Headquarter In: Parsippany, NJ
Founded in Year: 1997
Employees Headcount: 300
Your Tagline/Quote: Say YES Everyday!
Many Americans dream of someday owning their own home. Featured as our cover story of The Business Fame’s issue of “The Most Influential Businesswomen to Follow in 2021,” Laura Brandao, president of American Financial Resources, is passionate about helping bring families home, and empowering other women in the industry.
An Entrepreneur in the Making-
Beginning her career as a telemarketer, Laura helped many families refinance from their high-rate mortgages. Following several leadership roles in the mortgage industry, she launched the wholesale channel for American Financial Resources in 2007 as Director of Operations. Given nothing more than a phone, a computer and a desk, she took on the challenge to build a mortgage business during the housing market crash.
People were losing their jobs, and Laura decided to seize the opportunity to work with trustworthy mortgage brokers to help provide home financing to families. While other lenders were downsizing and even closing their doors, she ran toward the fire, hired talented mortgage professionals to build a team, and AFR Wholesale was born.
“I went on to become the only woman partner in 2009, followed by Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, prior to my current role, serving the company as President.”
Leaders need to set the tone and drive the mission. Laura suggests that as a servant leader, you must be clear in the company goals and exemplify the company values, and then motivate your team to reach them. Employees need to understand that they are contributing to the success of the company, and that their efforts are appreciated.
At all levels of leadership, you need to trust your instincts, knowing they have been empowered by your experience.
Regardless of your industry, Laura believes you need to continue to gain knowledge and broaden your perspective if you want your company to continue to be successful, and put yourself in a position to continue to serve your customers.
“I believe continuous learning is important for leaders, as well.”
American Financial Resources, Inc. (AFR) is among the nation’s leading mortgage lenders, and an innovator in construction and renovation lending. AFR utilizes the latest technology and delivers educational resources to mortgage brokers, loan originators and their customers.
“At AFR, we have always been single-mindedly focused on helping our customers achieve their goals, while we never lose sight of ours…which is bringing families home.”
From Renovation and One-Time Close Construction loans, to financing for Manufactured Housing, and everything in between, AFR provides a full suite of specialized loan programs, and options for down payment assistance (DPA). Providing such a wide variety of loan programs opens the opportunity for homeownership to a broader range of borrowers.
In addition to its extensive portfolio of specialty lending products, AFR fully invests in the success of their partners by providing a wide array of complimentary services.
AFR supports partners with on-demand processing, industry-leading technology, a full Resource Center and ongoing educational opportunities like live and on-demand webinars. Partners can avail themselves of complimentary training at AFR University and get certified in various programs, so families know their loan originator has the needed expertise in a loan program.
“We really listen to feedback regarding what our clients need.”
Know the Leader
Key Achievements in Laura’s Journey-
In 2020, Laura was featured as one of “The 10 Most Influential Businesswomen to Follow” and among “The 20 Most Successful Businesswomen to Watch” by Insights Success magazine.
Other accolades included being honored as a “Women with Vision,” being featured in the “Top 100 People in Finance,” and being named among the “Best 50 Women in Business” by NJBIZ. She has also been named a “Women of Influence” by Housing Wire and has earned spots on Mortgage Professional America’s “Hot 100 Mortgage Professionals” and “Elite Women of Mortgage” lists in previous years.
“While it is nice to be recognized and receive awards, I am most proud to have helped launch or played an integral role in the development of a few mortgage industry initiatives.”
For example, she created a Survive & Thrive group on Facebook at the beginning of the pandemic, featuring different mortgage professionals each week to impart advice. The initiative has grown into a weekly “Thrive Thursday” power hour, branching out far beyond the mortgage industry.
Laura serves as Chair of the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America’s Visionary program. In this role, she recruits corporate partners for NAMMBA’s Mission 2025, which was launched to introduce, develop, and connect college talent to the industry. She also recently joined the board of the Mortgage Bankers Association of New Jersey, and is currently growing the organization’s women’s committee, serving as its chair, focused on education, inspiration and support initiatives.
After presenting at an industry event a couple years ago, and hearing from a number of attendees about how great it was to see a woman in a leadership position, Laura recognized the need for a networking group for women and approached the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME). The organization fully supported the idea, and dedicated resources to bring the concept to fruition. The Women’s Mortgage Network grew from a small launch event of fewer than 50 women last March to a thriving group of more than 2,300 members…in nine months…during a pandemic. She has enjoyed interviewing Women’s Mortgage Network members for her column in Women With Vision magazine, and for weekly “Growth Series” challenges on Facebook Live.
“I greatly enjoy connecting guests, hearing them report on their success and help each other with their businesses, and sharing their superpowers.”
Apart from the other achievements, Laura’s most memorable achievement is publishing her first book, Say YES Everyday! She has contributed to a few other books, writing a chapter sharing expertise, printed alongside individual chapters collected from others, but this was her first solo project as an author. As much as she has learned to enjoy public speaking in recent years, and the opportunity to connect to live audiences in a shared experience, releasing her book into the world, was one of the scariest things she has ever done.
“When I received the first couple reviews, and read how my words affected them positively, and how my philosophy on life resonated with each of them differently, I was blown away.”
“The stories I share in my book are so personal and meaningful to me, and I will always remember how I felt when I learned that I was able to empower other women in their lives, simply by sharing what I have learned in mine.”
To the Future Ahead… How Women Should Boom in Business
Leaders need to continually work to improve their companies, their offerings and most importantly, their connections with customers. AFR will continue to develop new product offerings based on the needs demonstrated in the residential mortgage marketplace.
Meeting the evolving needs of your customers should always be the goal, rather than focusing on trying to outperform your competitors.
For women in tech who are trying to enter the mortgage industry, I have great news! There is growing interest in online training. Large national lenders, organizations and even independent mortgage brokers are now providing online training. Also, there is a new streaming service for the mortgage industry that is still in its infancy. Mortflix is the premier online TV network completely dedicated to live broadcasts of highly curated Mortgage and Real Estate content, and the “Women in Mortgage” dedicated channel is in development now.
My passion and purpose in life is to inspire, encourage and empower people to rise up to be their best selves, so they can live their greatest lives. Say YES Everyday! If you truly want to get more out of life, you have to say yes to new people and new experiences, without any expectations of a return. By living with intention, and by choosing to say YES everyday, the positive effect that you will have on others will fill your life and make you feel more alive than you ever dreamed.