AwardsIn The NewsTrailblazers Award

The 2024 Trailblazers Award Winners Are …

Sales, marketing and public relations executives are blazing a trail that is determining the biggest winners in financial services. On the sales side, research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that more than 50% of buyers still seek advice when making a purchase. As a result, educated and engaged sales associates who can meet buyers’ needs—especially who have knowledge about a specific product—ring up sales that on average bring in 69% more money. Similarly on the marketing side, a savvy business owner realizes that in order to grow, they need to make more people aware of their product or service. This means engaging with a marketing professional to help promote the business, bring in new clientele, and ensure that current customers are aware of all the products and services. Lastly, everyone wants to become the go-to organization in your field, right? For that to happen, you need to build your credibility and bring your expertise and knowledge into the limelight. That’s exactly what public relations executives bring to the table.

These executives work tirelessly to ensure their company/client is a true leader, but they themselves don’t always get recognized. That ends today. For the 5th year, PROGRESS in Lending is recognizing the Top Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Executives that are making the biggest impact. Our winners in alphabetical order are:

Courtney Dodd

Head of Marketing


Courtney Dodd joined Floify in 2023 with 12 years of experience in the mortgage and fintech sectors. Since then, the marketing veteran has implemented a full-funnel strategic marketing strategy from the ground up to rebrand Floify, an exceedingly user-friendly point-of-sale (POS) platform, and reinforce its position as a fintech innovator. In 2023 and 2024, Dodd successfully led the launch of two new products, Floify Broker Edition and Floify Lender Edition, which target two unique customer profiles with customized messaging, demos and support. Many of the fast-track achievements made at Floify were based on experience gained at SimpleNexus (now an nCino company).

Dodd joined the company in 2019 and her marketing efforts helped grow the platform from 17,000 active users to about 50,000 active users during her tenure. As a new product marketer at SimpleNexus, Dodd was half of a two-person team that developed a consultant program called the SimpleNexus Advocacy Program (SNAP), which brought in more than $1.5 million in sales revenue in the two-year period she worked on the project. Dodd led the sponsor program at SimpleNexus User Group (SNUG) from 2020 to 2023, and tripled sponsorship contributions in this period. In 2021, she was promoted to director of integrated marketing, and she oversaw all events/conferences, association relationships, demand gen marketing, digital marketing and account-based marketing.

Prior to SimpleNexus, Dodd was product marketing manager at Ellie Mae (now ICE Mortgage Technology), where she led strategic product marketing initiatives including branding, positioning, client communications and go-to-market planning. Before that, she served as marketing manager at Calyx Software and was the regional marketing consultancy team lead at PrimeLending, a PlainsCapital Company. At Floify, Dodd brings together this deep marketing expertise and hands-on experience to craft marketing messages to reach wider audiences and provide lenders with additional support and technology advances.

Josh Friend

Founder & CEO


Josh Friend, CEO, and Founder of Insellerate has been instrumental in pioneering groundbreaking initiatives that have not only propelled his company to success but have also significantly influenced the broader mortgage industry.

Friend’s visionary leadership has led to the development of Insellerate’s award-winning CRM & Engagement Platform. Leveraging his extensive experience in the mortgage industry since 2004, Friend identified the need for automation and engagement software to optimize the loan cycle. By combining the best practices from CRM, lead management, and engagement systems, Friend has empowered lenders to achieve higher revenue goals. This innovative solution has not only streamlined processes within individual companies but has also set a new standard for efficiency and effectiveness across the industry, catalyzing positive change and driving growth.

Friend recognizes the importance of agility in navigating the dynamic shifts within the mortgage industry. With his deep understanding of market trends and regulatory changes, Friend plans to ensure Insellerate remains at the forefront of innovation. By swiftly adapting the company’s offerings to meet evolving demands, Friend aims to empower lenders with the tools and technologies necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.

Through Josh’s leadership Insellerate recently produced a new innovation the INsellerate AI Call Assistant.  This significant development marks a transformative leap in borrower engagement and loan officer efficiency, yielding outstanding outcomes for lenders.

