Susan Stewart Takes Charge as MBA 2021 Chair

Susan Stewart has worked in mortgage banking since she was 24. She has grown SWBC Mortgage, San Antonio, Texas, from a small regional bank with three employees in 1989 to a full-service origination-to-servicing organization with 70 branches serving 43 states with 680 employees.

And this week, she became Chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association—another full-time job in itself, but one she relishes as the real estate finance industry—and the country—deal with a remarkable period in history.

“I’ve tried to build my career on a foundation of honesty and integrity,” Stewart said this afternoon during the virtual MBA Annual Convention & Expo.  

Stewart said like many people in the real estate finance industry, “I did not choose the mortgage business, it chose me. “I was a single mother of two little girls ages 2 and 5 looking for my first ‘adult job,’” she said. “I certainly had no idea when I took that first job that I had stumbled into a business I would soon come to love. I love every aspect, the people, the mission, the opportunity to be part of a life changing event in people’s lives.”

“Integrity” is an important word for Stewart. “When I started at SWBC, I made clear that we were going to do well by doing good,” she said. “I said we wouldn’t take shortcuts, we wouldn’t turn a profit at other people’s expense, and we would never say one thing and do another. Someone in Texas once called us ‘the Boy Scout company.’ If that implies we follow the rules and are straight shooters, that is fine with me.”

As MBA Chair, Stewart said she is focused on issues that matter most to members. “Right now, the biggest issue is the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “I don’t have to tell you that things are moving fast. Take it from me: The MBA is moving faster. We’re talking to lawmakers before the congressional debates begin. We’re talking to regulators before the deadlines come. We’re working with officials on both sides of the aisle, and whatever happens this November, we will be ready.”

Historically, the MBA chair chooses three key initiatives for their time in office. Stewart said she is taking a different approach: instead of three initiatives, she chose just one—promoting minority homeownership.

“It’s a big, weighty issue of huge importance; it is an issue I am passionate about,” Stewart said. “For years, I have been deeply concerned that Blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups lag behind in homeownership rates. Growing up I was lucky my parents built two homes and I grew up taking it for granted that I too would be a homeowner. I saw it as a rite of passage, part of becoming an adult. But there are entire generations of families that don’t think owning a home is possible for them. It’s too far out of reach and for many families it’s growing more distant by the day. That’s not just wrong – it’s an injustice. And after the national focus on racial injustice this year, the time has come to right this wrong.”

Stewart noted nationally, the homeownership rate is 65%. “But Black homeownership rates are only 44%, which is close to its lowest level in 50 years,” she said. “For Hispanics, the homeownership rate is hardly better, at 49%, and for Asians, it’s 59%. As an industry we cannot accept these terrible statistics. Behind these numbers are millions of families who’ve been pushed to the sidelines of the American Dream. They deserve better – and we must do better.”

Stewart said the mortgage industry has an opportunity—and an obligation—to open the door to those ready willing and able to own a home. “Homeownership is the foundation for generational wealth and social mobility,” she said. “I don’t see this as a dream. We have the ability together to make our world better, so let’s make that happen. This is a mission worthy of the MBA.”

Also this year, MBA will pursue creation of new policies and programs to address the crisis. “To start, we will call on policymakers to provide more support to Independent Mortgage Banks,” Stewart said. “IMBs are already making the majority of loans to minority homebuyers. They are in the best position to expand access to underserved communities. I will work to empower IMBs to do just that.”

MBA will also work with policymakers to do more to support affordable, sustainable rental housing for those who aren’t ready for homeownership. “The fact is that not everyone needs or wants to own a home right now,” Stewart said. “We are committed to provide more affordable options for them, too, until the time is right to pursue homeownership.”

We will do our part to make our country a better place for everyone,” Stewart added. “At the same time, we are doubling down on our commitment to diversity. Diversity matters for two simple reasons. First, it’s right. We should always seek to provide opportunities to people of all backgrounds. That’s just basic fairness. Second, it’s smart. A more diverse workforce will help us find new ways to serve the homebuyers of today and tomorrow. As the economy and the culture change, our companies must change with it.”

Stewart said she’s been inspired by MBA members’ commitment to diversity. “In my own company, I have been vocal on this issue, and as Chair-Elect of MBA, I also led the [MBA] Diversity and Inclusion Committee,” she said. “Our work in this space goes back a long time. You know, MBA was promoting diversity before it was a headline.”

Stewart is the third female MBA Chair; previously, Regina Lowrie, CMB; and Debra Still, CMB, served as chairs. “And I am so excited about the woman who will follow me. Kristy Fercho will be MBA’s fourth female and first African American chair. Brian Stoffers and I have truly enjoyed working with her over the past year. I look forward to continuing to work with Kristy, she is truly a treasure.”

Now is the time for MBA to be in the arena,” Stewart said. “We can’t just watch what’s happening, while sitting in the cheap seats. We have to be in the game, on the front lines, doing the work that needs to be done. If we don’t, who will? I know that you will rise to the occasion. You always have. That’s why I’m so proud to serve as your Chairman this year. You have my word that I will be in the arena, every single day. You have my word that I will be in your corner, on every single issue.  I took this job because I want to do right by the industry that been so good to me, and I will work with you to do more good for more people, all across our country. This is the mission of the Mortgage Bankers Association. It is an honor to make that mission my own, on your behalf and for your benefit.”