Asian loan officer embodies diversity ideals

She goes to Washington to dispel harmful racial myths

Asian loan officer embodies diversity ideals

It’s one thing lending to a mainstream audience, quite another catering to minority communities. To the uninitiated, specific racial or ethnic groups are often mistakenly viewed as monolithic, which has given rise to a call for greater diversity in the mortgage industry rank and file.

Plainly put, minority communities are more than the sum of their parts. Frances Nguyen (pictured), a Seattle-based loan officer at NEXA Mortgage, expressed frustration at the monolithic approach during a recent interview with Mortgage Professional America.

She spoke to MPA shortly after arriving from Washington, D.C., where she met with lawmakers under the auspices of the Asian Real Estate Association (AREA) to help dispel misconceptions about the various Asian groups. While meeting with members of Congress as co-chair of AREA’s government affairs committee, she conveyed how some Asian groups skew the data for the racial category – data that is ultimately used in the legislative approach affecting such communities.

The pitfalls of ‘aggregating data’

She describes the process as aggregating data. “A lot of Indian people are into tech, so they’re making a lot of money,” Nguyen said in the way of an example. “But when you break it down to subgroups, you can see that some of them – like the native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders – are the most underserved. So it’s really about painting an accurate picture of the situation so that we can develop policies that can target those groups, versus thinking that are Asian Americans are fine.”

On her DC trip, Nguyen also lobbied for access to down payment assistance in underserved communities and for appraisal equity, she said. Born in Vietnam before immigrating to America aged two with her parents, Nguyen is intimately familiar with the various population segments. Her home base of Seattle is home to a vibrant patchwork of diversity, including 13.8% of the population identifying as Asian, including 4.1% Chinese; 2.6% Filipino; 2.2% Vietnamese; 1.3% Japanese; and 1.1% Korean.

She knows many of their financial habits, describing how many Asians eschew credit in favor of cash. The penchant for cash, however, prevents many of them from achieving homeownership due to lack of credit history, she said. In such instances, she has to put on her credit counselor hat to inculcate the importance of credit to those wanting to buy a home.

“I’m helping underserved communities gain homeownership either by educating them on how to gain credit and just making sure that their line of work shows income,” Nguyen said.

To be sure, these are not the “Crazy Rich Asians” of Hollywood lore but humble, hard-working people who otherwise lack financial savvy, she suggested. “A lot of Asians do not come here with inheritances or anything like that,” she said. “A lot of them work under the table, but at the end of day can’t qualify for a loan because they didn’t claim income on their tax returns. So I try to educate them on how important it is to make sure they qualify either by building credit or filing income on their tax returns so they can get a home loan.”

Wearer of many hats

MPA suggested she wore many hats in this arena, including that of de facto credit counselor. “I feel that whatever I need to do to help them by putting on multiple hats – educating them, being an advisor – then I will do that,” she said. “It all leads to the final outcome, and that’s helping the community. I’ll wear whatever hats I need to take on so I can help them achieve their goals and close the wealth gap.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas recently undertook a study exploring the benefits of diversity in industry ranks to better resonate with specific racial or ethnic minorities – in essence, having a mix of backgrounds in reflecting society at large. In its resulting report titled “The Impact of Minority Representation at Mortgage Lenders,” they showcased the importance of such diversity.

“An emerging literature finds that racial disparities in the labor market may beget disparities in the provision of critical services,” researchers wrote. “For instance, minority students tend to achieve better outcomes when taught by minority teachers and minority patients achieve better outcomes when treated by minority doctors, yet minorities are underrepresented among teachers and doctors.”

With that as its premise, the paper studied the relationship between racial disparities in the labor market for loan officers and economic outcomes in the highly competitive market for originating US home mortgages. The conclusion: “We find that working with minority loan officers improves credit access for minority mortgage applicants along several dimensions.”

At her base in Seattle – a city on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by water, mountains, and evergreen forests – Nguyen deftly navigates the mortgage landscape as a living embodiment of that ideal.

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