(Photo by Don Kadair)
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
What is your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
My most satisfying professional accomplishment is creating an environment that has enabled many others to have success (which has resulted in my success). I have seen many of our team members over the years get married, have kids and provide a nice life for their families. All of this resulting from a business that I started is extremely rewarding.
How do you define “success”?
In my opinion, success is defined by personal happiness. It’s not about a title, income, social or business status. It’s about being a positive influence in other people’s lives and laying your head on the pillow at night knowing you did your best that day. I read a quote relating to success a couple of years ago and I have shared it many times: “There will be sacrifices. Work to find a balance, so that you don’t become a financially successful loser. It’s not about the income, it’s about the outcome.”
What is a great piece of advice you personally received?
My father told me early in my career to never ask or expect something of someone that you would not ask or expect of yourself.
When did you earn a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship management from Louisiana Tech?
Were you among the earliest grads of this program?
No, the program had been established for many years.
What were your career aspirations during your student days?
It was always my goal to be an entrepreneur. When my wife and I were in college, I used to drive her crazy discussing different business ideas. I guess I always wanted the flexibility to determine my own success based off the effort I was willing to put forth and the results that followed.
At Wells Fargo you cultivated expertise in mortgage banking. How/why did you choose that field after graduating?
Wells Fargo was a great opportunity for me out of college. I entered a management training program, and they did a great job of teaching me how to lend. It was everything from small loans to mortgage banking. If you made bad loans, you were the person collecting, and that was a real eye opener for me at 21 years old. The most important lesson I learned there was how to recruit and develop talent.
When and how did the idea of founding Assurance Financial occur to you?
The downside of my career with Wells Fargo was moving frequently for better opportunities. My wife and I were 22 when we married, and we had to move five times during our first five years of marriage. She was a real team player, but I had moved a few times during my childhood and knew I wanted to establish roots in one place. In 2001, I realized that it was time to use my previous seven years of experience with Wells Fargo and go out on my own.
Please describe the preparation and timing of your launch of that business, specializing in residential mortgages.
The preparation took some time because there are so many moving parts to becoming a lender. It took several months to lay the foundation for opening, and I was not in a position to start a business and go a long period of time without generating income. Fortunately, we were successful and turned a profit in our third month, which really took a lot of pressure off and allowed us to expand before our first anniversary.
Why did you move Assurance from Hammond to Baton Rouge?
When the business was opened in 2001, my original partner lived in Mandeville, so we just picked a middle point to open the first office. With our initial success, we were able to open in Baton Rouge, Mandeville and Lafayette within six months of starting the business.
From your purview, how has the Baton Rouge residential real estate market changed in the years since you arrived here?
Since opening our first Baton Rouge office in January 2002, the market here has been very consistent. Other than the excessive demand for real estate after Hurricane Katrina and the lack of demand coming out of the recession, we have had a very stable market.
The Assurance Financial website suggests your business has grown from just two employees to about 100, and now has offices in a dozen Southern markets. What was your strategy in expanding the business?
With so many changes in the real estate finance market over the past six years (particularly dealing with regulation), we really have not focused on growth or adding offices. The markets we did enter were due to relationships that were established and/or opportunities that presented themselves. The focus was building our infrastructure to be able to support our loan officers and give them the best tools in the industry. Now that we have the infrastructure in place, we have turned our focus to growth and entering markets that we covet.
Is your company centralized in Baton Rouge? If so, how?
We actually have two retail production offices in Baton Rouge, and in these offices we house approximately 25 mortgage loan officers. We also have our operations center in Baton Rouge, which serves as our corporate headquarters. This operations center works with all of our production offices and gives support such as processing, underwriting, closing, human resources, accounting, etc.
Is centralization common among home mortgage companies?
Since the mortgage crisis in 2007, most large lenders centralize their operations department for compliance and efficiency reasons.
What are your principal responsibilities now as managing partner?
My primary responsibility on a day-to-day basis is to serve in a sales management capacity. I enjoy working closely with our sales team and doing everything possible to create an excellent client experience. In a big-picture capacity, I serve on our Executive Committee, which sets the direction and goals of the company. Once the plan is in place, I rely on our management team to execute and reach our company objectives.
Is there a committee of partners who lead the company with you?
There are two other members, Chris Payton and Steve Ward, on our Executive Committee. Our COO (Steve Ward) has been instrumental in the success of Assurance Financial, as well as the other principal of the company (Chris Payton).
Are you at all involved in loan processing these days?
I am still licensed to originate loans but I have not done so for many years.
How do you keep abreast of the movements and trends in the industry from week to week, day to day?
I read everything I can about our industry. If there is a change in policy or new regulations, I want our team to be the first to know. There is so much economic data and periodicals available in today’s real estate finance environment that it’s easy to stay current (if it’s important to you to do so).
What or who are your most trusted primary resources?
We have a fantastic trade association in the Mortgage Bankers Association. They do a good job of advocating on behalf of both consumers and lenders to strengthen the housing market, which in turn is a great help to our overall economy.
What was the state of the residential mortgage industry when you founded Assurance, as compared to now?