Upon implementation, Ladera Lending immediately experienced substantial improvements, with notable statistics highlighting the power of Insellerate’s AI Call Assistant:

  • Based on the first call, predict 89.4% of the time whether a customer will close a loan with the lender.  This allows lenders to maximize loan officer production by focusing on customers who will actually close a loan.
  • 21% Reduction in Unqualified Inquiries: Through precise qualification criteria, Insellerate’s AI Call Assistant efficiently identifies inquiries that do not qualify for a loan, eliminating unnecessary follow-ups and optimizing resources.
  • 38% Increase in Worked Opportunities: Leveraging AI-driven insights and automation, Ladera Lending witnessed a significant uptick in handling viable opportunities within a seven-day timeframe, ensuring timely engagement and maximizing conversion rates.

Insellerate’s ability to seamlessly integrate Open AI Enterprise’s services into its platform has facilitated rapid deployment and enhanced engagement, empowering loan officers with real-time insights and actionable intelligence. Key features of the AI Call Assistant solution include:

  • Real-Time Scoring: Gain instant visibility into loan officer behavior and performance metrics, including enthusiasm, hesitation, confidence, persuasion, and persistence. This enables targeted coaching and training initiatives to enhance skillsets and drive success.
  • Advanced Model Building: Utilize Insellerate’s sophisticated model-building capabilities to identify effective strategies, verbiage, and techniques for maximizing loan conversion rates, optimizing sales processes, and fostering continuous improvement.
  • Intelligent Follow-Up: Seamlessly generate personalized follow-up emails and text messages based on AI-generated insights, ensuring timely and relevant communication with borrowers to propel loan applications forward.

In summary, Josh Friend’s visionary leadership, innovative initiatives, and strategic foresight position him as a marketing trailblazer in the mortgage industry. His dedication to driving positive change, coupled with his commitment to innovation and collaboration, ensures both the success of Insellerate and the continued advancement of the industry as a whole.

Gracie Gay

Senior Account Agent

William Mills Agency

Gracie Gay is an industry trailblazer with a deep understanding of the mortgage industry. She is constantly creative and not limited by tradition to provide companies with insightful and meaningful communications programs. Gracie recognizes the big picture and aligns her initiatives with it, ultimately forming the optimal outcome for clients.

With over five years of experience, she leverages her knowledge for the benefit of all and changes focus as her clients incorporate new initiatives. Understanding that industry awards are crucial for companies to gain recognition and industry validation, Gracie uses her captivating writing skills to secure awards that highlight her clients in their best light. In one year alone, through Gracie’s nominations, one of her clients secured ten awards across local, general business and mortgage industries.

At William Mills Agency, Gracie is known for having a knack for writing compelling awards submissions and has become the go-to associate for her peers when drafting them. These awards have allowed companies to expand market share and brand awareness, impacting their bottom line and increasing profits. Outside of awards, Gracie is known for keeping a pulse on the mortgage industry and sharing relevant news and creative ways to tie her clients to hot topics within the industry. In addition, Gracie has managed to secure routine placements for a few of her clients due to her compelling writing skills and being able to perfectly capture the voices of her subject matter experts.

Even as the mortgage industry changes and is placed under increasing scrutiny, Gracie’s creative thinking and industry acumen will help her clients and William Mills Agency adjust business plans to better cater to client needs. She will continue providing outstanding service for companies, especially through awards, to allow them to shine amidst a crowded landscape. The mortgage industry is in good hands with young talent like Gracie at the helm. As a PR practitioner, she will help the future by providing readers with a deeper understanding of the industry and how her clients impact the way they do business for the better. Her passion for communicating alongside superior writing skills will ensure the future success of both her clients and the broader industry.

Rick Grant

Co-Founder & COO

Content Beacon

As a PR and content marketing leader for over 20 years, Rick makes positive impacts on behalf of clients on an almost daily basis. He’s forged amazing results through the years for some of the most successful firms in the industry. Long a part of his marketing toolkit, and growing out of his long career as a journalist and an editor for publications like National Mortgage News, Broker, Mortgage Technology and most recently Weekly Real Estate News, Rick has been using content marketing since long before it became routine.

