Almost 6 years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to not only change my career but to assist First Community Mortgage in changing the lives of underserved families and individuals for good.
With support and leadership from my team, we started an intensive learning process on the homebuying financial needs of diverse and underserved communities that quickly transformed into an ambitious Multicultural Lending action plan focused on generating more and better homeownership opportunities for these communities.
While we are currently experiencing an increasingly challenging multi-industry home affordability situation and a rapidly evolving multicultural homeownership environment in our country, I want to look back and share some relevant experiences for loan officers looking to serve more diverse communities:
1. Go beyond bilingual.
While speaking the same language as your borrower poses a great advantage on any customer-facing activity, the sensitive nature of the mortgage origination process requires that we take a cross-cultural approach. That means that you need to go beyond mere communication to consider the relevant cultural characteristics of your clients to provide them with the best experience possible:
- Is your client part of a culture where family is overly important for deciding where to live?
- Is there a tradition of multigenerational / multifamily households in the client’s culture?
- Are your clients adverse or distrustful of financial institutions?
Considering these and many other cultural points will help you to better understand and better serve your multicultural clients.
"Go beyond mere communication to consider the relevant cultural characteristics of your clients."
2. Know where you are.
Be open to learning from as many sources as possible, starting by looking inside your own organization. You need to be authentically interested in asking the tough questions and asking for the assistance of your business partners and even friendly competitors to get an unbiased assessment of how equipped you currently are to help multicultural borrowers.
3. Ask for help.
Reach out to relevant community leaders, to the experts in your industry, and even venture outside of what can be considered your traditional intelligence sources.
Having the right allies can amplify and speed up the impact of your initiative. For us, the partnerships and collaboration with multiple associations, institutions, corporations and even individuals proved to be a great way to propel our message and services to multicultural and underserved communities. NAHREP, NAREB, MBA, TNMBA, NMBA, THDA, The Housing Fund, Habitat for Humanity, NACC, RCCC, TLACC, HCC of Kansas City, Goodwill, Urban League, and many other organizations and outstanding individuals supported us, and still support our efforts.
4. Advocate within your organization.
A single loan officer can only do so much. What programs and plans does your organization have in place to help multicultural borrowers?
With the wealth of information we had acquired, we at First Community Mortgage realized that to create a real impact with our initiative it was necessary to build a team with the right people, empowered with relevant solutions and with organization-wide multilevel support. Knowing we could train on the mortgage origination process, we decided to “build” our own Multicultural Loan Originators based first on their community service background and a true bicultural sensitivity to the homeownership needs of the community.
At this point we started feeling the pressure of providing a great first mortgage experience to a traditionally underbanked and in general underserved community. It took some general reality checks and many adjustments to our traditional processes to adapt to their unique needs and backgrounds. We knew that to serve them properly we needed a higher level of customer care and more relevant, useful information that could be easy to access and understand. And, more importantly, we understood that it was not our borrowers who needed to fit in our “sandbox,” but that we needed to adapt it to them. That’s why we established our first service center (Home Opportunity Center) right in the middle of the multicultural epicenter of Nashville back then, Plaza Mariachi.
5. Keep learning and keep improving.
There is a saying that “If you are not growing/improving you may be shrinking.” We celebrate our success: almost 6 years and over 1500 multicultural homebuyers served in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, and Alabama, 2 National Diversity Equity and Inclusion Awards for Market Outreach Strategies, a Hispanic-focused brand (HOLACASA), and an expanding presence in the Middle Eastern communities of Tennessee. But for our team to achieve sustainable growth, our President always recommends staying “Humble, Hungry and Smart,” looking for new ways to increase our impact. Especially in this constantly evolving housing and mortgage lending environment, we feel responsible for expanding our efforts to generate more sustainable homeownership opportunities for more underserved families in more regions.
I wish you a very successful journey in paving the pathway toward the American Dream of homeownership.