They say that once you have had exposure to the mortgage industry, it has a way of getting into your blood and staying there. We can certainly surmise that from our Millennial on the Rise this month, Hollis Daniels. Hollis was bitten by the mortgage bug as an undergraduate student while making her way through college. Despite graduating with other career options in mind, and during the Great Recession, she still found herself wandering back to our industry. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did!
My first day on the job at the leading mortgage industry’s advocacy group, my boss asked me to print the discussion draft of something called the Dodd-Frank Act and just “read over it,” you know, “get familiar with it.” I remember he said, “Everyone is going to be talking about it, and it’d be good for you to get a head start.” I had no idea, at the time, that I would eventually build my career around this piece of legislation. I was stunned when I printed out a stack of paper thicker than even the most daunting college textbook, and overwhelmed when tasked with cataloguing its hundreds of rulemakings and studies. Two months later, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was officially signed into law, triggering the largest reform of financial regulation this country has ever seen.
Like this experience, my career in the mortgage industry has seemed to revolve around being in the right place at the right time. I graduated high school in June 2008 just as the financial crisis was gaining momentum. While many of my peers would say this was anything but the ‘right time’ to be entering the workforce, I was fascinated and perplexed by what I saw. Why couldn’t families afford their homes all of the sudden, what did ‘too big to fail’ mean, and who were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?
My first introduction to the industry came when I worked for a mortgage lender during my undergraduate studies. The lender needed extra help to manage an overflow of processing work as consumers rushed to refinance with unimaginably low interest rates. This first job provided a unique bottom-up perspective to better understand the incredibly detail-oriented mortgage process. I had a crash course in mortgage lending, working in nearly every step of the loan cycle, from application to post-closing. Then, when it came time to get a job in my field of study, public policy management, housing policy seemed like the next and most natural step.
While at the Mortgage Bankers Association, I got to meet the faces and personalities behind – as cheesy as it sounds to a millennial – the American Dream. I found time and time again that the professionals in this industry have a deeply-held belief in the value of homeownership. I came to appreciate the enormous role housing plays in the larger economy, wealth creation, social mobility, and general well-being. During this time, the mortgage industry was really at a point of reflection, turning away from what is often described as the “Wild West” of mortgage lending to its present-day form. Interestingly, however, the industry wasn’t just facing regulatory overhaul, it was facing social overhaul. Millennials, like myself, were entering the housing market with an entirely different set of expectations and a somewhat tainted picture of homeownership.
With an insatiable appetite to learn more about the financial crisis and the interworking of the global economy, I started my Master’s work in international economic policy and decided, like so many millennials, to stay in school and put my time in the workplace on hold. But, I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to remain active in the unfolding narrative of modern housing finance. I wanted a seat at the table that so desperately needs the perspective of younger generations. So, I began to take on clients of my own, and one-by-one, built a small industry and policy communications firm, Beltway Insight.
I realized that the mortgage industry, although having overcome so many obstacles already, lacks the tools to navigate the new regulatory and societal landscape. Unlike other industries, such as healthcare, that had already endured regulatory reform and consumer litigation, the mortgage industry was more loosely regulated prior to the financial crisis. The challenge facing the industry now is how to comply with new rules, work with new regulators, and communicate new requirements to consumers. Arguably, we have to go even further to repair the image of homeownership and make a highly-regulated product as consumer-friendly as possible. Today’s consumers have come to expect on-demand accessibility and mobility, and are looking for something that bears little resemblance to your parents’ mortgage. These demographic and behavioral changes present a challenge for the traditional mortgage process, but also offer new opportunities for millennials with a fresh take on housing finance.
As my friends begin to get their first mortgages, and my husband and I embark on the same path, my experiences have come full circle. When I recently received a Loan Estimate form, a product of the Dodd-Frank Act’s TILA-RESPA reforms, I remembered the countless iterations of sample forms that began as soon as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors. I remembered the article I worked on for the American Bankers Association’s Bank Compliance Magazine four years ago, when we thought the forms were finished, before deadline extensions, amendments, and webinars galore. The point is that almost everybody will go through the process of getting a mortgage at some point in his or her life. And while that process is undoubtedly stressful, it’s also exciting and undeniably impactful, and the mortgage industry has the unique opportunity to serve every one of those consumers for generations to come.
Trained in public policy, Hollis Daniels has spent eight years in the financial services industry and is now Partner at Beltway Insight, LLC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org