Mortgage Barbie, Not Just A Pretty Face

Beauty pageant contestant and MLO keeps on selling, even backstage

Steve Goode
Mortgage Barbie

Alexandra Rivera Berrios isn’t just a pretty face. Ok, she is a pretty face, pretty enough to compete in the Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2022 Pageant. But she’s also a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in accounting, a certified public accountant, and a working mortgage loan officer with about 100 loans closed in Puerto Rico since she became an MLO at the age of 21.

Pageants are her hobby. The mortgage industry is her passion. She’s nicknamed Mortgage Barbie for combining both.

Smile For The Camera

Rivera Berrios, 24, got her start in the business of being pretty as a toddler in Guayama, Puerto Rico, where she was born.

“I started modeling at the age of 3 as a distraction from my parents’ divorce. Ever since, I’ve done photoshoots and fashion shows for different campaigns,” she said, mentioning clothing stores like Kress Kids and Hecho a Mano. “At the age of 10, I did my first pageant, from which I got the opportunity to represent Puerto Rico internationally. [The pageant was called the Beauty International Festival. She won the international title for Puerto Rico.] After this, I’ve been on and off on modeling because I’ve been focusing on my studies and my work.”

Alexandra K. Rivera, Summa Cum Laude
Alexandra K. Rivera, Summa Cum Laude

Rivera Berrios, who works as an MLO for SunWest Mortgage in Puerto Rico, said she started thinking about adding some spice to her working life and lit on competing in a pageant again. She went to her supervisors and they supported the idea, saying they would provide her with the tools she needed to compete and keep up with her client list.

The main tool they had in mind was “Morgan,” SunWest’s artificial intelligence platform that enables its MLOs to convert pre-approved, property-specific loans to non-fungible tokens backed by real dollars guaranteed by the company.

Rivera Berrios said she texted Morgan from the pageant and never got behind, including soliciting fellow contestants and others associated with the pageant as clients to the point where one of her competitors dubbed her “Mortgage Barbie.” Dubbing someone a fill-in-the-blank “Barbie” is a common practice among the contestants who take physical or other characteristics to come up with a nickname.

Fellow competitor Araiana Paola created the moniker for Rivera Berrios because she was very “pro-work and it mattered to her personally.”

Paola said that as she and others learned about what Rivera Berrios did for a living they would go to her with questions about the steps to qualify for a mortgage.

“Something I took away was the importance of budgeting and the things you need to do to get approved,” said Paolo, who is planning to buy a home sometime in the next few years. “She was very helpful with mapping it out.”

Aside from Rivera Berrios’s mortgage advice, Paola said she was struck by several things about her fellow competitor, saying that she was a loving, caring independent woman who could do anything she wanted

“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Paola, who added that when she is ready to buy she has one person in mind to help her find a home.

“I’ll be calling Mortgage Barbie,” she said.

Here She Comes …

Alexandra Rivera Berrios

Rivera Berrios said the decision to compete in the pageant came with several motivational aspects.

“With my professional background as CPA/MLO and with my knowledge on beauty pageants, as I started in the modeling industry at a young age, I was motivated to compete at the Miss Universe contest because I knew that I would’ve been making history and giving an empowering statement to younger generations as the first MLO to be crowned as Miss Universe Puerto Rico,” she said.

There was also the aforementioned access to more possible clients, as well as more visibility among her coworkers.

And finally, there was the opportunity to compete to represent her adopted hometown of Arroyo, where she moved after her parents’ divorce.

“I have always said that Arroyo adopted me,” Rivera Berrios said. “I’m Arroyo’s daughter.”

Rivera Berrios won the title of Miss Arroyo Universe and got to the top 15 in Puerto Rico. She was eventually eliminated before the top 10 round, but did win “The Best Interview” award, which she said was a glimpse of how she does her job and interviews potential clients

Rivera Berrios also came away with some impressions from the pageant, including how some people viewed her for competing in it.

“Most people have indeed questioned my abilities, not only because of my looks, but also because of my age, but that has never stopped me from being,” she said “I have always been very confident and proven that being intelligent, pretty, and successful is definitely possible. I have gained my coworker’s respect and admiration.”

How She Got Here

As far back as she can remember Rivera Berrios has been in love with math and numbers, so it’s not surprising that she found her way into the mortgage business. But a SunWest scholarship program also had something to do with it. The program is the brainchild of Luis Raul Padilla, the company’s executive vice president and head of retail for the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of the devastation of category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017, Padilla said he realized that there were a lot of skilled college students and graduates who couldn’t find jobs on the island.

“We decided to create a scholarship program for students who had finished various business programs,” Padilla said. “We provided stability and work to a generation that was essentially stranded.”

Interested students needed to be bilingual, have the drive to succeed, and pass the interview process in order to be accepted into the program, which provides on-the-job training, the cost of the SAFE MLO national test and any other fees. Students who successfully completed the program, which cost SunWest about $7,000 per student, were hired in a variety of positions, from MLOs to engineers, some of whom helped create and launch Morgan. To date, SunWest has awarded 75 scholarships and has 23 recipients working for the company.

SunWest at MLOAN and MBA golf tournament
From left: Raul Padilla, VP of Sun West PR; Maraliz Alvarez, Loan Support Manager; Edwin Alicea, MLO; Jorge Muñoz, MLO;  and, Alexandra Rivera, MLO; and, Paul Nuñez, SW employee, at a MLOAN and MBA golf tournament last November.

“These young people would otherwise have left the island for the states because they didn’t have any prospects staying home,” said Padilla, who encourages other companies based on the island to develop their own scholarship programs. “We want to plant the seeds for the future of the island.”

Rivera Berrios said she started the program with no knowledge of the mortgage process and found success that she plans to build upon by getting her doctorate degree and having a positive impact on as many communities as possible with mortgages and education.

“I will forever be thankful to Luis Raul and Sun West Mortgage for giving me this life-changing opportunity,” she said.

Padilla said Rivera Berrios has earned everything she has achieved.

“She’s gone from being a college student to being a mortgage professional,” he said. “She’s doing an outstanding job and we have great hopes for her and the others.”

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine March 2023 issue.
Steve Goode headshot
Steve Goode
Published on
Mar 28, 2023
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