InLanta Mortgage’s Oak Brook, Ill., branch began reaping the benefits of that expanded client base when Siomara Barboza joined the team last month as a mortgage originator. Barboza, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, said that speaking both languages has been a decided advantage during her decade in the industry.
“It’s allowed me to serve a market that is definitely underserved,” Barboza said. “It’s also allowed me to help a market that I’m very passionate about, which is my own culture and my own community.”
Barboza got her start in the mortgage industry in 2003, the year after graduating college. She started her career as an assistant to the office’s top producer. But as the office’s only Spanish speaker, she soon found her role expanding.
“One of the things that I noticed at that time was that we were getting a lot of Hispanic borrowers who were coming in asking for assistance,” she said. “I ended up being a translator for the office and growing a niche for the gentleman I worked for that he wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
Barboza said that even when borrowers are fluent in English, the mortgage process is complex enough that many prefer to speak to loan officers in their first language.
“The consumer may speak English, but may feel more comfortable doing business in their native language,” she said. “Coming from a Hispanic family where my mother spoke predominantly Spanish and depended on her children to make a lot of the decisions … being able to explain and express things in Spanish has definitely given me the ability to give back. I feel like I’ve been of some value to that group of people.”
She also saw many instances where a loan officer had tried to take advantage of Hispanic customers’ unfamiliarity with English.
“I was seeing Hispanic clients coming into the office asking for assistance because other mortgage companies were charging them an outrageous amount in fees, so they were coming in for a second opinion,” she said. “I was able to say, ‘No, your closing costs should only be $2,000, it doesn’t need to be $12,000.’ There was definitely a lot of that going on, and it was sad to see. That’s what kept me in the industry for so long. There have to be some decent people out there, and you’ll get clients who are loyal to you forever.”
In any large city, businesses are going to serve customers who don’t speak English as a first language. In that case, having a bilingual employee on staff can become invaluable; it makes customers more comfortable and can open up new client bases.