This month I have the pleasure of speaking with Andria Lightfoot. Andria is the chief customer officer (CCO) of SimpleNexus, an nCino company. As of April 10, she will be the president/chief operating officer of SocialCoach. She is based in Fairfax, Virginia.
Andria was in grad school studying to be a therapist despite having always had a strong facility for math and computer science. She took a job as a loan officer assistant (LOA) because her sister was in the mortgage business. She quickly realized she had a talent and a passion for the financial sector and that has become the path of her impressive career.
How did you get your start in the mortgage industry?
AL: I was working between semesters at grad school as an LOA for a prolific producer who also happened to be one of the owners of the firm. I realized early on that I really loved the mortgage business and learned the dual roles of LOA and processor.
I loved the experience of learning the mortgage process from start to finish and how a mortgage company works. I feel privileged to have been the first female [chief operating officer] of a 40-year-old mortgage company and the first-ever CCO for a financial technology startup company.
My technology “aha” moment was at a processor training seminar with the focus on hole-punching. It sounds strange, but there was a specific procedure to organizing a loan file and we were being taught how to stack the file in the correct order. I knew there had to be a better way to do this, and I knew with my background in .net programming I could be the change agent our company needed to introduce new technology solutions.
I began to encourage the use of technology rather than paper and physical files to make jobs easier, faster and more efficient. Through that experience, I found my calling to drive digital transformation in our industry.
What does being a trailblazer mean to you?
AL: First off, let me say that I am grateful to all the trailblazers who came before me in this industry. My focus is on creating an environment that is ready for both evolutionary and revolutionary change. There has always been some resistance to change in our industry, especially in large corporations, and I want to be the catalyst for new ideas and new ways of approaching things. Inspiring others to see obstacles as opportunities is key in cultivating investment to adopt in new technologies that will quite literally change the way we do business.
Where do you see yourself and women in general in the industry over the next five years?
AL: My hope is to see more women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] leadership in that time frame. We need to aim for more than just the C-suite or the boardroom. How we build technology solutions and drive growth is based on who controls the code. Ultimately, our companies are driven by the tech stacks we choose and therefore by the individuals who build the software that will move our industry forward and keep us at the forefront of the industry technologically.
My wish is to see more women in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing and championing technological solutions that will push our industry to be better and serve our clients more efficiently with each passing year.
What is your professional superpower?
AL: I have been called a “force to be reckoned with” since preschool. I was raised with a mother and grandmother who had real grit, so I think strong women run in my family.
In third grade I started a super fun and inclusive club for all the kids in the class. From that experience I learned what it was to be a force for good. My teacher that year was a huge supporter and helped me to understand that, even at that young age, I had leadership skills.
If I had to put my professional superpower into words, I would choose tenacity and fortitude driven by a real desire to help and facilitate positive change for all those in within my sphere of influence. Where others may see obstacles, I see opportunities. I push hard for change and growth and am true to the vision I have in front of me.
Tell us something about your career in the mortgage industry that was pivotal to your achievements today.
AL: Almost 15 years ago I met an amazing delivery manager for a software company who gave me the confidence I needed to lean into my passion for technology.
I was in dual roles in operations and information systems at that time, but I realized I needed to focus on technology because that was where I wanted to be and how I needed to contribute.
Transforming organizations with a combined focus on empathy and technology delivery has made all the difference for me in my career. I have turned my energy and efforts to aligning companies who are ready for change with the technological solutions that will benefit them and their clients in the best possible way.
As I began to narrow my focus, I also discarded the self-censoring I had been practicing regarding my advocacy for underrepresented populations. I reached a point where I could no longer justify being silent at the rampant misogyny and lack of female representation I was seeing. I started using my change management tools to drive larger organizational shifts in culture and DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] initiatives and have never looked back.
What advice would you give to a woman entering or trying to move up in their mortgage career?
AL: I have a motto that goes like this: “You get a seat at the table when you have something to bring to the table.”
Developing competency through education, certification and expertise through experience is the first step toward levelling up. The second part of the equation is learning to speak up and be confident in the value you are offering. When you have confidence in your ability to contribute, you can shift the critical conversations toward scaling up and success.
Our industry is constantly in a state of change. Learning to adapt, be nimble and move with the changes in technology and process is vital to a successful career in the mortgage business. Developing the mindset that you are the commodity you are selling and constantly learning, growing, and indicating that you are capable of absorbing new procedures and acting on them makes you valuable and will give you opportunities to advance.
