In January 2018, NEXT Mortgage Events broke the mortgage industry’s unspoken barriers that limit women’s access to competitive intel and networking-based information exchange, when it introduced NEXT, the mortgage technology summit for women. NEXT is a two-day, tech-focused symposium based on lenders sharing competitive intel with other lending executives. A boutique gathering, each NEXT event is limited to 200 attendees, and targets a select group of decision making executives. Roughly 85-90% of lender attendees hold a title of VP or higher and approximately 85% of attendees are women. NEXT is held twice a year, in winter and summer. Today their co-founders Jeri Yoshida (left) and Molly Dowdy sat down with us to offer up their take on the state of mortgage lending. Here’s what they said:
Q: How did you get involved in the mortgage industry?
MOLLY DOWDY:I started working for a real estate tech company. I have always done marketing inside technology companies. That makes me sound young, but my first assignment was to convince appraisers that it would be better to take photos with a digital camera because they were still using film and cutting out the pictures and taping them to a paper report. So, it was a long time ago. That’s where I got started.
JERI YOSHIDA:I started as an originator fresh out of undergrad. I didn’t have a finance background. I was so green. I got advice from guys in the business and they told me to just tell the customer that you’ll get back to them if you don’t know the answer to a question. So, that was my first year. Back then loan files were two inches thick. Everything was analog and we had files everywhere. We didn’t even have fax machines so I’m a dinosaur, but it was a good learning ground for me.
Q: How has the industry changed?
JERI YOSHIDA:I was an originator for five years and I got out of the industry to do advertising and marketing. I ran into a woman in real estate and we were talking about tax returns. She said she hadn’t seen tax returns in years. I was shocked. We always saw tax returns. When I was an originator that wouldn’t happen. I asked her if she was just doing nonconforming loans? She said, no, nobody asks for them anymore. That was amazing to me. We saw what happened as a result of those practices and now we are trying to find that happy medium where you protect the investor, the lender and the borrower.
MOLLY DOWDY:The two big things that I noticed is that the available technology has progressed. The technology is so innovative and really provides a better experience. There is a big difference between what is possible and what is in use, but technology has advanced so much. Also, when I first started when I went to trade shows the only women that I saw were working in booths. People even called them booth babes. There were so few female executives. Now things have changed a lot. I see a lot more women executives. I see a lot more women offering thought leadership in this industry. There used to be underground groups where a bunch of women met to decompress, but you had to know where they were meeting. That part has changed a lot.
Q: Why did you guys start NEXT?
MOLLY DOWDY:It was born out of that frustration. I knew Jeri for a long time and we would meet at these underground women meetings. It was grueling. We would talk about hearing complaints from the same people over and over again. We started thinking, well, if we did it how would we do it better. From there we started writing our ideas down and brainstorming and it went from there.
JERI YOSHIDA:We were dreaming about what our ideal conference would be. Having a women’s event doesn’t mean that we don’t like men. There is something special that goes on when you meet with another woman at your level. There is a level of comfort. NEXT feels like a gigantic dinner party. All the attendees know similar people. They all have similar education backgrounds and career paths. Nobody has to explain anything. As we started talking to other executive women they jumped onboard and they got it. When we got endorsements from really high-up women we know that we had something.
Q: Talk to me about the NEXT advantage/differentiator?
MOLLY DOWDY:We want a small, intimate, repeat gathering. There are plenty of massive conferences. We want this to be a smaller conference with high-level executives. We are also very vigilant about finding lender executives sharing their experiences about things that they are doing. We want women in the thick of it sharing real stories. We also pick boutique hotels so everything is close, comfortable an lux. In terms of demographics, 89 to 90 percent are VPs or higher. Our gender demographic is about 15 percent men. That is radically different.
