Why Do Immigrants Gravitate To The Mortgage Industry?

There’s an appeal to being rewarded for a strong work ethic

Sarah Wolak Headshot
Sarah Wolak
Why Do Immigrants Gravitate to the Mortgage Industry

Inspired By Personal Challenges

Shashank Shekhar is one of these industry superstars who has found not only success but confidence as well. Shekhar immigrated to the United States from New Delhi, India, in the early 2000s, just before the 2008 financial crisis. His father worked in financial services and encouraged Shekhar to pursue a business degree in India. Shekhar worked handling loans for what was formerly known as GE Consumer Finance. In early 2007, Shekhar was transferred from a small startup to Mountain View, Calif., as director of product management. The company soon shut down just as the housing market came to a crash.

Similar to Shekhar, Thuan Nguyen got his first taste of the industry during the tumultuous early 2000s. Nguyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam at the age of 19 unable to speak English and no plans of being a part of the mortgage industry. After buying his first home in 2004, Nguyen said that the experience of buying a home and the smooth transaction interested him in the market.

He recalled that his broker earned a hefty commission, which enticed him as well. “It got me curious about what is this kind of job,” he said. “I realized the potential of this career and saw that I could help people I know buy homes, too.”

Nguyen started as a data analyst at Morgan Stanley, but quit due to what he describes as a difficult and strict work environment. Following that, he became a mortgage broker in 2006.

 “I studied online and did it all myself,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t ask anyone for help. It’s crazy that I didn’t have guidance from anyone. I didn’t have any experience or clients. When I became a broker, it was a bad time [in the market]. I was discouraged from even joining the industry because of the competition. I believed that I could be successful, though.”

– Shashank Shekhar, founder and CEO, InstaMortgage

Nguyen said that at the start, he didn’t know any mortgage terminology. He operated as a solo broker for a few years, founding Himark Loans — now known as Loan Factory — in 2006.

Like Nguyen, Andres Munar had no plans of pursuing a mortgage-related career. After immigrating to Miami, Fla., from Bogota, Colombia, at the age of 4, Munar says that he grew up living in a single-wide trailer for most of his childhood. When he was 12, his parents bought their first home.

 “I never forgot that feeling of ‘oh wow, I have a home’ as an immigrant,” he said.

“In middle school, I grew up around middle-class to upper-class people and so I’d always be embarrassed to have my friends come over because we lived in a trailer. I finally felt that feeling of ‘we made it.’”

Munar says that his parents ended up losing the house when he turned 16. Being the only English speaker in his household, Munar said that he was the main contact with his family’s real estate agent. That relationship gave Munar a glimpse of what it would be like to pursue work in real estate.

But instead of gravitating to the housing industry, Munar became a server at a local restaurant and described becoming “obsessed” with the hustle and bustle of his job. Following high school graduation, Munar attended the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. It wasn’t until postgraduate life that Munar was intrigued enough to pursue a job in the mortgage industry.

Shekhar, Nguyen, Munar
Shashank Shekhar, founder and CEO, InstaMortgage; Thuan Nguyen, founder, Loan Factory; and Andres Munar, co-founder, Co/Lab Lending.

“I moved to the Penn State area [in 2006] to be closer to my then partner, who was a real estate agent,” Munar said. “His friend who was a broker hired me to be his assistant.”

Munar says that the same hustle and bustle he experienced while managing restaurants was prevalent in the brokerage office. He was able to work the traditional 9-to-5 shift while still keeping up with the same hustle culture to which he had become accustomed.

A Series Of One-Man Bands

As Shekhar, Nguyen and Munar navigated being immigrants in a white-dominated industry, they each turned to solo operations to get on their feet.

Following his layoff, Shekhar started Arcus Lending in 2008, operating as a one-man band. That first year, he barely closed seven loans. He only knew three people in all of the United States and his closest relative lived in Canada. At first, Shekhar says that he looked forward to returning to India after working for some time in the U.S.

“Now, we have no plans to go back,” he said.

– Thuan Nguyen, founder, Loan Factory

Finding it hard to attract clients, Shekhar says he used his “sphere of influence” to write loans, especially during the 2008 crash.

“I struggled for the first 12-18 months because I couldn’t find clients,” he said. “I realized that I needed a new business model to survive. I started looking into where consumer trends were finding information.”

Nguyen draws parallels to Shekhar’s story, as he started off being a solo broker and sole owner of Himark.

 “It was tough at the beginning and finding staff,” Nguyen said. “I went from a one-man band to licensed in 43 states. I run a [much] bigger operation now, but it wasn’t until after seven or eight years that I was able to expand.”

Just like Shekhar and Nguyen, Munar decided to bridge the gap between being a broker’s assistant and an actual broker and go off on his own in 2007. In 2014, he opened Munar Mortgage and subsequently, merged businesses with Megan Marsh, another broker, in 2015, renaming it Keystone Alliance Mortgage. In 2021, the dynamic duo rebranded to Co/LAB Lending. Today, Co/Lab has closed over $500 million in loans and services in multiple states and Puerto Rico.

