In honor of Black History Month, we reached out to several prominent black leaders in the mortgage industry to celebrate their success, learn from their experience, and gain insight into the challenges facing the mortgage industry today. Today we’re excited to share this interview with Lenny McNeill, EVP, National Strategic Markets and Affordable Lending for U.S. Bank.
Lenny shares the best advice he received early in his career, explains what motivates him to be a mentor and role model, and offers his thoughts on how to successfully promote affordable lending to bring the possibility of homeownership – and the American Dream – to all.
What drew you to housing finance?
I think I had a fascination with housing finance rather than being drawn to it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that being able to help people find and get into a home is probably the greatest gift you can ever give to someone.
Who are some of the people who were most influential in your career, and how did they help you succeed?
When I started in the business, I had several people that I would consider to be mentors. The most influential ones were a former director of HR and a Commercial Loan Manager. The best advice one gave me was to learn about and work in as many departments as possible. When I came up in the business there were very few mentors that looked like me. Ironically, that proved to be a tremendous motivator for me to break some barriers and strive to become what I never had to someone else. That’s still important to me today. Therefore, today at U.S. Bank, I am still working hard to achieve even higher levels of success within the company – so that I can be the role model to others in this industry that I never had.
You’ve led regional and national sales teams covering the full range of borrowers, as well as teams that seek to expand affordable lending. What are some of the challenges that are unique to successfully serving the affordable housing segment of the market?
In the affordable housing segment, there’s one simple rule of thumb: staying consistent to those basic requirements that ALL borrowers expect and deserve in the home lending process. A connection to the consumer, the culture, and the community will always aid in expansion and growth regardless of the housing segment or market.
The homeownership rate amongst African-Americans has yet to fully recover from the impact of the Great Recession, despite a strong economy and historically low unemployment levels. What advice would you give to someone looking to reach the African-American market?
Lenders have to take the time to fully understand the challenges African Americans have faced for years in their quest for homeownership. African Americans may require more time to develop trust in the process primarily because history shows that the lending industry has not always worked in their best interest. In addition to developing trust, it’s also important to connect culturally by hiring a diverse team of lending professionals. And having a wide variety of products available and flexible guidelines that provide greater access to credit are also important while ensuring we are pursuing the goal of sustainable homeownership. Lenders have to go into communities prepared to provide guidance and education to those who require it, and more importantly to those that may not know they need it.
What does the word “homeownership” mean to you?
To me, the word “homeownership” means a few things: life, beginning, future, family, safe, memories, generations, neighborhood, community and dreams are words I think of automatically. But ultimately, Homeownership is POSSIBLE for anyone who has a desire to become a homeowner. Through Homeownership almost anything is achievable. It really is the representation of the American Dream.
The opinions and insights expressed in this Q&A are solely those of its interviewee, Lenny McNeill, and do not necessarily represent the views of either Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation or any of its parent, affiliates, or subsidiaries (collectively, “MGIC”). Neither MGIC nor any of its officers, directors, employees or agents makes any representations or warranties of any kind regarding the soundness, reliability, accuracy or completeness of any opinion, insight, recommendation, data, or other information contained in this blog, or its suitability for any intended purpose.