Every August, hundreds of movers and shakers in the private lending industry gather in Las Vegas, Nevada, to attend the Geraci Captivate Conference. Captivate brings all private lending space professionals under the same roof and points them in the right direction to grow their business and help fund their next big deal. Surrounded by the bright lights of the Vegas strip and armed with lady luck, big names from across the industry come together to forge incredible connections and inspire each other with new innovative ideas.
Last August, during Captivate 2021, a group of women sensed a real need for a new networking group that would empower women in the private lending sphere — a hub where women could impart their knowledge, experience, and expertise to future generations. With all the excitement and inspiration that comes with starting a new venture, the Women in Private Lending group was founded, hosting its first event, a luncheon, during the American Association of Private Lenders’ Annual Conference the following November.
This innovative, female-focused group aims to act as a forum “for women in private lending to inspire each other, collaborate, mentor and/or be mentored, and support one another. At its core, it is a forum for sharing ideas, solving issues, and promoting innovation”.
For the Women in Real Estate Issue of Originate Report, we sat down with the four group founders of Women in Private Lending: Karey Geddes (Director of Bayport Funding), Kristina Sawyer (Vice President of Lending for Arixa Capital Advisors and Crosswind Financial), Lisa Alberti (Senior Vice President of Western Alliance Bank), and Ruby Keys (Vice President of Geraci Media) to discuss the group’s goals, how the lending landscape is changing in regards to gender equity, and the importance of mentorship.
Women Supporting Women
With an increasing number of talented and influential women working in the industry, it was apparent to those who founded the group that sharing and teaching the success they had in their respective industries would be of great benefit to the future generation of female lenders. In the predominantly male-led lending industry, Women in Private Lending seeks to inspire, collaborate, mentor, and support other women in their industry.
Women empowering other women, especially in a field like private lending, is a necessary element for the growth of an organization such as WIPL. Empowering women does not put them above men; it promotes gender equality, and women supporting each other is the key to its success. Women communities encourage the sharing of stories and experiences, which break those archaic patterns. They allow women to be vulnerable and there is a great sense of empowerment in being vulnerable, knowing it will never prove baleful to their development.
Whether you are new to the industry or have been in its trenches for decades, this group allows women to network, build, learn, and grow.
The Purpose of Professional Networking
The purpose of professional networking is to exchange information, advice, and referrals in an informal interview process. Networking develops mutually beneficial relationships that you and your contacts will benefit from. It is no surprise to those in the private lending space that networking is important. In fact, it is so powerful that it can make or break your career. With a strong network, you will be in a better position to learn about new opportunities in your field. In the 2015 Jobvite Recruiter Nation survey, 78% of recruiters find their best candidates through referrals. Similarly, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study indicated that 70% of jobs are found through networking.
In today’s technological world, it is important to maintain a network for you and your business itself. Utilizing networking websites such as LinkedIn has proven to be beneficial to both industry veterans and those new to the space. However, just building the network is not enough. It must be continuously expanded, and this concept is at the heart of Women in Private Lending’s networking component. Members will be able to share knowledge and new opportunities, build valuable connections, help increase confidence through mentorship, and raise their personal and professional profile.
A Changing Landscape
Thirty years ago, the lending space was a whole different ballpark regarding gender diversity. Karey Geddes is an industry veteran with twenty-five years of experience in mortgage banking. At the start of her career, she sat at the mortgage banking desk and was fortunate enough to have a few women in senior positions as her mentors, which was highly unusual at the time.
When her company grew, she found herself and one other female sales partner to be the only women in senior roles on the entire trading floor, with other women residing at the assistant level. Many of these women would come to Geddes for guidance, looking at her success as a potential path forward in their careers.
Geddes would eventually leave the Wall Street side of the business to pursue building a mortgage conduit of her own creation—a company that combined her years of expertise plus a product that would be short duration and not associated with a hedge—leading her into the private lending space. The path to building her own business “wasn’t always straightforward, and working harder, longer, and more efficiently seemed to be the only way to gain recognition over the male counterparts”.
