CEO of AIME on event's youthful vibe

Group's effort to widely broadcast 'Brokers are Better' message goes on

CEO of AIME on event's youthful vibe

The Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) really knows how to light a fuse – as in a figurative one represented by its 5th annual Fuse gathering that took place last week in Las Vegas. Attended by more than 3,000 members, the event sought to deliver the message that brokers are better.

After giving a stirring speech espousing the mantra, AIME CEO Katie Sweeney (pictured) sat down with Mortgage Professional America on the third and final day of the convention to assess its impact. The event that took place from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 had a palpable youthful vibe to it, Sweeney agreed, and that was by design.

“We try to present serious information in an engaging way,” she said, taking time off at a meeting room in the Paris hotel next to Bally’s to speak with MPA. Case in point: As she spoke, one of the last presentations – “Go Broker: Driving the Wholesale Channel Forward” – was occurring. “Find out what the retail broker industry doesn’t want you to know in this shocking exposé!” the event description read in part. A pair of brokers who went from retail to wholesale appeared intermittently on the screen as darkened silhouettes giving away trade secrets of retail in mechanically altered basso profundo voices, as one would see folks in the witness protection program having their identities presented.

It’s a bit over the top, but part and parcel of the youthful vibe.

“This industry tends to trend so much older,” Sweeney, a member of the millennial generation, said. “The people who are running the mortgage space are people who aren’t going to be around that much longer. They’re getting ready for retirement, moving into another phase in life, and that’s great. But there’s not anybody to come in and take it over. And our philosophy the whole time has been - let’s bring in the new blood, let’s get them into the community right away. Let’s create content that presents information that can be complicated, or scary, or complex, and do it in a fun and exciting manner that would be interesting to somebody who’s 22, or 32, or 42 – it doesn’t matter, but appealing to a younger generation is going to be what keeps things fresh and we don’t get stale as an industry.”

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Some of the invited speakers exemplified that youthful bent. Billy Alsbrooks – former recording artist, songwriter and music producer – showed up in full rap regalia to espouse his philosophies in motivating the crowd. And attendees were abuzz in preparing to hear keynote speaker Laila Ali – daughter of boxing icon Muhammad Ali and a legendary boxer in her own right – end the convention with her motivational speech.

“When we think about the people who are going to buying homes and what generations are coming in, it’s largely millennials,” Sweeney said. “They are the biggest class of homebuyers now. I’m a millennial, I was born in 1990. If you can’t appeal to the group of people who are buying homes because the people who are leading the industry are so far past that phase of life, you’re not really connecting with the audience. So, our philosophy is to make sure originators reflect homebuyers, and one of the ways to do that is to bring new people and younger people in and create the next generation of leaders in our space.”

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A big push this year – aside from achieving that youthful sheen – is to push the message forth that “Brokers are Better.” It’s been an inside-the-ballpark mantra of sorts, but a concerted effort is underway to echo the sentiment to the masses, Sweeney suggested.

“We’re going to take it to the streets, as they say,” she said with a chuckle. “The word ‘broker’ was such a dirty word for so long, and there’s been so much work put into re-establishing a new type of reputation and what it means to be a broker and what it means to a consumer to work with a broker.”

Indeed, brokers got a bad rap in the aftermath of the Great Recession as observers sought a villain in an all-too-real drama that nearly led to the collapse of the American economy in 2008. Subprime mortgages had been sold en masse as securities by institutional investors, but it was the lowly broker who took the brunt of the ensuing ire.

“There are a lot of retail mortgage lenders right now who call themselves brokers, because they know that it’s a word consumers connect with,” she said, noting the word no longer carries the negative connotations from the past. “We really want to push as much information out there and not just to our community – we already know, that’s why they’re part of AIME and they’re here because they’re already part of that ideology. But if we can get it in front of realtors, if we can get it in front of consumers, and let them see for themselves that it’s not a sales pitch.”