry level, thankfully I took to it quickly.

I worked my way through operations, loan production, and ultimately landed in a management position.

In 1989 I joined SWBC Mortgage, where I was tasked with growing a brand new baby mortgage company. When I took the helm, we only had a handful of employees - three, to be precise.

But while our team was small, our vision was big.

We wanted to become a national leader.

I worked hard, and along the way, some amazingly smart, talented people joined the team.

Together, we made our vision a reality, and then we reimagined our vision and kept going and growing the SWBC way. Today, 31 years later, I'm proud to say that SWBC Mortgage is a multi-billion dollar full-service, origination-to-servicing firm - with 680 employees and counting, over 70 branch locations serving customers in 43 states.

I am so proud of my team, of the company we have created, and the environment we so carefully nurture.

Behind these numbers are the values I mentioned earlier - especially integrity.

When I started at SWBC, I made clear that we were going to do well by doing good.

I said we wouldn't take shortcuts, we wouldn't turn a profit at other people's expense, and we would never say one thing and do another. Someone in Texas once called us "the Boy Scout company."

If that implies we follow the rules and are straight shooters, that is fine with me.

Please indulge me for a minute while I thank my team. Before I accepted this role, I spoke to several of my SWBC trusted advisors, and to a person they were supportive and encouraging.

Thank you to every single beloved co-worker at SWBC Mortgage.

Thank you Charlie Amato and Gary Dudley, my two bosses for 31 years.

I love you both and want to publicly thank you for taking a chance on a bossy headstrong 30-year-old all those many years ago.      

And most of all, thank you to my business partner, the president of the company, and my husband, Van Stewart.

It's great working with my dream guy, my perfect mate. Van is the calm in the storm, the risk taker, the wise counselor, and without him I would certainly not be standing up here speaking to you today.

I'm giving you a brief history of my background because I believe that our past is important to understanding the present.

Not only that, it's essential to ensuring the best possible future.

In my years in the industry, like many of you I've faced many challenges.

I've been a single mother, juggling work and parenting.

I've been a mid-level staffer, working hard to climb the ladder.

I've been the CEO looking at a tough year, a down economy, and now, a global pandemic.

My point is that I've experienced the ebb and flow of this industry.

I know what it takes to succeed in this industry.

And I know that the Mortgage Bankers Association is essential for our success.

The MBA is blessed to have some incredible leaders. Bob Broeksmit and Marcia Davies lead a Senior Management Team that is second to none.

Pete, Bill, Steve, Mike, Lisa, Michael, Peter and Mike.

They're constantly pushing the MBA to new heights of excellence and service to our members.

I couldn't be more excited to work with such quality leaders.

When asked to join the leadership ladder your first reaction is to feel honored and while still basking in the glow of kind congratulations you begin to have an anxious thought or two... How does anyone do this job? Past chairs seem to anticipate this reaction and quickly they take you aside and remind you that you have a secret weapon, The MBA Staff.

The staff to a person is absolutely fabulous, truly exceptional and they never stop working or providing support.

This team is quite frankly the best in the business. Research, training, public affairs, regulatory, and lobbying - everything here happens at the highest level.

Best of all, they never rest on their laurels.

The MBA team is always looking for new ways to serve our members.

My business has benefitted immensely.

I'm confident that yours have, too.

As your Chairman, I am focused on the issues that matter most to you.

Right now, the biggest issue is the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't have to tell you that things are moving fast.

Take it from me: The MBA is moving faster.

We're talking to lawmakers before the congressional debates begin. We're talking to regulators before the deadlines come. We're working with officials on both sides of the aisle, and whatever happens this November, we will be ready.

No matter the issue, no matter how urgent, no matter the players and people involved, the Mortgage Bankers Association will continue to provide you with the resources and support you require. You deserve nothing less than our best, and as your chairman, I promise: You will have our best, and more.

The COVID-19 pandemic is at the top of all our minds. Yet if all goes well, it should only be a short-term crisis. I'm confident we'll overcome it in the near future.

As we work to make that happen, we cannot ignore the long-term issues facing our industry. Which brings me to my biggest priority this year.

Historically, MBA's chair chooses three key initiatives for their time in office. I am taking a different approach. Instead of three initiatives, I have chosen one.

My focus for the year is promoting minority homeownership.

It's a big, weighty issue of huge importance.

This is an issue I am passionate about.

For years, I have been deeply concerned that Blacks, Hispanics, and other minority groups lag behind in homeownership rates.

Growing up I was lucky my parents built two homes and I grew up taking it for granted that I too would be a homeowner.

I saw it as a rite of passage, part of becoming an adult. But there are entire generations of families that don't think owning a home is possible for them.

It's too far out of reach and for many families it's growing more distant by the day.

That's not just wrong - it's an injustice.

And after the national focus on racial injustice this year, the time has come to right this wrong.

Here are the facts. Nationally, the homeownership rate is around 65%.

But Black homeownership rates are only 44%, which is close to its lowest level in 50 years.

For Hispanics, the homeownership rate is hardly better, at 49%, and for Asians, it's 59%.

As an industry we cannot accept these terrible statistics.

Behind these numbers are millions of families who've been pushed to the sidelines of the American Dream.