– Andres Munar, co-founder, Co/Lab Lending

Success Stories

Shekhar credits his success in the industry to his writing. After having trouble finding business, Shekhar turned to blogging to get his voice heard. He’s become a trailblazer for mortgage blogging, writing an average of one blog post per week for the last 11 years.

“I decided that I wanted to build a business where people come to me versus me chasing them,” Shekhar said. “I wanted to build a brand around education to get leads, so I started blogging. I was probably one of six in the industry who were blogging at that time.”

Nguyen, on the other hand, almost gave up on the industry altogether. After becoming discouraged due to low customer volume, Nguyen decided to put brokering on the back burner and work as a software engineer. However, as rates shifted downwards, Nguyen’s broker business caught speed.

In 2021, Nguyen was ranked the top loan originator in the United States. In 2021, he closed over $2.6 billion in mortgage originations with over 6,600 loans, according to The Warren Group. That’s not to say that Nguyen had all the answers. (Like most of the industry, his 2022 numbers are lower and he is no longer the top originator.)

 “I overcame a lot of problems,” he said. “It was so difficult to find good staff, especially in Silicon Valley. I have to compete with multi-billion- dollar companies. But I always try to solve the problem and to solve it permanently, it’s my reputation.”

Varied previous careers
Many immigrants in the industry have taken turns at varied careers from across the spectrum, before finally finding success in mortgages. Shashank Shekhar uses blogging to get his voice heard, Thuan Nguyen started as a data analyst at Morgan Stanley, Andres Munar was a server at a local restaurant.

What’s The Edge?

Shekhar said that even though pursuing his own business and building clientele was a challenge, he found that his status as an immigrant helped him connect with people.

“I have always felt like being an immigrant is an opportunity and an advantage in the sense that the country is full of immigrants, probably 20% of people,” he said. “I even started working with a lot of immigrants who were on work visas because I understood their situations.”

Shekhar noted that when he first moved to the United States, there weren’t many immigrants or minorities at mortgage conferences.

 “I was probably the only Indian in the room,” he said. “When I began speaking at events, I got so nervous that I recorded myself 27 times to practice. I was so unsure of myself and noticed that I had a different voice and sense of humor.”

Now, Shekhar says that he’s more sure of himself now that he sees other immigrants and minorities attending the same events as him. And through representation, Shekhar says that he’s been able to gain confidence and move past insecurities.

 “Now I run a podcast for other entrepreneurs,” he said. “I just keep building on the platforms, but most are centered around creating content and providing value.”

Nguyen says that having the same background, speaking the same language and even being from the same country as his clients gives him an edge.

“Naturally, customers will seek out someone similar to them,” he said. “My strength is that most of my clients, about 80%, are Vietnamese, like me.”

Nguyen says that being an immigrant has impacted his career for the better.

“You have a community and potential clients that you can rely on,” he said. “It gives you a huge motivation to be successful in America.”

Nguyen said that his status as an immigrant didn’t pose any barriers to being influential in the industry.

“We have to work hard [and] build a network of friends and seek out opportunities in your own community. [There’s the] opportunity to be independent and [a business] owner. You can develop your skills, knowledge, and earning potential while having a great freedom of being your own boss,” he said.

Sarah Wolak Headshot
Sarah Wolak,
Staff Writer
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine February 2023 issue.
Published on
Jan 30, 2023
More from NMP Magazine
Live Or Die On Day One

The first day is the most important day to reduce turnover

Dave Hershman
Marketers: Bot In To AI

Embrace the opportunities that artificial intelligence creates for content creation

Erica LaCentra
Where Are We Going? ‘Follow The Money’

Or at the very least, follow the moving trucks to see where the money is going

Lew Sichelman


Top 3 Strategies to Make 2023 a Wildly Successful Year

  In this arena, time means money. Spending hours and hours on a 20-page business plan may not be the best us...

Jan 19, 2023
Investor Confidence in Today’s Non-QM And Why Originators Are Paying Attention... A Virtual Town Hall

We host Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions for a special 2021 edition of their virtual town hall series they ran fro...

Apr 08, 2021
How to Help Real Estate Pros in a Post-Refi World

Hear from Melissa Merriman, REALTOR® with The Melissa Merriman Team at Keller Williams, on what real estate pr...

Mar 18, 2021
MBA: Proposed Rule Would Stifle Securitizations

In letter to SEC, MBA says proposed rule on conflicts of interest is overly broad.

Mortgage Applications Rise For 4th Straight Week

The MBA's Market Composite Index increased 2.9% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Fidelity National Financial To Pay N.Y. $3.5M, End ‘No-Poach’ Deals

N.Y. attorney general says such deals illegally stifle competition and reduce wages.