MBA 2018 Residential Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award Winners
By Mike Sorohan
October 22, 2018
This year's Mortgage Bankers Association Residential Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award Winners share one common trait above all--a passionate commitment to improve both the workplace and the customer experience.
MBA recognized four companies as its 2018 Residential Diversity and Inclusion Leadership award recipients this month at the Association's Annual Convention & Expo in Washington, D.C. The awards recognize MBA members for their leadership efforts in diversity and inclusion in two award categories: organizational diversity; and market outreach strategies.
This year's winners--Genworth Mortgage Insurance; Veterans United Home Loans; Alterra Home Loans; and First Citizens Bank--topped a field of more than three dozen entries among MBA member organizations across the country that have implemented programs supporting diversity and inclusion.
"For the third straight year, we received a plethora of quality submissions from members who are developing valuable initiatives and programs that support the industry's ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion," said Chris George, 2019 MBA Chairman and Founder, President and CEO of CMG Financial, San Ramon, Calif. "This year's winners reflect the best of those submissions, and they deserve to be celebrated for creating positive change and progress in the mortgage industry and for their employees and customers."
This year's submissions were reviewed by two groups of judges consisting of members of MBA's Diversity and Inclusion Committee and MBA staff. Companies were broken into two groups, based on overall number of employees, then scored by the quality of their overall submission, identification of a target audience and annual goals, demonstration of a tangible benefit to participants and the overall enterprise and the replicability of the program. Innovative program approaches and potential success in broadening the culture of the organization through the values of diversity and inclusion were also considered.
How did this year's winners do it? Read on...
Organizational Diversity and Inclusion Award
The Organizational Diversity and Inclusion award celebrates company initiatives specifically developed and designed to increase diversity and inclusion within the leadership and employee base of member companies, thereby leading to a mortgage banking industry that may better reflect and understand its customers.
Genworth Mortgage Insurance
For a company with fewer than 1,000 employees, Genworth Mortgage Insurance, Richmond, Va., was recognized for evolving its recruiting-centric diversity and inclusion strategy to one focused on helping employees understand the implications of their words and actions on their colleagues and the world around them. Their efforts have resulted in a working environment for open dialogue and active listening among employees, as well as an understanding of each of their roles in fostering an inclusive workplace.
For the past three years, Genworth has focused on providing employees with sense of belonging; an understanding of how to address workplace inclusion issues effectively (for themselves or for others); and an understanding of their personal role in creating an inclusive workplace.
"In 2015, Genworth Mortgage Insurance made a strategic decision to renew our focus on diversity and inclusion in support of our efforts to attract and retain a diverse workforce that reflects the customers we serve," said Susan Sullivan, Genworth Senior Vice President of Human Resources. "We invested in both top-down and grassroots efforts to support that goal."
The Genworth senior leadership team, including CEO Rohit Gupta, along with select high-performing individual contributors, participated in a two-day training on unconscious bias. Subsequently, a condensed version of that training and training on gender bias were delivered to the next level of managers--nearly 120 people--to extend the message further into the organization.
With Genworth moving beyond recovery from the crisis and back to growth, Sullivan said it became evident the company needed to realign its focus with our goal of attracting and retaining diverse talent. "As we were settling into our renewed approach to diversity and inclusion and our first dedicated actions to pursue our goals, our country encountered an unprecedented period of very public violent events that challenged the completeness of our original D&I goal of attracting and retaining talent," she said. "In mid-2016, it became clear from feedback we received from ERG leaders and the general employee base that our efforts to this point were not creating an environment that allowed our employees to bring their whole selves to work. The same detached communication style that we ran up against with the senior leadership team in our initial Unconscious Bias training was creating angst in the organization as people struggled to reconcile their daily responsibilities and interactions in the face of tremendous societal tension based on race, sexual orientation and gender."
As an immediate step, Genworth encouraged ERG leaders to ensure that they were fostering a safe space for real conversations about different life experiences. Its African American ERG led the charge, using film as a mediator. Ranging from hard-hitting documentaries like Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise and 13 to a joint event with the Asian Pacific American ERG investigating the impact of sitcoms such as Off the Boat and Blackish, these well-attended discussions created space for our employees to not only talk about how they were feeling in the face of recent events, but also hear a wider range of perspectives than you would normally encounter on an average day selling mortgage insurance. "This more authentic programming has continued and served as a model for the other ERGs," Sullivan said.
Beyond this immediate ask, however, Sullivan noted it was also clear that Genworth needed to do its part to educate our employees on the forces that affect how they work with one another each day to not only benefit business, but also society. To that end, Genworth worked with its parent company D&I team to develop training covering the basics of inclusion in the workplace. More than 400 employees completed the training in a two-month period, many voicing their appreciation of the venue to have candid conversations about the implications of interactions.