They deserve better - and we must do better.

It is easy to despair, to decide that the challenge is too big for one person, one company, or even one industry to do anything meaningful.

But I am here to tell you that we can do something, that together we can harness the incredible power of our big collective voice and step up. We have an opportunity -and an obligation- to open the door to those ready willing and able to own a home. Homeownership is the foundation for generational wealth and social mobility. I don't see this as a dream.

We have the ability together to make our world better, so let's make that happen.  

This is a mission worthy of the MBA. We've already made some strong first steps.

We've built a team, led by Steve O'Connor, that's completely focused on affordable housing.

In March, we launched a new program, called "Convergence Memphis," to preserve and improve minority homeownership. We're preparing to expand the program to Columbus, Ohio, starting next year. The MBA's advisory councils on affordable homeownership and rental housing are also taking steps to address the challenges posed by COVID.

Beyond the MBA, your companies are already engaged on these issues.

It goes without saying that all of us are already doing as much as we can. We're offering down payment assistance loans and participating in other programs offered by federal, state, and local governments.

But the simple fact is we need more options to help minority homebuyers.

This year, the MBA will pursue the creation of new policies and programs to address this crisis.

To start, we will call on policymakers to provide more support to Independent Mortgage Banks. IMBs are already making the majority of loans to minority homebuyers.

They are in the best position to expand access to underserved communities.

I will work to empower IMBs to do just that.

We will also work with policymakers to do more to support affordable, sustainable rental housing for those who aren't ready for homeownership. The fact is that not everyone needs or wants to own a home right now.

We are committed to provide more affordable options for them, too, until the time is right to pursue homeownership.

Finally, I am putting a new priority on MBA Opens Doors Foundation.

This crucial program will celebrate its 10th anniversary in the next year.

It has already helped nearly 6,000 families make their monthly home payments during times of crisis, and 61% of those families have at least one minority parent and 27% of all grantees are single parent families.

By expanding support for MBA Opens Doors, we will help more minority homeowners and those struggling against the odds to care for their families while keeping a roof over their heads.

I've seen the difference that Opens Doors can make.

Our company gives, my husband and I give.

Together we have four children and five grandchildren, and on the face of every single dollar we contribute, I see their faces and feel blessed that we can help others in their honor.

I hope that every member of the Mortgage Bankers Association will deepen their involvement starting today.

The MBA team is already working on all the issues that I've laid out today. We'll let you know as we make progress.

More importantly, we'll let you know about opportunities for you to make a bigger difference. This time next year, I'm confident that we will have taken action to strengthen minority homeownership.

We will do our part to make our country a better place for everyone.

At the same time, we are doubling down on our commitment to diversity.

Diversity matters for two simple reasons.

First, it's right.

We should always seek to provide opportunities to people of all backgrounds.

That's just basic fairness.

Second, it's smart. A more diverse workforce will help us find new ways to serve the homebuyers of today and tomorrow.

As the economy and the culture change, our companies must change with it.

I've been inspired by our members' commitment to diversity.

In my own company, I have been vocal on this issue, and as Chair-Elect of MBA, I also led the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Our work in this space goes back a long time.

You know, MBA was promoting diversity before it was a headline.

For instance, we've done a lot in recent years to empower women.

The mPower initiative led by Marcia Davies is doing incredible work, and if you're not involved, you can change that today.

At the board level, MBA has already had two female chairs.

As the third female chair, I'm honored to follow in the footsteps of those who came before. Thank you Regina Lowrie and Deb Still.

And I am so excited about the woman who will follow me. Kristy Fercho will be MBA's fourth female and first African American chair. Brian Stoffers and I have truly enjoyed working with her over the past year.

I look forward to continuing to work with Kristy, she is truly a treasure.

I'm also excited to work closely with our new Vice Chair, Matt Rocco.

He brings a world of expertise to the table, and we need his insights and leadership on CREF issues in this difficult time.

He is an integral part of this executive team and I know he'll do a lot for our industry.

For that matter, I look forward to everything we will accomplish in the coming year.

We'll do better on diversity and we'll do better on minority homeownership. These are big problems and we will be part of the solution.

The actions we take will benefit our companies, our communities, and ultimately, our country.

Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the hard work that lies ahead.

We've got a lot to do, no doubt about it.

Recently I was reminded of a quote that I think all of us should keep in mind as we get started.

Our nation's 26th president, Teddy Roosevelt, once said, and I quote, "the credit belongs to the man in the arena," who "strives" and "spends himself in a worthy cause."

Those are real words of wisdom. Now is the time for us to be in the arena.

We can't just watch what's happening, while sitting in the cheap seats.

We have to be in the game, on the front lines, doing the work that needs to be done. If we don't, who will?

I know that you will rise to the occasion. You always have. That's why I'm so proud to serve as your Chairman this year.

You have my word that I will be in the arena, every single day.

You have my word that I will be in your corner, on every single issue.

I took this job because I want to do right by the industry that been so good to me, and I will work with you to do more good for more people, all across our country.

This is the mission of the Mortgage Bankers Association. It is an honor to make that mission my own, on your behalf, and for your benefit.

Let's have a great year. I'll see you in the arena. Thank you again.