New chair Susan Stewart on the future of the MBA

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At one of the most unique moments in decades, former vice chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association Residential Board of Governors and member of the MBA's Board of Directors, Susan Stewart, is set to take the helm of the group as chairwoman. Ahead of the MBA's virtual annual convention and expo beginning Monday, Stewart spoke with NMN about her new position, changes in the marketplace and networking in the era of social distancing. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Susan Stewart

What are the key issues you'd like to focus on as chairwoman?

Typically, the chair picks three different priorities. I just picked one. My priority was for us to really focus on improving minority homeownership rates. They're pretty abysmal. The MBA has been working on it for years, but it seemed like a really good time for us to take note of again and see what we could do together as a group. It's becoming more mature, the ideas about what's required, and the needs to participate and what kind of policies we need to work on and who we need to partner up with.

How would you pursue that goal?

It's a complex problem and that's why I picked only one thing, because it's multilayers deep. And it's a long time in the works, if you will. So it really comes down to, what are we missing? Where are we lacking what needs to happen out there, that's not happening? So it comes down to, you could call it outreach or you could call it marketing, where you’re getting better information out there. There's still a huge disparity of information about what's required to become a homeowner. And there's lots of other processes and practices and loan programs that we can look at. So it tends to be credit, and it tends to be down payment.

As we come up with the agenda items that we think are really possible, then we decide, OK, who is it that we need to engage? Is it a GSE? Is it HUD? Is it a policymaker? Is it a regulator? What is going to be necessary for us to be successful with some ideas that we will have about how to increase minority homeownership?

At your company, SWBC Mortgage, you've grown from a small regional banker to an origination and servicing outfit in 43 states. How will that experience inform how you'll govern the MBA?

So we were a banker, a tiny banker, over the last 31 years. We're an independent mortgage banker. When you look at most independent mortgage bankers, what you'll find is it's a very collaborative environment. People have started companies and grown them over time. And typically they're run really tightly with a tight group of executives and senior managers that work together as a group to grow a company. So it's really important that everybody participates and has a seat at the table.

In a previous NMN story, Bill Kilmer at the MBA was quoted as saying that it is tricky to achieve consensus among so many different groups that you represent at the MBA. In which areas do you see the biggest divide?

I don't know that I see it as a divide. I do see there are certainly different business models and different requirements for both an independent mortgage banker and a large depository banker. Generally, we're going to agree about most things. We all believe in diversity. We all believe we need to improve homeownership. We have different ways of going about doing it based on the type of institution that we are. I mean, absolutely, Bill is correct. Even amongst a group of only independent mortgage bankers or only banks, you're not going to get complete consensus about everything.

What is your political affiliation?

I would rather not say. I care about the candidate. Let's just say that.

What do you think will happen with the QM patch set to expire in January?

We've gotten a pretty clear signal that if there's not a replacement in place, it will be extended. Nobody is really looking to upend the housing market. The MBA's position has been that it's not wise to use a single feature of a loan to make a decision. And then there's a thing called appendix Q, that's quite a complicated way of how you're documenting and verifying everything. And we think there's an improvement there. So the MBA thinks that there's a way of looking at the pricing at the cost over the APOR and that that is the position we put out there.

What do you think about the CFPB's proposal of a seasoned QM definition?

We've appreciated the thought that they've put into the decisions and their policies. I think, personally, that it's an interesting idea. I'm not sure how it ends, but it's an interesting idea.

As you head into your virtual conference this month, we wanted to ask about how you're fostering networking opportunities that once happened so organically in person?

We're integrating social events this year with the virtual expo component, so that participants can see product demos, and chat and text with vendors. That's a big part of it. Also there's a new portal, so there'll be ways to interact with your peers from across the country through one on one chats, and online networking, and receptions. And, of course, there's always Q&A with the speakers. We are learning how to add the features that are so important to us. And you're right, one of those features is meeting and networking. They come to hear the speakers, and they come to hear from the GSEs and the policymakers, but they really do also come to see one another. And so we're adapting quickly to how you can do that virtually. It's hard to replace being in person, but this gives us an opportunity to still have an exchange of information for different people to come and see what different vendors are providing products and services out there.

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