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Cocky And Calculating: Casa Revels In A Culture War
For Anthony Casa, chairman of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts, leadership means one thing: strike at anyone you oppose and strike as crudely and viciously as possible. After all, he explains in a Facebook video that went viral in mid-July but has since been made private, he’s from New Jersey, and that’s how people from New Jersey get things done.
Casa is responsible for helping to create AIME, a construct devised as a cheerleader for mortgage originators – but only originators who share his particular views of who should or shouldn’t be industry participants. He has been successful in making the group an active force in the mortgage world, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue to be a major force. But AIME isn’t a private company; it’s an organization purporting to serve as the face of the origination industry. And that’s the point in this story where leadership and lasciviousness should diverge, but they don’t.
Casa, who is currently on a leave of absence from AIME, is being sued for defamation by Theresa Niemec, the wife of Quicken Loans’ Mortgage Services Executive Vice President Austin Niemec. Casa’s actions are the kind that, in any other professional organization or company, would have led to immediate dismissal. But he has built a cult of personality around himself, such that his Facebook account is filled with well wishes from brokers who see no foul when their association CEO asserts, on video, that a woman he doesn’t even know has engaged in sexual relations with the owner of Quicken’s chief rival, United Wholesale Mortgage.
Nor is there any uproar when, as Casa is threatened with legal action, he doubles down on the crude behavior, sending suggestive texts and pornographic messages making further untrue claims about sexual activity. It’s only when Casa learns that his actions, and the lawsuit, are being disclosed by the media that he posts the now-hidden video, claiming he acted rashly and only in a fit of passion for the brokerage community.
Fostering ‘Bro’ Culture
This isn’t a tale of one man making one mistake. This is a tale of one person leading thousands of originators in his quest to win at all costs, and setting an insidious tone that’s being applauded and followed by that community. It’s a tale of “bro” culture masquerading as professionalism. But there’s nothing professional about a man who has been known to take the stage at a national mortgage conference and yell out vulgarities to incite the crowd. And in a community that sees its mission as helping families finance their dream of homeownership, the approval of a “leader” slandering a woman to win a point undermines support for all women in the industry.
“It is the epitome of old boy’s club bully tactics in the boardroom and toxic masculinity in a leadership role,” said Laura Martin, COO of Matrix Mortgage Global. “It is categorically misogynistic.”
Martin added that Casa “is weaponizing the objectification of women against his competitor. It’s so disgusting on so many levels. It was not an attack on [Niemiec’s] character. It shows [Casa] is a misogynist and has disdain for women.”
One of the fundamental things any professional association must do is make its members feel they are all part of a unified group. But while Casa’s insulting actions might have fired up some of his base who don’t mind base behavior, it also served to reinforce that the mortgage industry treats women poorly, even while AIME alleges that it’s a proponent of making the profession more accepting of women.
In July, National Mortgage Professional conducted a survey distributed to more than 100,000 industry participants. The results show a stark contrast between men, who don’t see discrimination or an unlevel playing field for women, and women in the industry, who say they’ve seen so much of it that it’s become just one more thing they have to deal with every day. Where nearly 80% of women say they think sexist behavior is a problem in the mortgage industry, only 33% of men do.
Said one female respondent: “There is a total bro culture where your sex is more valuable than experience or education.”
More than 75% of the men who responded were in managerial or executive/ownership positions. Only 15% of male respondents said gender had played a role in their missing out on a raise, promotion, key assignment, or chance to get ahead. Less than 40% of men said they’d ever heard insulting remarks about gender in the workplace. And only about 10% said they ever felt excluded because of their gender or felt like they were employed for the way they look rather than their skills, knowledge or abilities.
Women, on the other hand, see a much less egalitarian landscape. More than 70% said gender had played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion, key assignment, or chance to get ahead. Over 81% of women said they’d experienced sexist or crude remarks or insults in the workplace. More than 70% felt excluded because of their gender, roughly the same number who said they’d been subjected to comments about their looks, shape or body weight. And nearly 50% had, at some time, been told they were employed for the way they look rather than their skills, knowledge or abilities.