He was one of the mortgage industry’s first bloggers in 2006, and one of its first podcasters – both pre-recorded and live, on site at mortgage conferences – at a time when webinars were considered cutting edge. Rick is one of the mortgage industry’s true content marketing pioneers. Today, we see numerous blogs, white papers, podcasts and videos throughout the industry. Every day, we see another advancement as AI enters the fray as well. But it was Rick Grant who was at the forefront of the charge, long before content marketing became routine.

If anything, challenging market conditions demand increased sales and marketing efforts as well as innovation in order to differentiate from the background noise. Of course, that’s also something every marketing and PR firm tells us each time their line-item in the client budget comes under scrutiny as revenue declines. Right now, mortgage-related businesses understand that there will be a rebound in sales. They just can’t say “when.”

They also know that this rebound won’t look anything like 2020 – 2021. Rather, we’ll see a highly competitive scrap for each and every customer and sale. And it will likely involve everything from purchase mortgage products to home renovation loans. Rick has driven his firms, Content Beacon and RGA Public Relations, to offer lower cost, high impact content marketing products to help mortgage businesses stay competitive without breaking the bank. He understands that marketing – especially content marketing –can’t be a one-off, isolated proposition. Instead, a business needs to keep its brand in front of prospects and the marketplace. Those will be the firms that get the head start on the pack when origination volume does begin to rebound.

Michael Hammond


NexLevel Advisors

While many applicants sole focus has been on sales, marketing and public relations within their own company, Hammond has played an integral role as a fractional CMO for the last 16 years, in helping a countless number of companies bring innovative solutions to housing clients, which has greatly impacted the financial services industry.  Hammond dedicates himself exclusively to helping mortgage technology providers achieve extraordinary levels of success.  He helps these technology providers bring their innovative solutions to market by moving audiences, generating leads, driving sales and igniting brand stories.

  • Hammond’s clients have been recognized with over 25 Industry awards in the last 12 months, been published over 100 times and produced over 5,000 hours of video content to share their companies story and value proposition. 
  • Hammond provides a weekly podcast Fintech Hunting now in its 205th episode delivering and weekly video series Monday Fuel-Up, Marketing Moments, and Industry Spotlights delivering countless hours of industry insights and innovation.  These videos received over 1,700,000 views in 2023 alone.
  • Hammond has helped his clients sell tens of millions of software and solutions to the mortgage market.
  • Hammond has assisted his clients strategic marketing and media outreach to help raise over 200 million in investment funding to grow and expand their business’s

Companies are looking to grow in 2024. They are looking to have thier voice heard and gain the exposure that their company deserves. They are looking to get your story told and a cost effective manner?

It’s not enough to have a great product or service. They have to have a dynamic plan to execute their strategy and communicate your vision to the marketplace.

Hammond helps businesses move audiences, generate leads, drive sales and ignite powerful brand stories.  He does this by incorporating traditional media with new and dynamic digital media and marketing strategies to drive sales growth and brand awareness in the financial services marketplace.  In addition, he leverages his extensive industry expertise and expansive network (over 38,000 followers) to help other companies accomplish their growth goals.

A seasoned technology executive, Hammond brings over two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical experience. Hammond now dedicates himself exclusively to helping other businesses achieve extraordinary levels of success.

Amy Hansen

VP of Public Relations and Strategic Planning

Seroka Marketing & PR

Amy’s vast marketing communications experience, which she has honed over the course of more than two decades, has benefited numerous firms within the mortgage, mortgage technology and fintech industries, as she has skillfully assisted them with increasing awareness, driving growth and building their brands. Her unwavering commitment to their success has resulted in many close business relationships that have withstood the test of time.

As vice president of public relations and strategic planning at Seroka Marketing & PR, an agency that specializes in the mortgage and real estate industries, Amy works closely with her team to plan and execute results-driven communications programs on behalf of clients, working collaboratively with them on strategic planning, media relations, trade show events and materials, content development, email marketing, CRM projects and social media campaigns. She is incredibly adept at overseeing multiple projects at one time that consistently yield impressive outcomes, which is a testament to her strategic thinking, time and cost management abilities, and meticulous attention to detail. Throughout her career, Amy has employed a client-centric approach that offers greater value by providing compelling creative solutions which help clients achieve their goals. Her objective guidance and fresh perspectives not only inspire trust and confidence in her abilities as a PR and marketing expert, they also strengthen relationships with clients. At the same time, Amy’s leadership skills drive her team to excel, ensuring plans are well conceived, programs are expertly implemented, and expectations are exceeded.

