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The Face of the Familiar

Editor's note: This feature appears in the September 2021 MReport magazine, available here.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are some of the most widely used terms today, both in and out of the workplace, and for good reasons. According to a Deloitte research study, over a three-year period, companies with a diverse set of employees noticed a 2.3x increase in cash flow, not just overall, but among individual contributors at the company. Coupled with McKinsey & Company’s 2018 Delivering Through Diversity Study, in which 43% of companies with diverse boards noticed higher profits, it’s impossible to ignore the significant impact diversity has on businesses around the globe. Surrounding ourselves with people from different countries, backgrounds, creeds, and gender identities allows us to see life through their eyes and gain an understanding of the differences everyone can bring to the table, whether that’s in a boardroom or family dining room.  

As it relates to the mortgage industry and with all the statistical information at our fingertips, it’s also important to ingrain diversity throughout each step of the homebuying process. The benefits of diversity for the industry, employees, consumers, and local community are invaluable. Diverse individuals who represent all communities will be able to challenge past norms and drive better business outcomes that serve borrowers more equitably.  

A Wealth of Perspectives 

While progress has been made in making the mortgage industry more diverse, we still have quite a way to go. Zippia's data science team conducted extensive research and analysis to better understand the breakdown of the demographics in mortgage underwriters and loan officers. They found that:   

  • There are over 113,925 mortgage underwriters currently employed in the United States with the most common ethnicity as white (69.1%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (14.4%) and Black or African American (8.2%). 
  • There are over 216,112 loan officers currently employed in the United States with the most common ethnicity of loan officers as white (68.4%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (14.7%) and Black or African American (8.4%). 
  • There’s been a significant increase in LGBT mortgage underwriters and loan officers. 

The advantages that come with having a diverse workforce for businesses, borrowers, employees, and minority communities are unmatched. When it comes to looking through the lens of those around you, nothing beats lived experience. It’s important to have loan officers, originators, and underwriters that have worked with borrowers from all walks of life and have had their own experiences working with borrowers who have varied financial strength and employment history. For example, gig economy workers and self-employed borrowers are at an all-time high, and with non-traditional or W-2 jobs, it’s imperative that someone on the inside can spot biases that others may overlook.  

Approachability and Comfort Matter 

As human beings, we naturally gravitate toward people who are similar to us, whether that’s in looks, background, and even in thought and how we view the world. The same is true for prospective minority homebuyers. There’s a greater likelihood that minority borrowers will feel more comfortable reaching out to ask questions and engaging in the homebuying process if their community is represented at the table. At times, it can be intimidating to ask questions, especially when you believe others feel you should already know the answer. Connection and communication with someone from your own community may yield a more positive experience, which also may turn into additional homeowners and greater opportunities within communities.  

The Transfer of Knowledge Is Key  

Though a simple concept, the transfer of knowledge is one that often gets overlooked. The more diversity we have in the mortgage industry, the more knowledge of the mortgage process will be shared within communities. For example, if I have a friend from my community or family member that originates or underwrites loans, or sells homes, there’s a much greater chance that I’ll have a better understanding of the homebuying process and what it means to be a creditworthy borrower. By simply having that connection with someone from my own community, the possibility of acquiring or learning about the knowledge and information that they possess is much higher than if I didn’t have that connection within my community.  

Gwen Garnett, Center for Financial Advancement Program Director, Home Free USA, said, “Supporting HBCU’s and expanding opportunities for diverse candidates helps to get more people of color in the industry and into homes. The mortgage industry has great earning potential and opportunities for personal growth.” Diverse mortgage professionals become “trusted financial ambassadors” for their community. They share information with a family member or someone in their circle that homeownership is possible, and they can help demystify the mortgage process. There are many first-generation homebuyers. Having someone in the industry who looks like them creates a level of initial trust to get started on the path to homeownership. 

The Road Ahead 

The mortgage industry has meaningful ways to increase diversity within our industry, but it will take intentionality to get there, and certain barriers must be addressed. Lack of representation often leads to a lack of interest. It’s natural to gravitate to where you can envision yourself. In an effort to attract new entrants to the mortgage industry, we need to work to attract students of all races and ethnic backgrounds early in their college careers. Mentorship and recruiting programs for historically Black colleges and universities, as well as schools with diverse populations of talent, are great first steps toward attracting more people to the mortgage industry and providing students with the tools to achieve success.  

Over the past few years, the mortgage industry has made significant strides in creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. With the introduction of programs and services geared toward helping people within communities of color become homeowners and working through loan modifications if they find themselves experiencing financial hardship to keep their homes, industry participants, agencies, and associations are coming together like never before to make positive and lasting change, and ultimately helping all people achieve the dream of homeownership. 

About Author: Madisyn Rhone

Madisyn Rhone is the Manager of Government and Industry Relations at Enact (formerly Genworth Mortgage Insurance) where she represents the company on Capitol Hill and aids in the development of legislative and regulatory strategy. Rhone joined Enact as an Accelerated Talent Development Analyst where she spent two years in a rotational program, gaining experience in risk, pricing, and operations. The statements in this article are solely the opinions of Madisyn Rhone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Enact or its management. 
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