This year, Genworth partnered with its parent company's D&I team to assess best practices across all industries and conduct focus groups with employees regarding the inclusive (or exclusive) behaviors they witness within their teams. Those conversations yielded Respect in the Workplace program, which launched this summer. The format is an ongoing requirement for every employee to attend at least two different sessions annually from the Respect in the Workplace curriculum, which will evolve at both the topic and content level to reflect current topics. The initial course catalog was delivered by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and included topics such as Microagressions; The Cycle of Prejudice; Unconscious Bias 201; and Intersectionality.
Feedback is an essential component of the program. Surveys for feedback are sent after every training; the program also conducts surveys at three months and 12 months post-sessions to ask about specific behaviors based on what was learned in the session. "This will help us understand if behaviors learned in the sessions are being implemented to create a more inclusive workplace," Sullivan said.
"We're extremely encouraged by the evolution of our efforts from a recruiting-centric strategy to attract and retain a diverse workforce to a strategy focused on helping our employees understand the implications of their words and actions on not just their colleagues and our business results, but also the world around them," Sullivan said.
Veterans United Home Loans
For companies with more than 1,000 employees, Veterans United Home Loans, Columbia, Mo., was recognized for its diversity recruitment, community partnerships, unique employee programs and diversity internships, which have created an inclusive work environment that welcomes and encourages employees to deliver results through their own unique skill sets, backgrounds and perspectives.
Veterans United Home Loans officially launched its diversity initiative, The United Initiative, in 2012. Its efforts are focused internally amongst employees and externally within the community.
"We are passionate about diversity and inclusion," said Loreli Wilson, the company's Director of D&I Programs. "We encourage our employees to deliver results through their own unique skill set, background and perspective to enhance the lives of others."
At Veterans United, Diversity and Inclusion is housed within the Culture Department, not Human Resources. "Through that visible distinction, we convey to our employees that diversity and inclusion is not a corporate mandate, but an integral piece of who we are as a company," Wilson said.
Veterans United approaches diversity and inclusion implementation with the intent to normalize diversity and humanize coworkers. "We consistently communicate our organization's dedication to inclusion in all areas of company-wide activity," Wilson said. "We normalize ‘differences' by incorporating diversity and inclusion into pre-existing company programming and outlets of communication in order to emphasize that it is indeed a part of our culture and values. We are intentional about representation and sharing diverse events and experiences through our blogs, social media and activities."
When controversial issues and current events are brought into the office, Wilson said the company acknowledges them and communicate with all employees. "We recognize that our employees are affected by what is going on in their communities," she said. "People have different thoughts and feelings about current events, and we try to remind our employees that regardless of our differences in opinion and/or experiences, we must continue to care for each other and live by our values, which state: Respect for everyone is a standard, not an objective."
For example, in 2017 Veterans United partnered with the Diversity Awareness Partnership to provide employees an opportunity to talk about the issue of white supremacy in our country. We also opened this event to the community.
Additionally, the company sets annual goals and strategies for recruitment, leadership development and retention around the plan's results. Recruitment is an important aspect of our diversity and inclusion efforts at Veterans United. Since the inception of the initiative in 2012 through the end of 2017, the company has seen a 3.7 percent increase in minority employees company-wide and a 4.21 percent increase in minority employees at its headquarter in Missouri.
In 2016, Veterans United launched a diversity internship program entitled IMPACT. Minority students are hired from local colleges and universities through referrals and diversity organization affiliations. The internship entails in-depth training in the mortgage industry with in-person instruction and accredited online training programs. "The intent of the internship is to introduce students of color to the mortgage industry at Veterans United through the process of mortgage licensing preparation, obtainment of industry and state licenses, familiarity with the mortgage process as a part-time loan officer assistant and ultimately a full-time position as a loan officer upon graduation," Wilson said.
In 2018, Veterans United created a summer diversity internship program called Immersion, involving recruitment of students from colleges across the country, including a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This paid internship program launched in May and introduced students of color and student Veterans to the mortgage industry. The company provided housing to the interns locally on Columbia College's campus, as well as a traveling stipend ($1,000 per intern) and a car pool stipend. The internship provided students an opportunity to learn new skills related to both the private and nonprofit sectors.
"Our ultimate goal will be to hire them as full-time employees upon graduation," Wilson said. "However, if a full-time position at Veterans United does not work out, we are still able to provide them with significant experience for their resume that will set them apart from other college graduates in the job searching process."
