Laura Brandao | President & Partner | AFR Wholesale

Amidst the COVID 19 pandemic, the world is in great need of exceptional leaders who hold the potential to bring back businesses to their utmost stature. Although the market is filled with many such avid leaders, every individual has their own unique way.

Meet Laura Brandao, President of American Financial Resources, Inc. Since the company was established in 1997,  AFR has evolved to include both B2B (AFR Wholesale) and B2C (eLEND) residential mortgage divisions, and now serves thousands of mortgage brokers, bankers, lenders, homeowners, home buyers, realtors and contractors nationwide with their residential financing needs. The wholesale division was launched by Laura Brandao in 2007.

Insights Success admires such leaders and takes pride in featuring Laura in its special edition, “The 20 Most Influential Businesswomen to Follow in 2020.”

“Adaptability empowers opportunity. Your business has to modify to grow. If you stop evolving, you will die like a dinosaur”

A Glimpse into Laura’s Life

Her story starts when she was a young mom, looking for work. Laura was able to find a job doing telemarketing in the evenings. “My account was Champion Mortgage, and it turned out I had a knack for explaining the benefits of refinancing,” says Laura. She moved up quickly to management, training others, and by the time she was ready to work fulltime, she went to work for a mortgage company. She quickly recognized that the company did not have a strong operations team, so Laura learned everything she could about how to process loans. Moreover, she was COO of People’s Mortgage, while still in her 20s.

In 2007, Laura was offered a position to launch the wholesale division at AFR. She was given a phone, a computer and a desk and took on the challenge to build a mortgage business, while the housing market was crashing, as Director of Operations. She become an AFR partner in 2009, followed by ascending to Executive Vice President, then Chief Operations Officer, and now she serves the company as President. She is extremely proud that AFR has grown into a national leader in specialized programs during her tenure.

Amidst COVID-19

Laura states that, fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her business very little. As a company, AFR was able to shift to have the entire staff working remotely. The company had to transition a large number of employees very quickly, but its business has not been negatively impacted. In fact, in April, 2020 it closed twice as many loans in half the time, while everyone was working remotely and without hiring any new employees; and, it continued to enjoy a record-setting pipeline. “It’s a privilege to help bring families home,” says Laura.

Moreover, she states that the entire industry has had to shift to remote work. However, an extremely high volume of business has continued, thanks in part to historically low interest rates on mortgages. In the state of New Jersey, mortgage lending was deemed essential. So, the company immediately made coming into the office optional, and the majority of its team has been working at home since March, and has been extremely productive.

Like many other companies, there has been a vast increase in the number of Zoom meetings and video calls at AFR. It’s allowed all of the company to learn more about other members of its team, including cameo visits from kids and pets. “We recently hosted a birthday party on Zoom, to celebrate 13 years of AFR Wholesale with cake, company trivia and prizes. It was such a hit, we are now going to host a monthly social event to keep up the morale and continue to motivate the team,” Laura emphasizes.

Overcoming the Obstacles

The greatest challenge AFR, and the industry, faces currently is recruitment. Laura states that the average age of mortgage professionals is currently 54-59 years of age. As these professionals move closer to retirement, an enormous gap will be left when they leave the workforce. Compounding this problem is the lack of younger people interested in pursuing a career in the mortgage industry. The industry has seen growth of a new generation of brokers in recent years, but with a large number of operations staff reaching retirement age by 2030, who is going to process all the loans being generated?

Fortunately, some leaders in the industry are already working to address the need for operational education. The National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA), for example, is doing its part in trying to inject youth and diversity into an aging industry through its Mission 2025 campaign. Through Mission 2025, NAMMBA aims to connect 50,000 students to careers in the mortgage industry by the year 2025. In fact, NAMMBA recently launched a Student Challenge, because four million college students graduated in May and over two million of those do not have a job, given the current economic environment. As Chair of NAMMBA’s Visionary program, recruiting corporate partners for Mission 2025, Laura wants to let those college graduates know that there are entrylevel careers in servicing right now, and there is lots of room to grow.

Empowering Women

When asked about women empowerment, Laura states that, personally, she has never put limits on herself or allowed anyone else to do so. Her advice to budding businesswomen is that “You should never allow someone to intimidate you in business, or in your personal life. Women and men must be confident in themselves to succeed. I don’t see luck as a factor. You must create your own opportunities, by the choices you make, the positions you go after, and the relationships you invest in. How it plays out is up to you. Women can sometimes overanalyze – paralysis by analysis – but anyone can empower themselves to execute on opportunities.”

She certainly hasn’t done everything right, but there is absolutely nothing she would have done differently. “Everything that happens in your life provides a learning opportunity, whether it is a failure or a success,” she adds.

In addition, when advising young women who would like to become entrepreneurs, she would simply say, “Believe in yourself.” “Acknowledge that you are never done learning, and never let anyone change you. Be the best you; don’t waste time and energy trying to be someone else. Your authenticity is actually your super power. Use your strengths and be authentically you in your relationships, personal and professional. You should also make time to continually feed your brain. Seek out mentors so you can learn from others, but don’t copy them. Everything you learn from others, from your own experiences, and from observing the industry and the world around you informs your decisions and can empower your success.”

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