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Kelly Powers is national retail operations manager and director of government relations at AmeriFirst Financial Inc. in Mesa, Ariz., and current president of Arizona Mortgage Lenders Association (AMLA). National Mortgage Professional Magazine recently spoke with her regarding her work with her state’s mortgage trade group.
Why is it important for you to be involved with your state’s mortgage trade group?
I was aware of AMLA’s existence for years. As the president of a company, I once was employed by one of the past presidents of the association. I joined in 2008, the year after the crash because I was not happy sitting on the sidelines and watching the industry I love disintegrate. I wanted mortgage professionals to have a voice regarding legislation impacting the industry. Lawmakers were well-intentioned, but what sounds good in theory can be very problematic in practice. I wanted to be on Capitol Hill, talking to and helping to educate lawmakers and their staffers on the possibility of negative consequences to the consumer due to the many new regulations being discussed.
Why is it important for Arizona’s mortgage professionals to become a part of AMLA?
Unfortunately, it is human nature to believe that somebody else will take care of problems. But it doesn’t work that way. My belief is that for all of us, this is our livelihood. This career allows us to provide for our families. How can you not be interested in changes that impact your personal and professional life?
Luckily, Arizona is blessed to have a fairly large contingent of industry members who believe as I do. Our Arizona delegation numbers approximately 15 people when we descend annually on Capitol Hill as part of the Mortgage Bankers Association Advocacy Conference. This is a great number considering our population. We could always use more, however!
AMLA is the state affiliate of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), a prominent force in D.C. How often do you confer with the MBA national president and CEO regarding lobbying?
I do not have a large need to speak directly to MBA President and CEO David Stevens, although I do so a couple of times a year at MBA conferences. However, members of the Arizona industry speak with Mr. Stevens regularly throughout the year regarding many different issues. We are lucky to have an Arizona MBA member as the current MORPAC chair, and she is in contact with him as needed. Arizona also claims a past State MBA Committee Chair and a current MBA State Ambassador. All of these individuals are dialed in with MBA’s national leadership. I work primarily with MBA’s five lobbyists.
You are mentioning Capitol Hill, but what about AMLA’s role in the state’s legislative and regulatory environment?
AMLA does retain a state lobbyist, and I am proud to say that I did take an active interest in this and was proactive in making this happen. When I joined the AMLA board of directors, we did not have a budget robust enough to pay for a lobbyist. However, advocacy is my passion, and under my presidency, we implemented the President’s Club that offered extra perks and recognition to participating AMLA member entities, including functions such as meet-and-greets, luncheons, happy hours, etc. We earmarked the monies collected from membership in The President’s Club to fund our lobbyist.
Clearly, that is a wonderful accomplishment. What other significant AMLA accomplishments are you proud of achieving?
Under my presidency, we were able to pass the UST, the Uniform State Test. This allowed Arizona to be in step with much of the rest of country regarding the requirement necessary to satisfy the testing component of the licensing process. This was near and dear to my heart, and I worked very hard in conjunction with the MBA and our lobbyist to make this happen.
In your professional opinion, is the mortgage industry doing enough to bring young people into mortgage careers?
I would like to see a greater effort. The last time I saw industry statistics, the average age for loan originators was 54. One challenge is that the barrier to entry is much higher than it used to be. Today, it is not nearly as easy to become a mortgage professional, and that all in all is a good thing. However, we have less people entering because it is more difficult with the new testing, educational and licensing requirements.
There is concern industry-wide. My employer, AmeriFirst Financial, has plans to move our corporate office closer to the Arizona State University campus. We will be implementing an internship program that will enable us to bring young people into the industry. With this program, interns can test out different job roles and see what area of the business works for them—sales, operations, marketing, IT, etc.
In my experience, I have found that no one grows up and says, “I want to be a loan officer!” The mortgage industry typically happens to you—it is unusual when an individual seeks it on their own accord.
What is the state of the housing market in Arizona?
It is much better than before. We were hit hard with the crash, but it is coming back and I am excited about the future. I was one of those homeowners who was impacted pretty severely … my house lost 50 percent of its value. Fortunately, housing has rebounded nicely, although we have a bit of a supply problem at times. On the whole, we’re doing well.
Phil Hall is managing editor of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].