Veterans United also created "ConnectU" groups--a version of interest groups--created and managed by our employees. Groups are not prescribed by management, but are built upon the interests of employees with the purpose of connecting them through their similarities. Veterans United supports these groups with meeting space, technology, communications/advertising and funding of books and annual events.
ConnectU groups have grown from hobbies to groups on books, life support, ideas, faith, and more. Examples of ConnectU groups include Infertility Support, Cancer Sucks, Black Men's Group, LGBTQ, vHue (professionals of color), Veterans Group, WIL (Women in Leadership), VU Prime (women over 40) and book clubs on Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, Under our Skin and The New Jim Crow.
Market Outreach Strategies Award
The Market Outreach Strategies award recognizes company initiatives specifically developed and designed to increase outreach, marketing and products to attract customers from the industry's fastest growing market segments.
Alterra Home Loans
For companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, Alterra Home Loans, Vienna, Va., was recognized for its committed goal in helping minority first-time homebuyers build wealth through homeownership. Alterra's Building Wealth Through Homeownership initiative has been in place for the past five years, targeting Hispanic and African American communities across the U.S.
"We have built our operations around our mission of building wealth through homeownership, with a focus on our target demographic Hispanic and African American families," said Walmar Medina, the company's Marketing Director. "Our resources have been allocated to building specific mortgage products for minorities with less resources and lack of credit. We have print collateral in Spanish, multi-cultural training for sales and internal operations that truly understand our type of borrowers. Our company has been structured to serve this specific initiative and we can confidently say that all of our resources have been allocated to serving this mission."
Medina said the company's goal of 10,000 households per year is "becoming more realistic every year." "We currently measure this by the level of diverse families we bring to homeownership," he said. "Of the 6,600 transactions in 2017, 82 percent were from our target audience, the Hispanic and African American communities. The key to driving the success behind our strategy has been adding key members to our leadership that not only are a part of the diverse segments, but also understand the culture and are involved in their communities. Eighty percent of our current sales force is of a minority segment and this helps drive our message home at a local level."
Miguel Narvaez is Chief Production Officer and Partner for Alterra, responsible for overseeing sales, marketing, affinity programs, new business and driving growth in more than 32 states over the past eight years. In 2005, he founded Alianza Hispana, where he partnered with realtors to educate the Hispanic community about real estate and mortgage through media, in both TV and radio shows in different cities across the U.S.
"Most lenders understand the need to serve the Latino market, but very few are aware of the cultural nuances within this segment or how to reach the next generation," Narvaez said. "Millennial Latinos make up a large and influential segment of the Latino population and the general market, yet they are often overlooked and misunderstood in company efforts to reach and serve them. Lenders must understand the cultural values and expectations of Millennial Latinos and how to effectively connect with them to stay relevant for the future."
Alterra is one of the leading companies reaching the Hispanic market, Narvaez noted. "This is largely due to our ability to connect with the Hispanic market through our culture," he said. "The majority of our employees are Hispanic, and we work to integrate culture into our marketing and products."
Alterra also encourages its employees to share education in the community. For example, Julia Adame, a branch manager in Oklahoma, said she grows her business through a commitment to educate the Latino community. "Last year I had a monthly homebuyer's class, only in Spanish, and I also write weekly articles for this cause," she said.
Alterra also launched a mobile app that appeals to our Latino audience through a digital application process, ease of communication and bilingual language options. The app, called Pronto, allows loan officers and real estate agents to collaborate through a channel the borrower also has access to, allowing for transparency, efficiency and higher consumer satisfaction. Additionally, Alterra is currently working to develop relevant social media content and communication to support authentic outreach to the Latino Millennial community online.
To encourage greater African American homeownership, Alterra partnered with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers to create its Legacy Division to support NAREB's goal of attaining two million new African American homeowners over the next five years. "We are working to pave the way to provide opportunities for African American homeownership through carefully curated products, education and community partnerships," Medina said. "We believe many of the barriers to sustainable homeownership in the African American communities could be removed through proper education and loan products."
Ben Slayton serves as a member of Alterra Group, LLC's senior management committee as well as a member of its board of directors. Slayton was the first African American Realtor in the United States. Since his struggle to become a Realtor, he has started numerous successful businesses in the real estate, escrow and financial industry and then selling them to publicly traded companies. Now he turns his expertise towards helping Alterra Legacy to build a nationwide division to serve the African American, other minorities and underserved communities.
Alterra Legacy offers a variety of loan products that include low down payment options and products designed for first-time buyers, supported by homeownership education. It has also launched efforts to increase the number of its African American originators and underwriters.
