Laura Brandao ‘creates opportunities’ to succeed in business.

Leaders

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“Nobody gets into the mortgage business on purpose. It’s an inside joke in this industry that happens to be totally true! Everyone has a story,” says Laura Brandao, President of American Financial Resources, Inc (Company NMLS# 2826).  

From beginning her career at a call center to being recognized as one of the 20 Most Successful Business Women to Watch in 2020 by Insights Success Magazine, 50 Elite Women in the Mortgage Industry three times in the past decade, and The 10 Most Influential Women in 2018 and 2020, Laura Brandao has shown the world how far one can go by seizing every moment and dedicating themselves to it. Her awe-inspiring professional journey began when she was a young stay-at-home mom who was looking for a part-time job. Starting from conducting surveys for Champion Mortgage as a telemarketing agent in the evenings, Laura quickly realized she had a knack for explaining the benefits of refinancing, and helping homeowners understand how they could bring down their interest rates from as high as 15% to 6%. Utilizing her talent, she rose to managerial roles like a flash and further unleashed her art of teaching about mortgages and successful hiring. By the time she had her second son, Laura was running the entire call center, managing 200 people on calls every night from 6-9 pm selling REFIs. After a few years, when her boys were ready to step into the learning phase of their lives, Laura was ready to go all out and take on new challenges to level-up her career. She went to work for a mortgage company where she made it her prerogative to learn everything about processing loans, as the company did not have the strongest operations department. Like always, within a short time, Laura climbed the ranks to become the COO of People’s Mortgage even before she turned 30. 

“When I joined AFR, the country was facing the worst mortgage crisis in its history. We ran toward the fire, while everyone else was running away. While other companies were failing, we took the opportunity to build.”

However, the biggest cornerstone of her venture into the C-suite came when she joined American Financial Resources (AFR) in 2007 to launch its wholesale division. Founded in 1997, AFR is an organization of trusted, responsive, and innovative mortgage professionals whose focus is to simplify the lending process using a hands-on approach. Recounting her experience in the early years with AFR, Laura shares, “When I joined AFR, the country was facing the worst mortgage crisis in its history. We ran toward the fire, while everyone else was running away. While other companies were failing, we took the opportunity to build. I was given a phone, a computer, and a desk. I took on the challenge to build a mortgage business while the housing market was crashing. The reputation of lenders was suffering, people were losing their jobs, and I decided to seize the opportunity to work with trustworthy mortgage brokers to help provide home financing to families. I became an AFR partner in 2009, followed by ascending to Executive Vice President, then Chief Operations Officer, and now I serve the company as President. I am proud that AFR has grown into a national leader in specialized programs during my tenure.”

Evolution of AFR 

Initially, when Laura started working with AFR, the entire wholesale division was built on one product i.e. FHA loans. By 2010, AFR started expanding its portfolio and adding other products. Laura shares, “We focused on one niche at a time and accumulated the right talent to service the business. Homeowners were struggling, and we opened our arms to specialize in unique financing programs – “we’re here to help you” – which still rings true at AFR today.” Headquartered in Parsippany, NJ, AFR’s main purpose is to bring families home. Hence, it strives to deliver innovative and unique residential financing solutions to thousands of homeowners, buyers, mortgage brokers, bankers, lenders, realtors, and contractors all across the nation.   

Their specialties include Renovation (203(k) & Homestyle) Loans, Manufactured Home Loans, VA Loans, and One-time-close or single-close loans, which allow a borrower to finance all their needs related to the purchase from site improvements to construction of a new, manufactured or site-built home through a single loan. Their MH programs include FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac financing options, as well as VA and USDA loans that further helps the borrower capitalize on the growing manufactured housing market. Looking back, AFR has evolved in a big way by adding both B2B (AFR Wholesale) and B2C (eLEND and MHL) residential mortgage divisions, and currently serves as a full-service mortgage lender in 50 states. Even during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, AFR has not just successfully transitioned to working remotely without negatively impacting business, but has closed twice as many loans in half the time, and continues to enjoy a record-setting pipeline. Speaking of how they managed to stay afloat even in this crucial time, Laura shares, “Like many other companies, there has been a vast increase in the number of Zoom meetings and video calls at AFR. It’s allowed all of us to learn more about other members of our team, including cameo visits from kids and pets. We recently hosted a birthday party on Zoom, to celebrate 13 years of AFR Wholesale with cake, company trivia, and prizes. It was such a hit; we are now going to host a monthly social event to keep up the morale and continue to motivate the team.”  

Laura Brandao, President, American Financial Resources, Inc.
Laura Brandao, President, American Financial Resources, Inc.

““Just do it!” Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by fear, or over-evaluate every decision. Only you can limit yourself.”

Blowing the Wind of Change

Being a female leader in a male-dominated industry, Laura had to face significant barriers in her career. However, she didn’t let anything hold her down. She says, “I didn’t allow it. Throughout my career, I didn’t let anyone stop me. I worked hard and created opportunities. The only difference is no one wanted to hear my story. There has been a change in recent years – now people want to hear from women leaders.” Carrying this optimistic attitude through all her endeavors has majorly contributed to Laura’s success. According to her, it is necessary to feed yourself with positive reinforcement along with continuous learning, a little spontaneity, and unrestrained potential. She exclaims, “As a leader, you also need to trust your instincts which are empowered by your experience, and “Just do it!” Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by fear, or over-evaluate every decision. Only you can limit yourself.” At all phases in her life, Laura never stopped to measure how much she has attained, instead, she marked every achievement as a milestone and then continued to pursue the next best thing. Now that she has reached a point where she has a voice that people want to hear, Laura wants to use the opportunity to uplift others and leave behind a legacy of mutual empowerment and adjacent growth in the industry. As a proud co-founder of the Women’s Mortgage Network (WMN), she regularly invites others to participate in interviews and weekly challenges.  

In the future, Laura wants to see WMN grow. She says, “It has been my greatest thrill to see my vision of this incredibly powerful group finally come to fruition. The WMN is the platform to help us change the trajectory of our profession. With many thanks to the ladies on the AIME team for coordinating the event, the inaugural Women’s Mortgage Network event was held on March 4, 2020, in Irvine, CA, the day before the AIME Activate regional conference. The day gave way to shared stories and collaboration to create a unity of 50 women leaders. Voices were heard. Words were spoken, shared, and discussed. Power was felt and unleashed. And the WMN now hosts weekly Facebook Live events, continuing the momentum.” Apart from this, Laura has also recently joined the board of the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA) and is very excited about the organization’s Mission 2025 Program, chartered to introduce, develop, and connect college talent to the industry.  

Clearly, not even a pandemic can stop Laura from tapping into her full potential, because for her, every situation is an opportunity to do better and get better. When asked how she manages to take on so many responsibilities and yet handle them so gracefully, Laura says, “As I’ve matured, I’ve become very in tune with myself. I know what I need to tap into to release my personal resources. If you truly know yourself, you are a better asset to others. Different tactics work for different people. The key is finding what works for you, and giving yourself permission to do what provides you with the encouragement you need to lead.” In the end, she speaks of her aspirations surrounding these new projects. “Essentially, my goal is to train and empower the next generation of leaders in the mortgage business,” says Laura. “I want to leave the industry behind me better than when I arrived.” 

American Financial Resources, Inc. is an Equal Housing Lender: Lender NMLS 2826 at www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org. For more information, visit www.afrwholesale.com.

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Flying High: Women Leaders, 2020 ​.

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