What does success mean to you?
AL: This is a tough question for me to answer because I am of the firm belief that we should each view success through our own lens and not based on the opinions of others.
For me, personally, success is measured by the legacy you leave behind.
I want to leave this industry better, stronger, and more compassionate and competitive than when I joined it. I want the contributions I make toward advancing the use of technology to benefit employees and clients
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
AL: I love cooking with my husband, playing the piano and games with the family. We support our local church basketball league and school theater programs.
I volunteer with Girls Who Code working with girls to encourage them into technology fields. I love this organization as it works to close the gender gap in the computer field and change ideas about what a programmer should look like.
I also try to run the children’s reading group at my youngest son’s school when my schedule permits and I was the children’s choir director at the church for a while. I love working with children. I think I have a Mary Poppins gene!
How do you recommend navigating change in an industry that is always changing and growing?
AL: A growth mindset is the most critical part of adapting to change. Focusing on the problem is only one part of the puzzle. Sometimes the definition of the problem is the problem. Solutions come when we are willing to listen to alternatives and be creative and innovative in our approach to resolving an issue. Having a willingness to let our minds be agile and open is key to embracing change and breaking down resistance to moving forward.
Do you think having a mentor is important?
AL: I feel it is important to have both a mentor and a sponsor. The difference being that a mentor will provide an outside perspective and advise you about your larger career goals and growth.
A sponsor can help advocate for you in rooms you may not yet be invited into. A sponsor can advise you on leveling up in your organization and showing you what is possible.
“We’re in the business of tech. We’re in the business of turning obstacles into opportunities.”
What do you want to be remembered for in our industry?
AL: I am passionate about ending the use of paper products in our industry. I believe we can deliver an excellent customer experience that is intuitive and easy in a completely digital form.
I want to be remembered for bringing the mortgage industry into the forefront of the digital era by helping staff and clients alike to embrace the future of lending and making their job simpler and more efficient.
How do you find your voice?
AL: I think we all have our voice innately. Learning to use it is a matter of understanding when and where that voice is appropriate and where it is originating from.
I feel like women often try to censor themselves and soften their approach because they are afraid of being labelled unlikeable or shrill. It is so vital that we do not focus on being likeable, but on the message we are trying to convey.
Brene Brown, an American professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host, said, “I’m not here to be right. I’m here to get it right.” I love this statement. It encompasses my belief that being right isn’t nearly as important as making good decisions and getting it right.
The intent behind using your voice must be to make things better. Good leadership leaves the ego at the door and focuses on resolving problems rather than being the one to solve them.
I found my voice particularly by advocating for women and DEI. I learned that there is more value in the intent behind my words than the tone of my voice. And that I should not be concerned about someone taking issue with me when I have full confidence in the message I am sharing.
What is your biggest fear and why?
AL: My greatest fear is that my drive to perfect will result in me missing important moments in my life. I am proud of my drive and ambition but also keenly aware that it can take away from other parts of my life and leave regret in its wake.
Oprah Winfrey’s advice about failure is a good guidepost. She said it was simply feedback about where to go next. I don’t fear feedback, but I do fear regret.
I try to temper my drive with remembering to be present in my life when I am with friends and family. Those moments are precious and should be valued and not squandered.
What is your favorite book or podcast that you would recommend and why?
AL: I love Brene Brown’s “Dare to Lead.” Toxic cultures of shame are the biggest barrier to growth and courageous leadership. She also has a podcast titled “Unlocking Us” in which she shares specific concepts from her research on shame and empathy and asks leaders from across different industries to share their ideas and perspective on courageous leadership.
How do we propel more women into leadership roles within our industry?
AL: The drive for more inclusive and diverse workplace culture starts with the executive leadership.
Leaders need to be committed to a vision of setting goals, finding new recruitment channels, promoting leadership programs, mentoring opportunities, and keeping the organization moving forward.
Marian Wright Elderman of the Children’s Defense Fund famously said, “You can’t be what you can’t see!”
I work to show up and advocate for women in any leadership role I undertake. The key to getting women to aspire to leadership is to provide a healthy workplace environment, support them in their goals and be vocal about giving them the opportunities they have earned to level up to success.
Would you like to share anything else?
AL: I want to reiterate the importance of getting it right, not just being right. Getting it right means being a force for good wherever you are and being a decisive, pragmatic and present leader.
This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine March 2023 issue.