Laura Brandao – A Mortgage Industry Leader

In the year 2020, many companies had to evolve to survive. As Americans spent more time in their homes, sheltering in place, many families looked to move or remodel. Home financing was among the strongest performing industries of the year, with many mortgage lenders experiencing exponential growth.

American Financial Resources, Inc. (AFR) has confirmed its place among industry leaders by specializing in specialty lending, providing a full suite of unique loan programs. AFR provides a variety of financing solutions for one-time close construction, renovation, and manufactured homes. Since 2007, AFR President Laura Brandao has been the driving force behind the company’s success as a specialty lender.

The Growth of AFR

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. 

The wholesale division of AFR was launched in 2007, and by 2012, the company had fine-tuned AFR’s focus on renovation, manufactured housing, one-time close construction and government lending. AFR learned who they were and what they wanted to be the best at, and found success by specializing in specialized lending.

A few years ago, companies throughout the industry were facing a downturn in profitability due to margin compression. AFR’s new challenge was to figure out how to gather more clients and more business, to regain their profitability. Fortunately, as a company, they jumped in to support the newly formed Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) in the organization’s infancy. The number of independent mortgage brokers was growing, and gobbling up market share from traditional bank lenders. Thanks to connections made through AIME’s growing network, AFR was able to grow their community of client partners. 

While it is nice to be recognized, beyond the awards, I am proud to have played an integral role in the development and launch of a few mortgage industry initiatives.

Laura Brandao

Products/Services offered 

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.

In addition to their extensive portfolio of specialty lending products, they fully invest in the success of their partners by providing a wide array of complimentary services. AFR listens to feedback regarding what their clients need. AFR supports their 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 loan programs.

AFR_Specialized Loans_graphic

As the low-rate environment continues, Streamline Express offers an expedited process and special pricing for eligible FHA refinances. With its simplified requirements and competitive rates, AFR offers borrowers an expedited credit approval process, including underwriting decisions in as little as one business day.

Company Leadership

Every successful company has a strong, dedicated, and disciplined leader at its helm, and AFR is no exception with its president Laura Brandao.

Laura started her career as a telemarketer helping families refinance their high-rate mortgages. Following many leadership roles in the mortgage industry, she launched the wholesale channel for American Financial Resources in 2007 as Director of Operations. Later, she went on to become an AFR partner, followed by Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, before serving the company as President. 

Laura is proud to have led AFR’s growth as a leader in specialized programs, including Manufactured Home, One-Time Close and Renovation lending. Throughout her career, her efforts to stay connected to the clients and families AFR serves, have allowed AFR to develop new products based on market demand, including USDA repair escrow, and a full suite of One-Time Close Construction-to-Permanent programs.

Leading Lady Laura Brandao

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 honoured as a “Women with Vision” and being named among the “Best 50 Women in Business” by NJBIZ. Laura 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.

“While it is nice to be recognized, beyond the awards, I am proud to have played an integral role in the development and launch of a few mortgage industry initiatives,”. For example, I created a Survive & Thrive group on Facebook at the beginning of the pandemic, and featured different mortgage professionals each week to impart advice. The initiative has grown into a weekly “Thrive Thursday” power hour and has branched out far beyond the mortgage industry. I greatly enjoy connecting guests, hearing them help each other with their businesses, and sharing their superpowers.

I am also proud to serve as Chair of the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America’s Visionary program. In this role, I recruit corporate partners for NAMMBA’s Mission 2025, which was launched to introduce, develop, and connect college talent to the industry. In addition, I recently joined the Board of the Mortgage Bankers Association of New Jersey (MBANJ) and now Chair its women’s committee.

After presenting at an industry event, and hearing from a number of attendees about how great it was to see a woman in a leadership position, I 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 launch event in March, to which 50 women were invited, to a thriving group of more than 2,300 members…in nine months…during a pandemic. I now invite members of the Women’s Mortgage Network to participate in interviews and weekly “Growth Series” challenges. 

At this point in my career, my goal is to train and empower the next generation of leaders in the mortgage business. I want to leave the industry behind me better than when I arrived.

Laura Brandao discusses work culture and employee relations

Our company is our work family and it’s important to stay connected. We value our employees and want to show them our appreciation, and be clear in delivering our why – so we are all aligned in our mission to help bring families home. 

I start every morning with a motivational video for my team, no matter where I am. I want everyone on my team to start each day on a positive note; so, I make sure that one of the first things they see each morning is me in their inbox with a quick company update, appreciating them for their hard work, and wishing them a wonderful day. We also give “Above & Beyond” awards to recognize a job well done and keep employees motivated and connected. Anyone can nominate a co-worker for any reason, and everyone is eligible. Even with most of our staff working remotely over the past several months, we still have certificates printed, signed by me and their manager, and we have been mailing them to recipients’ homes. 

We also have a few traditions that we started with the birth of AFR Wholesale, that are still going strong. Every year we give a holiday ornament to every staff member. I typically walk around on Christmas Eve and employees pick their ornament and often hang it up in their cubicle. You can tell just how long some people have been with the company by counting the ornaments in their cube. Originally, the ornaments were handmade by my parents, but this year we ordered them and mailed them out, proudly keeping the tradition alive.

Also, we celebrate work anniversaries. We send out a questionnaire ahead of time, and then send an email out to the company on their anniversary based on their responses. It not only recognizes them for their years of service but shares a little bit of personal information about them, as well. We ask new questions each year, and people share only whatever they are comfortable sharing. It’s fun to hear co-workers connecting over things like, “I love that movie, too!” 

We truly are like a family at AFR, with our company traditions.

Laura’s thoughts about competition in the market and its impacts on a company

Leaders need to work to continually improve their companies, their offerings and most importantly, their connections with customers. Keep working at being the best at what you

bring to the market. You cannot be all things to all people, and you should not shift your focus because competitors are changing what they are doing. The development of new product offerings should be based on the needs demonstrated in the marketplace. Providing what customers need should be the goal, rather than focusing on trying to outperform your competitors.

If you work to provide the best products and the best service, you will be a leader in your industry. Competition can be a motivating factor pushing you to be at your best, but your customers should be your primary motivators and the reasons you work hard every day. 

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