According to research from Catalyst, the number of women in senior leadership roles is increasing rapidly. In 2021, 26% of all CEOs and managing directors were women, compared to only 13% in 2018. Mentorship plays a crucial role in closing the gender gap. Aiding other women in their professional development, building their confidence, and guiding them through challenges will result in more women reaching their full potential.
Kristina Sawyer is also an industry veteran with over twenty-three years of experience. She has a keen understanding of real estate acquisitions, real estate and construction lending, portfolio management, risk management, asset management, and property management. Seamlessly transitioning through these various roles, she has settled in sales for the time being. If you had told her a few years ago that she would end up in sales, she would not have believed you. She says, “I traded heels and a blazer for jeans and Timberlands to go on construction sites…I love the fast-paced nature of this business and the creativity in structuring loans. I love real estate and enjoy seeing the development of the projects. Because my job continues to evolve and change year after year, it stays interesting, and I am intrigued to keep learning. As the only female originator at my company, it is a much different experience when I ask a client out to lunch as opposed to my male counterparts.” Sawyer states. Thankfully, the business has matured throughout the years, with Sawyer noting that “Most men have shifted a lot of ways in business, and I think there is a lot more mutual respect given. A lot of women are not just in supportive roles anymore”.
Despite the changing tide, women still only make up 40% of loan originators. Female originators are growing, but it is still a small ratio.
While both Geddes and Sawyer understand that they may have had to work harder and play harder to keep up with the men around them, those trials only forced them to become stronger leaders with tougher backbones.
The private lending space has evolved tremendously since many of these women first started their careers, and not just in terms of gender equity. The industry has also become more polished and institutionalized, as Lisa Alberti of Western Alliance Bank points out. Alberti has worked in the public sector as a banker for twenty-five years, traditionally in commercial real estate. She tells us, “[Private Lending] is not the same space that it was five or ten years ago when it had that ‘hard money’ reputation to it. It is much more sophisticated now and very bank-like in terms of quality.” Women in Private Lending brings awareness to this evolving industry that is increasingly seeing an abundance of opportunities for women that branch out into all sectors.
When this industry first started, it was neither inclusive nor supportive of women. The issue of gender often hung heavy overhead. As the industry has evolved, mutual support of women by men and other women has become more interwoven into the fabric of forward-thinking companies. Women who have worked in lending for decades have seen more inclusion, diversity, and representation over the years, but there is still room for improvement.
Women in Private Lending is the necessary starting point for women seeking guidance and mentorship to expand their careers, especially in times of uncertainty. The founding members are remarkably successful women who have navigated the trials and triumphs of the industry, positioning themselves as knowledgeable experts for the future generation of lenders to lean on.
The Importance of Mentorship
Despite an increasing number of women taking more senior positions in the lending world and other industries, women continue to face some inequalities in the workplace. The members who make up Women in Private Lending come from many different sectors, but their belief in mentorship is the same. A mentor provides accountability and motivation for a protégé’s improvement while a mentee can openly share with their mentor their personal goals and struggles. Without proper representation and guidance, it would be easy for women to lose sight of their careers, ambitions, and goals. The collaboration and mentorship offered through groups like Women in Private Lending are priceless, giving women the opportunity to face and overcome obstacles bound to get in their way.
When reflecting on the barriers and challenges that she has faced during her career, Ruby Keys found that the mentors she met early in her career shaped her into who she is today.
Keys started her career at Geraci LLP, the nation’s largest law firm dedicated to the private lending space, when she was right out of college. With a background in marketing and an interest in law, she landed herself a position in marketing at a law firm. She was so excited to help build the marketing department and launch the conference line. “I was twenty-one when I started in this space,” Keys explained. “I think being a young woman was, at first, very intimidating. There were certainly colleagues and clients who did not take me seriously at first, however, there were many who wanted to help me grow and see me excel. I was fortunate to have phenomenal leaders, well known industry friends, and amazing mentors who helped push me to be the best version of myself.”
