Traditionally, the mortgage business has been surrounded by men, but the face of the industry has been changing. Women, who tend to bring a different perspective and comprehensive approach to leadership and decision-making, have made their mark in almost every discipline. The finance sector is no exception.
When it comes to the mortgage industry, women are reshaping the landscape and paving the path for emerging female professionals. Among them is LaTasha Rowe.
Rowe is the General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at NFM Lending, an award-winning, multi-state residential mortgage lender currently licensed in 42 states.
She has been prominent in unlocking the doors of success for the company, and her passion for fair lending has guided her to where she is today. A big reason for her achievements is the emphasis she places on giving everyone a chance at homeownership and, in return, on building communities. While she wouldn’t change a thing, Rowe says her journey so far hasn’t always been smooth.
A Role That Exceeded Expectations
In 2008, when the world was in the middle of significant financial turmoil, Rowe gave birth to her son, Joshua. She decided to leave private practice and became a stay-at-home mom to Joshua and his older sister Gabrielle. By the time Joshua started pre-school, the real estate industry had begun its recovery, and Rowe thought it might be a good time to return to the workforce. When she started applying for positions, she wondered how she would get up to speed on the changes that occurred during her hiatus. To her fortune, her friend and former colleague, Stephanie Pyron (formerly Bogan) was the current General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at a mortgage company called NFM, Inc.
After her interview and meeting the other leadership team members, she knew she wanted to be a part of NFM. Two years into LaTasha’s role, Stephanie left NFM for another opportunity, but not before teaching her everything she knew about the mortgage industry and recommending LaTasha for her role.
Under LaTasha’s leadership, the company’s accomplishments are many. NFM has obtained its Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae approval, which allows it to sell mortgages directly to the government-backed lenders. The company rebranded as NFM Lending and added to the NFM Lending Family with divisions BluPrint Home Loans, Freedmont Mortgage Group, and Main Street Home Loans in the last few years. The organization has grown from 175 employees when she started to over 1,100 today and is licensed in over 40 states, further establishing NFM’s national footprint. To say that this role has exceeded her expectations would be an understatement.
Promoting Equity in the Home Loan Process
In her role, Rowe oversees NFM’s fair lending platform, promoting equity in the home loan process for women and minorities. Equal access to credit is her passion and the reason she joined NFM Lending. It has allowed her to partner with several organizations to close the technology divide and create affordable housing for low-to-moderate-income families.
Rowe is impressed by how many women are now employed in the mortgage industry but says it is still evolving, with more room for women and minorities in leadership. She appreciates her seat at the table and considers her role “to scoot over so that another woman or minority can have l space.” If there was one thing she could change, it would be the current credit scoring model used to approve consumers. In her opinion, expanding what factors into credit history would significantly increase the number of women and minorities eligible to buy a home.
A Solution that Wins
Rowe had to overcome many hurdles to reach where she is. As Chief Compliance Officer at NFM, she finds compliance very different than when she joined a decade ago. Soon after being promoted to General Counsel, she saw the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) take control of regulations. Guiding the business became dependent on reviewing multiple directives and enforcement actions. Staying engaged in trade organizations like the Mortgage Bankers Association helped tremendously to provide more certainty as the CFPB evolved.
Rowe notes that compliance is not always a welcome department in the industry as it is a very sales-driven business. Reframing the perception that it is the department of “no” or an obstacle to initiatives takes work. Building relationships internally has helped Rowe tremendously in gaining the trust of her counterparts throughout the organization. In most instances, she says there is a middle ground solution where everybody wins.
Weathered the Storms Together
When the wave of COVID-19 arrived, it required NFM Lending to fast-track technology protocols that, in normal circumstances, would have taken years. Like others in the financial services industry, NFM is dependent on many parties to close a home loan. At the height of the pandemic, appraisers had limited access to homes, title companies had ‘‘
to determine how to have closings while complying with safety protocols, and the workforce transitioned to a remote environment. Rowe says that her team would have crumbled without the foresight of the leadership team at NFM Lending. Fortunately, the leadership team is seasoned at the company and in the industry; they have been through storms together. This level of familiarity shines in tough times, and it beamed during COVID-19. LaTasha asserts, “The true heroes are our staff. In 2020 our sales tripled. Our corporate team did not. Without their grit and agility, we would not have gotten through.”
A Culture That Cares
Rowe believes that staying engaged is critical to preserving a great work culture. “If we are not vested in the success of each of our employees, we cannot survive,” she says. During the pandemic, NFM Lending continues gatherings for team social events, birthdays, and milestones virtually. President Jan Ozga and COO/CAO Bob Tyson host regularly scheduled happy hours with each department, and Founder/CEO David Silverman holds quarterly Town Hall meetings. In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Rowe, Mr. Ozga, Madison Grey (Director of Human Resources) and Greg Sher (Chief Business Development Officer/Creator of NFM TV), launched the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee (DEI) with a focus on greater inclusion in what the team calls the 3 “Cs”: the Company, the Community, and the Consumer.
NFM is a firm believer in employee recognition, with one of its most extensive programs being its Value Awards. Employees nominate other employees based on the company values of Service, Innovation, Teamwork, and Excellence. Winners are also recognized in a quarterly video and receive a plaque they proudly display on their desks. The company regularly sends out NFM-branded swag to employees, who submit pictures of themselves wearing the gear for display on its social media channels.
Rowe asserts, “It is essential to check in and listen to how the staff is feeling. While getting the work done is important, I am grateful NFM Lending has a culture that cares about the employee achieving personally and professionally.”
Infusing Technology into Internal Processes
When asked her opinion on the necessity for businesses to align their offerings with newer technological developments, Rowe states that providing an optimal consumer experience requires exploring where the company can implement technology in all stages of the loan transaction.
Buying or refinancing a home is the biggest purchase most will make in their lifetime. Creating the ability to apply, upload documentation, and review the application status from a laptop or mobile device creates the ability to reach more consumers and provide loan decisions more efficiently. By infusing technology into its internal processes, the staff of NFM Lending finds it easier to analyze the data instead of the time-consuming task of data entry.
Embodying the Agility Mindset
Rowe firmly believes that in everything, there is opportunity. She opines that homeownership opens the door to wealth creation, and NFM is just scratching the surface on what it can do to transform the idea of owning a home into a reality.
David Silverman formed NFM in 1998 along with his wife, Sandy, and it is one of the few mortgage companies still standing through the many challenges the industry has faced over the last two decades. Time and time again, the company has come out of uncertainty even stronger. After 9/11, it transitioned from broker to a correspondent lender.
After the housing crisis of 2008, the company changed its focus from refinancing to purchase. As it emerges from the pandemic, the organization has a greater emphasis on the importance of inclusion. Employees of NFM Lending embody the agility mindset. Because of this, Rowe believes the company will be a household name in the next five years.
A Note to Emerging Women
In her advice to upcoming women leaders, who aspire to enter the mortgage industry, she says, “Don’t limit yourself. No one wakes up and says, ‘I want to be in the mortgage industry!’ As a result, many in our field have varied backgrounds, and it is that mixture of skills and experiences that make our industry great. We are an industry of resilience. If you learn your niche, you will always have a place no matter how much the industry changes. Having an open mind and being a sponge will take you far. Secondly, find a mentor and a sponsor (man or woman) who can help you navigate and network.”