JERI YOSHIDA:The people really make all the difference. We court a certain demographic. The nice thing about it is that NEXT feels different. As a result, there is an openness. Traditionally it can be hard to walk into a room filled with people that you don’t know. Given the choice, I think people prefer a welcoming environment. They come to NEXT to meet executives at their level. We have had numerous people that didn’t come to the first or second NEXT and they came and said they had no idea that it was going to be this amazing. These executives are blown away because when we were creating it we built it brick by brick to see what was going to work the best. We don’t want people to walk away just saying that it was cool, they should say it is amazing. We hear over and over that this is their favorite conference. We’re excited, but that is all by design. We tried to create a conference that these executives deserve. We don’t want to let these ladies down. These women have been running the industry without getting recognized so we want to give back to them. For example, we used to have booths but thought that we could do better, so we created meeting lounges instead. It’s a warm/welcoming environment that is very inviting. The sponsors loved it and so did the attendees. It’s so much better to walk up to a lounge, sit down and talk instead of looking at a row of booths. You get to have a real conversation and that’s when the sale really happens, when you are just talking. That’s just one example of how we changed things up to create a wonderful experience.
Q: NEXT has a strategic alliance with Housing Finance Strategies, a Washington, DC-based advisory firm led by renowned industry veteran and award winner Faith Schwartz, former executive director of HOPE NOW. Why is that significant?
MOLLY DOWDY:We’ve watched Faith and admired her forever. She has in depth relationships with what’s going on in DC. She has a deep understanding of how DC impacts our business. We asked her to do the kick off at the last NEXT. It was very popular. People loved it. So, we started talking and really believe that this intel is lacking and it is important for women to have as they progress in their careers. Women should have this knowledge so they can be the go-to person at their company. Faith has a weekly newsletter that summarizes what’s going on in Washington. That was the first piece of the partnership that we launched. The next step was to launch a new event. The speaker lineup is an impressive list of the people that influence housing policy in DC.
JERI YOSHIDA:When Faith came to our event she was one of those people that was blown away. She has been to so many conferences, but our conference stands out to her to the point that she wanted to be involved. She saw the benefit of what we provide.
Q: What can we expect from NEXT in the future?
MOLLY DOWDY:We changed our approach to provide more engaging content like Faith’s weekly newsletter and we also do executive profiles. So we are providing more content about our speakers and the industry to give more visibility to women executives that are really killing it.
JERI YOSHIDA:We want to make more quality information available to the people that are doing amazing things. These women are succeeding and we want to help them do even more. The executives that we have on stage are diverse. They are reflective of what’s going on. We have women of all different ages, ethnicities and experiences. We want to recognize the women on stage. We want to keep focusing on the women that are doing amazing things.
MOLLY DOWDY:When we talk about innovation we have to reflect the community. When you get all different types of people together you spur innovation and that’s an important part of our mission.
Q: What does in mean to you to be named one of The Most Powerful Women in Fintech by PROGRESS in Lending?
JERI YOSHIDA:It’s very humbling. It’s an honor. It’s important to us to expand the platform for women to advance. Women are championing technology and they are giving their input to advance technology adoption. We want to help level the playing field.
MOLLY DOWDY:I feel really grateful. With this power it gives us more right to shine the light on women in this industry. This will help us continue our mission and expand.
Q: What advice would you give women just starting out?
JERI YOSHIDA:Find your community where you are supported, where you can learn and there are people that can help you. These women have worked so hard and some did not intend to be in the c-suite, they just got there because they were innovative and smart and helped others. They tackled problems and progressed accordingly. There’s a lot of togetherness at NEXT. If you are a young executive find your tribe where you can learn and teach others.
MOLLY DOWDY:Step one is to find your tribe, which probably won’t be inside your company. A lot of the executives worked in their company and climbed the ladder but felt alone. Also, you have to speak up. A lot of new executives assume that others have already thought of their idea and dismissed it so they don’t speak up, but that is not the case. Speak up. Be heard.
Molly Dowdy has nearly 20 years experience marketing in the mortgage technology space and is the co-founder of NEXT, the mortgage technology conference for women executives. Molly is also a member of the PROGRESS in Lending Association Executive Team. She can be reached at molly@Nextmortgageevents.com.
Jeri Yoshida is co-founder of NEXT and a 20 year mortgage industry veteran with over 15 years of experience in mortgage public relations and communications. She has created visibility programs for dozens of companies and has crafted strategies for maximizing ROI from sponsorship, attendance and exhibition dollars at many of the mortgage industry’s national and regional events.