Amy’s deep involvement in many PR and marketing initiatives have made a noticeable and positive impact on clients as well as the broader mortgage industry. She has developed strong relationships with key mortgage industry media outlets to ensure her clients are regularly called upon for their perspectives, and regarded as trusted resources for timely, topical stories. She has helped clients garner hundreds, even thousands of media mentions with a potential reach of millions. She has also collaborated with clients to successfully launch new company names, divisions, brands and websites, secure industry awards, and continually market their businesses through dynamic economic conditions. In addition to spearheading these initiatives, Amy oversees the day-to-day operations of the agency – managing project workflow and staff training and development, while also playing a significant role in securing new business.

Angelo D. Jones II

Account Supervisor

William Mills Agency

Catherine Laws, EVP, William Mills Agency, shared, “Angelo rejoined WMA 3 years ago, and he has created numerous best practices that he shares with our team for peak performance. He keeps abreast of industry trends and issues which help him hone his focus on garnering success for his clients. Not only is he a skilled PR practitioner but he is also and role model and mentor to our newer team members having weekly mentoring sessions with them. Angelo continues to impress me with his keen insights on what success looks like for his clients. We are lucky that he is a vital part of WMA.”

Angelo’s in-depth knowledge of key industry issues and many of the game-changing trends has made him an integral part of WMA’s account services department as well as the go-to source for mortgage and fintech information. Having almost 10 years of public relations experience, Angelo is able to provide his clients with the needed counsel to successfully garner positive exposure for their company and brand. He has worked with more than 25 agency clients touching all industry aspects. His strong communications skills enable him to bring innovative strategies for success to his clients.

Angelo’s proven ability to increase brand awareness and engage target audiences gives him a unique perspective on both the internal and external communication strategies for fintech companies of all sizes. His nearly decade long career in fintech-focused PR and marketing experience has given him the ability to be keenly aware of latest trends and issues in the financial services and lending spaces, as well as PR best practices in this fast-moving, ultra-competitive market. Angelo’s proven success rate with developing strategic plans for numerous fintechs has increased overall brand awareness and resulting in additional market share for those companies.

In the past year, he launched a very effective campaign to help Wealth Access gain visibility in the US Market, leading to its biggest partnership in company history. Another client, Mahalo released a new digital banking solution to the Credit Union industry where he spearheaded the PR efforts resulting in countless interview and podcast opportunities. The guidance, knowledge, understanding and insight he provides reflects his dedication and leadership to work collaboratively with his clients on transforming the Fintech industry.

Angelo is highly-focused on retaining the loyalty and satisfaction of current clients and continually creates PR campaigns that are specifically designed to educate existing audiences on his clients’ products that they are not aware of or are new to the market. He prides himself on the long-standing relationships with reporters, analysts and influencers that have enabled him to secure exposure to enhance clients’ credibility while increasing their brand awareness and enabling them to attract new prospects.

John McCrea

Senior Vice President of Business Development

MortgageFlex Systems, Inc.

Launching a new mortgage servicing platform was incredibly challenging because MortgageFlex was such a well-known and successful LOS provider. Everyone knew the company for its LOS and no one thought of MortgageFlex as a provider of servicing software. It took a lot of work to change that perception and John McCrea led that effort. Today, the industry is well aware of MortgageFlex’s innovative approach to mortgage servicing software and the attendance and interest the company received from executives at its booth at the recent MBA Servicing conference is evidence.

The industry is ready for a new approach to servicing, but no one thought it was possible until John started sharing the news. Now, even very small servicing shops and servicing startups can begin operating profitably from day one, even with very small portfolios. And the software is powerful enough to grow with them as they grow. Three years ago, MortgageFlex’s servicing platform was a side project that no one was really interested in selling into the market. Now, thanks to the work John has done over the past few years, the industry sees it as a powerful cloud-native mortgage servicing solution and MortgageFlex’s pipeline is full of companies ready to put the platform to work.