The major difference in the residential mortgage industry when I founded our company compared to today was the regulatory environment and the lack of professionalism in our industry. The negative part about the regulatory burdens placed on lenders today is that it’s very expensive to meet compliance requirements. Unfortunately, it’s become more expensive for consumers to obtain a home loan. The good that came from the housing crisis is that there were legitimate licensing requirements enacted for Mortgage Loan Officers. For the most part, you really have to know what you are doing to obtain a license to originate loans and that is a benefit to those that we serve.
Did Assurance undergo any changes as a result of the housing crisis of 2008?
The major change was our conversion from a Mortgage Broker to a Mortgage Banker. This transition took several years, but it enabled us to compete on a level with anyone in the industry.
What safeguards does Assurance take, if any, to ensure that its residential mortgages are sound and fair?
We go to great lengths to make sure that we are not putting a borrower in a situation that would set them up for failure. This is one of the areas that I am most proud of in regards to the character of our team members. The indirect effect to the community is that by lending responsibly, we do our part to keep delinquency and foreclosures to a minimum, which strengthens our housing market.
What pleases you now, or gives you cause for optimism, in the residential mortgage market?
I am pleased that even though there has been a heavy regulatory burden placed on mortgage lenders, we have self-policed as an industry and made great strides to benefit the consumers we serve. The optimism I have relates to a strengthening economy. At some point over the next 18 months, interest rates are going to start rising. However, the thought process is that as the economy improves, there will be more housing demand, and those lenders who worked through some difficult times will be rewarded.
What gives you pause?
The overreach of the government and the burdensome regulatory environment gives me pause. It has run many smaller mortgage lenders out of business, which has reduced competition. That is not good for the consumer.
In the last year, has Assurance been marketing more aggressively in the Baton Rouge market? In other markets?
About three years ago we decided to hire an advertising agency. We were spending a fair amount of money on advertising, but we didn’t have a specific plan and we were all over the place. We knew at that time that we wanted to position ourselves as the leader in the purchase money market, and advertising/branding was a great way to accomplish our goal.
We try to use the same formula in regards to branding in our other markets. In general, we are in most key markets in Louisiana and try to capitalize on the relationships that we have established over the past 13 years.
What is the core message of these recent marketing campaigns?
The core message is that we simplify the mortgage process using local underwriters and local appraisers, and give unmatched personal service that creates a great experience for our clients.
Is marketing a recent development among mortgage companies?
No, there are many quality mortgage outlets here that have been established for a long time. Most of them get their message out there in some form of advertising.
You served as president of the Louisiana Mortgage Lenders Association in 2011. What was it like to lead LMLA in that pivotal year in the industry?
It was rewarding because we were coming through a difficult time in our industry. Louisiana went from having over 8,000 licensed Mortgage Loan Originators to just over 2,000 in a matter of a few years. Our association was struggling from a membership standpoint, and I hope I played a small role in helping it stay afloat.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that it’s critical to have a viable trade association both on the state and national level. When you are trying to get things done in regards to legislation, your voice is only as loud as the number of members you have in the organization.
What was your purpose in founding the Louisiana Mortgage Lenders Foundation?
I was one of the founding members of this organization but there were several local mortgage industry leaders involved in making it a reality. The organization has received grant funding, which it uses to provide financial literacy to the public in regards to purchasing a home, paying for the home, budgeting and anything to do with helping strengthen our housing market.
Did you have one or more mentors?
My father was my mentor. He passed last year, but he was my hero and the person I looked up to the most. I miss him.
Do you now serve as a mentor in your field or in another capacity?
We now have over 100 employees, and I am involved with several organizations outside of Assurance Financial. I hope I am setting a good example for others to follow not only in the workplace but in how I live my faith and family life.
What’s the best part about your job?
The best part about my job is that I work with great people who have high character and put others’ needs before their own.
What makes you excited about going to work?
We work with people who buy homes, and this is generally one of the most important financial transactions that someone will undertake in their lifetime. It’s an awesome responsibility, and most of the time we get it right.
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you’ve overcome?
My father’s passing is the greatest obstacle I have dealt with. … I would say I try to overcome that every day.
What gets your workday off to a good start?
Taking my kids to school and attending daily Mass is generally a great start to my day.
What book are you reading?
The People’s Money by Scott Rasmussen.
If you could have dinner with any three living people, other than relatives, who would they be?
The two living people who first come to mind are Pope Francis and Pope Benedict.
What do you do to unwind?
I run a good bit, and I like to play tennis.
Do you have a favorite sport you like to play or watch?
My favorite sport to watch is my daughters riding in equestrian events. It’s amazing to see these kids have a partnership with their horses.
What are three of your favorite movies?
Gladiator, Christmas Vacation and Caddyshack.
What is an item on your “bucket list”?
I really want to visit Rome.
If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?
I would want to own a Major League Baseball team.
What website or app are you especially fond of?
I coach three sports, so the Teamsnap app is a great tool for me to keep everyone up to date on what is happening with each team.
What is your favorite spot in Baton Rouge (away from the office)?
My favorite spot in Baton Rouge would be on the baseball field with the kids that I coach. I hope that they look back and have positive memories of the time we have spent together.
What is one travel destination you especially like?
Deer Valley, Utah. I love to snow ski.
What is your prescription for living well?
To be strong in my faith, to be the best husband and father possible, and to be a positive example for others to follow.