Mentors and collaborators provide future generations with guidance on navigating their careers, advice on skills development, and ongoing support in their respective fields.
Many women first starting their careers might feel discouraged by the lack of gender diversity that permeates the private lending industry and could be unaware of how many different opportunities are available to them. “This group will solve that problem by helping them understand what to expect. In this industry, you need a backbone, and you need to be able to be quick on your feet and change with the times. [Women in Private Lending] can better help women to understand that there are many different avenues in the industry they can follow, and we can point them in the right direction,” believes Sawyer.
The more examples out there of successful women in the industry, the more positive impact this will have on younger generations of women. One of the core messages that Women in Private Lending delivers is how important it is for women to support, not compete, with one another. While the women who make up Women in Private Lending might come from different aspects of the business, they have the same enthusiasm for the industry.
The Future of WIPL
Women in Private Lending has only scratched the surface of what it is capable of accomplishing. The group wants to further expand its regional reach, with accessibility being vital to this mission. WIPL offers women in the industry priceless information in both their personal and professional lives. Geddes looks forward to the continued growth of WIPL. “We see more content and more events in the future,” she predicts “I spoke to someone this morning who has connections with Dress for Success, Dry Bar, and Mac. If you combine these resources under Women in Private Lending, you have a great event on teaching younger women how to present themselves, rise to the top, and make themselves known when they walk in a room.”
WIPL has already garnered a tremendous amount of support and participation with three events in the books (American Association of Private Lenders in Las Vegas, National Lending Experts in Arizona, and Innovate in Newport Beach). The group is already expanding on its initial purpose with their first webinar, hosted by Arixa Capital. To hear some of the women in this piece discuss the industry, join the WIPL mailing list and get the latest on WIPL events and registration links. The upcoming talk is moderated by Kristina Sawyer, where the group will discuss their mission, why WIPL was founded, and important tips on mentorship.
The four inspiring women featured in this article were among the core group that founded Women in Private Lending. Their mission and message has resonated with women across the country and has led to an expansion in their group’s membership that continues to grow.
While luck or pure chance may have brought these women together back at the Captivate Conference in Las Vegas, it was hard work and skill that allowed these women to create WIPL.
If you are interested in allowing this group to help you succeed in your personal and career development, visit www.womeninprivatelending.com to learn more.
Women In Private Lending: Founding Members
Lisa Alberti, Senior Vice President, Note Finance Western Alliance Bank
With over 20 years’ experience in the banking industry, Lisa Alberti currently serves as Senior Vice President of the Note Finance division for Western Alliance Bank. Ms. Alberti supports her clients by providing a full suite of depository products as well as tailored solutions including revolving lines of credit to institutional debt funds, non-bank financial institutions and family offices that originate or acquire short-term mortgages and bridge loans secured by real estate.
Before joining Western Alliance Bank’s Note Finance team in 2019, she was Vice President, Commercial Real Estate for Torrey Pines Bank, a division of Western Alliance Bank. Additionally, she held positions with Bank of America and GE Capital Solutions. Lisa earned her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Tulane University.
Karey Geddes, Director, Bayport Funding
Karey Geddes is the Director of Correspondent Lending and Table Funding for Bayport Funding LLC. She is an industry veteran with over 25 years’ experience in mortgage banking and securitzation, specializing in the building and operation of none prime mortgage conduits. Previously Ms. Geddes held executive management positions at ViaNova Capital Group, WinWater, CSFB and DLJ.