"If we work together to decrease the wealth disparity, we can create stronger, more productive communities," Medina said.
First Citizens Bank
For companies with more than 1,000 employees, First Citizens Bank, Raleigh, N.C., is recognized for having a dedicated team of Mortgage Banking Market Specialists in place to increase homeownership opportunities for diverse customers in some of the bank's large metropolitan markets. This team helps customers and prospects understand the products and services First Citizens offers, which are designed to meet the individual financial needs of its diverse customer base.
The company's Diverse Lending Initiative has been in place for five years, said James McDuffie, Senior Vice President and Diverse Lending Sales Manager. Its goal: to increase homeownership opportunities for diverse customers by providing mortgage products designed to meet the needs of a diverse customer base. Specialists help customers and prospects understand products and services First Citizens offers to meet their individual financial needs. The initiative focuses on the bank's key metropolitan markets, including Raleigh/Durham, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., Greenville, S.C., Columbia, S.C., and Charleston, S.C.
"The First-Time Homebuyer segment--which comprises a large part of the marketplace in our key metropolitan markets--is diverse and typically has lower loan amounts and a higher number of Low-Moderate Income customers," McDuffie said. "Our traditional loan officers often were focused on the middle and high-end segments of the purchase market. In addition, our fulfillment was not positioned in a way that effectively met the needs of a diverse purchase market or supported programs these diverse customers were using. We also needed to have more bilingual employees working in our origination and fulfillment areas to support growing Hispanic markets."
The initiative included the following components:
--New Role Created Within Bank. The company created a new Mortgage Banking Market Specialist role within the bank. It also formed a sales team focused on external diverse opportunities that would result in more diverse loan production.
--New Compensation Model. "The compensation model for the new role was also a critical piece to the success of the strategy," McDuffie said. "Traditional loan officers are compensated based on a percentage of the loan amount, which incents the loan officer to seek higher loan amounts. We created a pay structure focused on units versus loan volume. It is made up of a base salary and a per loan payout for the Mortgage Banker Market Specialists. The payout for the units is tiered, based on the production number, to incent the loan officer for true loan unit production (no matter the loan amount) versus the loan amount. Also, there is a quarterly diversity bonus to reward them for meeting diversity thresholds with their production that keeps them focused on external diverse opportunities. This compensation structure is now comparable to an average loan officer."
--Specialized Fulfillment Support Group. The bank also created a specialized processing support group dedicated to all first time homebuyer products and programs. It also added dedicated underwriters to this team. The team is trained and positioned to offer all the local Down Payment programs in their markets, Federal Home Bank, and FHA/VA/USDA products for the marketplace.
First Citizens also introduced a unique portfolio product structured to leverage a diverse referral network. This product provides100% financing, with no mortgage insurance, "and is diversity, not necessarily LMI, driven, as diversity is not determined by income," McDuffie said. "Home Opportunity Mortgage Express is a purchase-only product that is targeted towards diverse customers and lending opportunities.
McDuffie said the initiative now is supported and monitored by the company's Diverse Lending Executive Committee, sponsored by bank President and led by the bank's Retail Services Executive. "This committee meets quarterly to discuss results and activities that can better position the bank for capturing more of the diverse market share," he said.
Results, McDuffie said, have been very successful for all of targeted areas where this strategy has been implemented as well as overall mortgage production.
"Prior to the implementation of our strategy, our diverse mortgage production was less than 10 percent of our total production, which lagged our peers who were performing around 18 percent diverse mortgage production," McDuffie said. "In our first year, this strategy increased our fair lending production to over 15 percent. With the growth of additional Mortgage Banker Market Specialists, mortgage as a whole is currently producing at a rate of 22 percent diverse production with our targeted Mortgage Banker Market Specialist team producing 50 percent of the 22 percent total diverse production."
This MBMS strategy has also helped First Citizens to build its brand in the diverse marketplace for the markets it serves by the intentional effort to better partner with nonprofits and professional trade organizations that serve the diverse community. "With the commitment and support of this initiative, there has been a welcomed partnership that supports our bank's commitment to all of the communities we serve and has allowed us to continue to gain momentum and market share for a market segment that our bank values and believes is critical to our continued growth and success," McDuffie said.
MBA Commercial and Multifamily members will have a separate Diversity and Inclusion Leadership awards process, with nominations opening at a later date and the awards presented at the 2019 CREF/Multifamily Housing Convention & Expo in San Diego February 10-13.
The MBA 2018 Summit on Diversity and Inclusion will take place in Washington, D.C., November 27-28. To learn more about MBA's Diversity and Inclusion efforts, visit www.mba.org/diversity.