As the downturn wears on, every mortgage lender knows that it’s time to change or die. Most just don’t know which way to pivot because they don’t know what’s possible. The only thing they know for sure is that they must find new sources of revenue or their companies will collapse under their own weight before interest rates drop far enough to spur refinance and additional purchase money mortgage business. The hard part for many is that because mortgage servicing has been done the same way for so long, many executives, even on the servicing side, don’t know that it can be much easier to service their loans, allowing them to pull these revenue-producing assets back from their subservicers and earn the money themselves.

That’s where John comes in. John is already doing presentations around the industry and wowing servicing executives with the depth of functionality that MortgageFlex has built into its platform. Most servicers think they have to contract third-party vendors to do this work, but MortgageFlex has already included it. This is particularly true for default servicing, where the platform is very powerful.

Katrina Orlando

VP, Sales Engagement

Incenter Marketing

Katrina’s impact at Icenter Marketing is marked by her innovative initiatives, both internally and externally, that have significantly shaped the corporate culture, branding, and community engagement. Internally, she launched “Brunograms,” a series of weekly video interviews with Incenter Lender Services’ President, Bruno Pasceri, that deepened employee connections and reinforced our values of honesty, respect, support, and empowerment.

Furthermore, Katrina recognized the power of social media in personal branding, leading her to mentor Nico Madaffari, an internal sales representative. Their collaborative efforts in producing engaging social media content significantly boosted Nico’s visibility and customer interaction. Additionally, Katrina orchestrated the “Squares to Show We Care” fundraiser, successfully raising $1,000 for Operation Homefront through strategic video messaging, enhancing organizational pride and community involvement.

Externally, Katrina played a crucial role in the launch of Ascend Xperience, a consultancy by Craig Davis focused on leadership and management enhancement through personalized coaching and masterclasses. Her expertise in social content and video messaging was vital in communicating the unique benefits of Ascend Xperience, expanding its client base, and securing Davis keynote speaking opportunities. This initiative positioned Ascend Xperience as a key player in professional development. Katrina’s strategic use of video content was also instrumental in the success of DG Media’s Mortgage Momentum Builder event. By incorporating videos of hosts, speakers, sponsors, and past attendees, she not only boosted participation but also emphasized the importance of a professional online image. Her collaboration with Capturely to offer professional headshots to attendees at no cost underscored the necessity of aligning one’s digital presence with their professional identity, enhancing both the event experience and the attendees’ career prospects.

Through these diverse initiatives, Katrina has demonstrated an exceptional ability to leverage digital media to foster engagement, brand identity, and professional development, making a lasting impact on the company and its community.

Brian Rieger


Content Beacon

There are some people, like Brian Reiger, who just see things differently. They have a clarity of thought that allows them to see through to the truth of a matter and then quickly evaluate options. Rieger may get that from his training as a litigator. Law school has that effect on some people. But most can’t do a very good job of selling it. Brian can.

When he went into public relations, it wasn’t clear what a reformed lawyer could do to help clients share the news about their offerings. Filing a motion with the County Clerk wouldn’t get that job done. It turns out, Rieger knew exactly what needed to be done. He approaches every client like a new case, providing strategic counsel for national underwriters, mortgage lenders, law firms, trade associations, technology developers, mortgage consultants, title agencies and vendor management companies of all sizes.

Industry veterans like Patrick Stone say “Brian’s versatility and understanding of the mortgage and title industry makes him easy to work with. He has helped us with brand-building webinars, marketing collateral, direct e-mail marketing, and even with our corporate website. Through it all, his advice has been pretty much on the money: tell your clients how you can help them; tell them how much you appreciate them, and always tell them the truth.”

Mark Teteris, CMB

Director, Solutions Specialists

Optimal Blue

Mark Teteris, CMB, was tapped by Optimal Blue to sell its origination and secondary market technology, including its product and pricing engine, which enables customers to confidently execute profitable lending strategies, and hedge analytics and loan trading platform, which lenders and trading desk services use to manage pipeline risk. With a professional background that includes nearly two decades of leading mortgage sales and operations teams, Teteris’ first-hand knowledge of how an organization’s secondary markets team impacts its success has enabled him to excel in his role. During his tenure at Optimal Blue, Teteris has been instrumental in more than tripling the number of customers.