Marcia Kaufman, President, Bayport Funding LLC
Marcia Kaufman joins Bayport with over three decades of experience in the mortgage banking and real estate industry, with expertise in identifying real estate opportunities, valuation, development, management, and exit strategy for assets. Ms. Kaufman owned her own real estate investment and brokerage firm in addition to serving in senior leadership positions at American Home Mortgage Ventures, Preferred Empire Mortgage Company and Arbor National Mortgage. Most recently she was securing bridge financing for real estate investors for fix and flip opportunities and for the purchase of rental properties for eventual stabilization.
Ruby Keys, Vice President of Media, Geraci LLP
Ruby Keys is the Vice President of Geraci Media. She joined the firm in 2015 to help build and grow the marketing department and launch Geraci Media. She started out as the Marketing Coordinator and was promoted to Marketing Director for Geraci Law Firm in 2016. In 2018, Ruby shifted her focus to Geraci Media, taking on the role as Vice President to expand the firm’s event line and launch new initiatives within the company.
Dani L’Heureux, Marketing Manager, Geraci LLP
Dani L’Heureux is the Marketing Manager at Geraci LLP. She is responsible for overseeing the execution of firmwide and department-specific marketing campaigns. Her job responsibilities include ensuring Geraci’s voice is communicated clearly and consistently across mediums and analyzing the efficacy of short- and long-term Marketing projects. She assists with the planning and execution of two 400+ person Geracicon private lending events a year. In addition, L’Heureux assists with web design for Geraci’s four websites and built/maintains a partly automated cross departmental sales process in Keap.
Samantha Mansfield, Originations Coordinator, Artes Capital
Samantha Mansfield is the Originations Coordinator at Artes Capital. She is responsible for the management of all loan transactions from start to finish throughout the lending process.
Melissa Martorella, Esq., Partner, Geraci LLP
Melissa Martorella is a Partner and Department Head of Geraci LLP’s Banking and Finance and Foreclosure practice groups. Her practice primarily revolves around the representation of nationwide mortgage professionals and providing for their transactional documentation and compliance needs. She also advises on all default related matters.
Cindy Nasser, Chief Operating Officer, PCV Murcor
Cindy Nasser is the Chief Operations Officer at PCV Murcor, an appraisal management company. She is responsible for business operations, sales and marketing, quality control, client engagement and growth, training, pricing, government affairs, and operational compliance. Prior to PCV Murcor, Cindy held leadership roles at Bank of America and Yahoo.
Kendra Rommel, Principal/Co-founder, Futures Financial
Kendra Rommel is the Principal/Co-founder of Futures Financial. She began her career at the tail end of the Savings and Loan Crisis in the ’90s at 17 years old.
Embarking on an upward career trajectory, Kendra has spent the last 14 years in asset management, capital markets, and private lending.
Her career successes align with her innate zest for life, pursuit of personal growth, and philosophy that making fitness a part of daily priority, drastically impacts performance. Kendra’s drive and mindset make her an invaluable asset and partner at Futures Financial.
Kristina Sawyer, Vice President of Lending, Arixa Capital
Kristina Sawyer is the vice president of lending for Arixa Capital Advisors. In her role, she works with many of Arixa’s skilled real estate investor and developer clients to craft loan solutions that fit their specific needs. She is also active in rolling out new products, such as Arixa’s new 30-year maturity fixed rate permanent loans. Kristina has played an important role in developing Arixa’s technology platform that the company uses to manage all of its upcoming and existing loans and borrower relationships. In her nine-year tenure, Sawyer has spearheaded strategic priorities for the firm that have enabled the company to expand and deliver exceptional client servicer where she has demonstrated incredible tenacity, passion and leadership.
Lesley Boyd, Senior Vice President, Geraci LLP
Lesley Boyd is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Geraci LLP. Boyd is responsible for strategizing and guiding the implementation of overall marketing campaigns for Geraci Law Firm’s three main practice areas, while influencing revenue goals for Geraci Media’s Conferences and in house magazine. Her duties include budget management, overseeing performance-based media campaigns, brand management, third-party vendor management, maintaining client relationships, ensuring branding consistency, and team management.