Lack Of Leadership
It is up to the senior executives of the industry associations to not only promote equality in theory, but to do so in practice. That doesn’t happen without a foundational belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
Casa’s actions, including his continued attacks after his first indecent video, fell far short of that. Marcia Davies, COO of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, felt compelled to issue a message to members of the organization’s MPower women’s group.
“A purported ‘leader’ in the industry did and said some truly despicable and misogynistic things about the wife of one of our colleagues,” she wrote. But Davies was forced to point out that “while he has been rightfully castigated by some and ultimately forced to step away from his position, I have been saddened by the willingness of too many in our industry to excuse the behavior and instead try to sweep his actions under the rug.”
“Our industry needs to be better than this,” Davies said. “We cannot wax poetically about the nobility of our industry’s mission and then turn a blind eye when someone in a position of power and leadership demonstrates such a vile and disgusting behavior.”
Casa’s plea to AIME members was that he was simply passionate in his zeal, and he should be forgiven for a momentary mistake. But he didn’t send just one defamatory video. He sent at least two, then deliberately distributed them to brokers throughout the country, then sent additional text messages over several days compounding the insults. He had no qualms about his handiwork until he realized that his behavior was going to be publicized.
In a public post on LinkedIn, David Stevens — a former FHA chair, the MBA’s former CEO and now CEO at Mountain Lake Consulting Inc. — was blunt. “All the excuses about being passionate is offensive to all who actually are passionate but also responsible. Had someone posted a video like that about any of our spouses, significant others … had it been a school bully against any one of our children with the chiming in of other classmates … it would have infuriated us and drawn our outrage.”
Stevens’ denunciation was echoed by industry guru Rob Chrisman, who in his popular Chrisman Report daily email, issued a rare rebuke: “There is no place in mortgage banking for childish and/or vulgar bullying among competitors, and it certainly does not help our industry.”
Stevens says he “had personally advised (Casa) to control his behavior about a year ago, advising him that you do not win in business by tearing apart the competition. Clearly that did not take hold. I agree with the comment made by a fellow trade association, ‘brokers are better than this’.”
The question now becomes, how can the origination community be better than this? In the NMP survey, women were direct: “Hold people accountable for their words and actions. Don’t downplay it by saying, that’s just the mortgage business,” said one. Another was direct in her chagrin that the situation wasn’t being seen correctly. “The Anthony Casa situation and the response of brokers in support of him shows that there is a major problem. I am so embarrassed that folks in our industry are supporting this man and giving him a pass,” she wrote. Even male respondents seem to understand the basic change that needs to happen: “Any association with Anthony Casa and AIME is support for this disgusting behavior,” said one.
It’s important to note that there is the organization, AIME, and then there is its chairman, Casa. In announcing Casa’s leave, AIME pointed out in a statement that “the continued work of AIME on the behalf of the broker community will not lapse ... AIME is focused on serving our 40,000 members, the growth of the channel and opening the dialogue to have candid conversations about how we can be better together.” But will it be better together if its pugnacious principal returns, especially if he shows only superficial signs of reform, if any?
Casa, by his own admission, is a fighter. Even as some sponsors of AIME pulled back their support for the organization as long as he was at its helm, he issued no further remorse or evidence that he realized how his actions reflected dismally on the industry. And AIME as an organization has also failed to take true responsibility. Casa has neither been removed as its chair nor formally relinquished the role. One critical factor: AIME is not a true association. It has no board of directors and no election of officers. There is no one to police Anthony Casa’s action except Casa himself. Many of the organization’s sponsors decried his action, but only one – Flagstar Bank – said it would withdraw its sponsorship as long as he remained connected to the group.
Instead, Casa has taken a “leave of absence” of unknown duration. Shrewdly, this leaves the door open for him to return to the group’s helm after letting the situation cool down. But it does nothing to show that anything has actually changed.
In fact, in early August, Casa apparently decided it was time to show that he was ready to begin the trip back to the forefront of the association. Was it with humility, a message that in the two weeks he had been on leave he had reflected on his approach and resolved to be a better man? Was it with a compelling assertion of values, a promise to uphold the notion that “Brokers Are Better” not just as a consumer choice, but as a statement of ethical standards?
No. It was by updating his Facebook profile pic with him on a stage, with the screen behind him urging the audience to “Fuck These Guys. Attack, Attack, Attack.”
His Facebook followers congratulated him.