Teteris’ most significant accomplishment has been building and leading a sales team with incredibly specialized knowledge about the company’s product and pricing solution and hedging and trading platform. Rather than training sales professionals on the complexities of secondary marketing, Teteris took a novel approach by recruiting and training secondary market professionals on sales. These solutions specialists, handpicked and trained by Teteris, function as consultants who talk customers through complex processes like the enhanced workflow efficiencies of scenario-specific pricing and switching from best efforts to mandatory delivery business model, which requires developing a hedging operation. By changing the profile of people in specific sales roles, Teteris introduced an enhanced level of subject matter expertise to its prospective customers, providing them with a best-in-class customer experience.

Teteris’ team does about 2,000 product demos each year, providing tremendous value to Optimal Blue’s sales process. Prospective clients appreciate the opportunity to talk to someone who has been in their shoes and understands their exact challenges. Additionally, Teteris’ team collaborates with product development, marketing and national sales teams to drive product revenue growth and provide SME input through all phases of customer interaction, including discovery, in-depth product demonstrations, and strategic sales consulting.

This consultative sales approach was an entirely new way to sell the product and pricing, hedge analytics and loan trading solutions, and it has been integral to Optimal Blue’s success.

Today, Optimal Blue is a leader in mortgage secondary marketing technology, facilitating more than $1.1 trillion in mortgage locking and trading transactions annually. Its technology and data solutions are relied on by thousands of lenders and brokers, and hundreds of investors, as well as government agencies, think tanks, and others. The company’s solutions are used by 68% of the top 500 mortgage lenders in the U.S.

Amanda Williams

VP, Professional Services


In an always-dynamic mortgage industry, where innovation and client-centric solutions are paramount, Amanda Williams, Vice President of Professional Services at LoanCare, stands out as a beacon of excellence, trailblazing a path toward enhanced client satisfaction, retention, and industry-wide progress. As a residential loan subservicer, LoanCare’s relationships with their clients and their customers is the foundation for long-lasting success, and as a leader in Client Relations, Williams has been instrumental to propelling LoanCare to the forefront of innovation and client empowerment.

During her decade tenure at LoanCare, Williams has consistently demonstrated an unwavering commitment to pushing the conventional boundaries and spearheading transformative initiatives that help the Company evolve to ever-changing market demands. Pioneering Account-Based Marketing: One of Williams’ most notable achievements is the development and implementation of an innovative account-based marketing program which enables clients to tailor content and promotions to homeowners with the highest propensity of interest. Recognizing the pivotal role of ongoing lender and homeowner engagement in generating long-term retention, the program Williams spearheads fosters stronger connections through relevant interactions.

By leveraging data-driven insights and a keen understanding of client needs, she has empowered LoanCare clients to unlock new avenues of revenue growth and loyalty, driving mutual success and cementing LoanCare’s position as a trusted partner in the industry. Elevating Client Experience: In addition to her innovative marketing endeavors, Williams has been instrumental in enhancing client satisfaction through the successful rollout of a cutting-edge homeowner website. Williams led the client conversations ahead of the website rollout to ensure universal preparedness for its arrival. And by prioritizing client feedback and usability testing, Williams empowered homeowners with a user-centric digital platform that streamlines interactions, fosters transparency, and strengthens the bond between LoanCare, its clients, and homeowners.

Empowering with Analytics: Furthermore, Williams’ impact extends to the realm of project management, where she played a pivotal role in the testing, training, and rollout of LoanCare Analytics™—an all-in-one portfolio management system designed to empower clients with actionable insights and strategic oversight. Through her meticulous attention to detail and unwavering dedication to excellence, Williams ensured a seamless transition for clients, equipping them with the tools and knowledge needed to navigate the complexities of the modern mortgage landscape with confidence and precision. In summary, Williams epitomizes the essence of trailblazing leadership in the mortgage industry. Her relentless pursuit of excellence, and unwavering dedication to client empowerment have not only propelled LoanCare to new heights of success but have also set a benchmark for excellence within the broader mortgage ecosystem.