This piece originally appeared in the October 2023 edition of MortgagePoint magazine, online now.
The Keys for Life Gala is a Five Star Conference tradition for several reasons, but one of the most anticipated is the annual presentation of Five Star’s Lifetime Achievement (LTA) Award. As part of the Keys for Life Gala and this year’s Five Star Conference & Expo, the 2023 LTA Award was presented to Kim Yowell, EVP of Servicing at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, who was honored for her three decades of outstanding performance and contributions to the industry.
Yowell has over 30 years of management experience in the financial services industry. She started her career in the accounting and finance side of the mortgage business and has been focused on servicing and operations for the past 20 years. She has held key leadership positions at CTX Mortgage Company, First Horizon Home Loans, Metlife Bank, and BoK Financial.
As the Five Star team prepared for the ceremony, we spoke with both Yowell and several of her industry colleagues about her career, the most important lessons she’s learned along and way, and her experiences within the industry—both as a woman and in leadership.
Yowell has also served on the Freddie Mac Advisory Board, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Loan Administration Committee, the Black Knight Servicer Advisory Board, and the Fiserv Servicing Advisory Board.
She is a member of Five Star’s National Mortgage Servicing Association and serves on the Texas Mortgage Bankers Association Board and the MortgagePoint Editorial Advisory Board. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), she holds a BBA in accounting from Texas Christian University.
David Wharton, Five Star Editor-in-Chief, sat down with the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for a Q&A to further discuss her career and her legacy in the aftermath of the award.
Q: Describe your day-to-day responsibilities as EVP of Servicing at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation. What does a typical day look like, if there is such a thing?
My day-to-day responsibilities include managing a highly skilled team, delivering a compliant, quality-efficient interim servicing operation, minimizing risks, overseeing subservicer and vendor performance, and delighting our customers and loan officers.
Q: How have your past experiences enriched and informed your current role with Fairway?
Interim servicers face unique demands and challenges that are largely unrecognized and unappreciated. I have benefited in this role by leveraging best practices, processes, vendor relationships, and strong talent stemming from my prior third-party servicing experience.
Q: What would you consider your greatest career accomplishments to date?
I’m proud to have been part of many large, complex, and challenging (sometimes harrowing) initiatives—systems conversions, acquisitions, bulk loan sales, development projects, company mergers, department buildouts, etc. As boring as it may sound, I think my greatest accomplishment has been achieving consistently high quality and integrity from the teams and operations I have been responsible for. I receive fulfillment and satisfaction with high scores, excellent ratings, satisfied customers, and “no findings.”
Q: What are the biggest challenges you have faced during your career, and how did you work to overcome them?
We all tend to think that nobody can do a task as well as we can ourselves. Starting out, I worked excessive hours as I tried to do it all or control it all myself. As you progress and advance in your career, and in the scope of your responsibilities, you learn that you cannot do everything, know everything, or be an expert at everything. In fact, you are humbled to learn that many people are much better than you at most things. Those are the people you want on your team. To survive, I learned to plan, to delegate, to manage, to listen, and to “trust but verify.”
Q: You were active in the industry during the financial and mortgage crisis a decade ago. What lessons learned from that era can be carried over in today’s environment?
Though I wish I could, I will never forget the atrocious mortgage crisis of 2008-2009. Two lessons stand out to me:
- Document, document, document—if not documented, it did not occur.
- Silence does not protect or defend.
The whole financial services industry “stood down” under the intense regulatory and political pressures that were hunting for villains and attacking our industry, as all were focused on limiting reputational risk and harm. The industry’s silence did not limit or lessen reputational risk or harm. Though, in the end, we emerged with some beneficial changes that will better serve our customers and our industry, we suffered unnecessary and unfair collateral damage and harm by not speaking out.
Q: What would you consider some of the pain points currently faced by the industry? What is Fairway doing to overcome these issues?
Companies are still struggling for position and profitability as the whole origination industry has contracted as a result of the economic and rate environment.
Servicers may soon face increased defaults and workload demands when and if the predicted recession hits. Fairway has a bold leadership team and has proactively made the necessary changes to remain viable and thrive in this environment.
Q: What is the company culture of Fairway Independent Mortgage like?
Fairway has core values that exemplify the culture and are exhibited from the CEO down. Most employees would tell you that Fairway is like a caring and competitively fun family. Employees are respected, the work pace is fast, the demands and expectations are high, our loan officers are treasured, and our customers are highly valued and treated right. The heart of Fairway is about giving and doing the right thing.
Q: Who are some mentors who have impacted your career? What lessons or perspectives did they instill?
My first mentor was my first boss. He taught me about fiduciary responsibility, discipline, and putting the greater good of the company first. He also taught me how to plan and how anything was possible with good planning.
My second mentor is Marion McDougall. Marion has always been outspoken and fearless, and she taught me how to be confident and quietly brave. She helped me develop my negotiation skills to build mutually beneficial relationships.
My lifelong mentor is my beloved husband, my biggest fan, who has always supported me and who has both given and given up so much so that I could pursue my career dreams.
Q: What is something you have not yet achieved in your career but would like to?
I hope to one day build out a unique and superior loan servicing platform for Fairway and for our customers, which would complement our awesome origination business and position Fairway for the future.
Q: How would you like to be remembered when your career in the mortgage space is over?
You learn at an early age that life is not fair. As a child, I told my parents I wanted to be a judge, probably thinking that in that powerful role, I could set things right and make things fair. I did not pursue law, but rather I pursued accounting. Surprisingly, my career quickly escalated into people, accounting, and servicing management. One might say that I have held some powerful positions. My goal has always been to treat everyone fairly and equally, just like I want to be treated. When selecting a manager or a leader, I ask myself if I could report to that candidate; if not, then they are not the right person for my team.
I hope that I will be remembered as a fair, hard-working, and committed leader with high expectations who challenged, inspired, and supported my teams.
A Career Reflected Upon
As part of the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony, Five Star always gathers testimonial quotes from our LTA recipient’s colleagues and coworkers. Here are some highlights from those we spoke with about Kim Yowell.
“She gives you enough leeway and confidence and that you could accomplish anything. She’s always there, she’s supportive. Her performance has always been high-performing, and she surrounds herself with an incredible team. She finds talent. She mentors, she teaches, and she’s all about having fun, too.”—Belinda DeArman, SVP, Nationstar Mortgage
“What probably inspires me most about Kim is her continual drive for excellence. She’s always seeking [opportunities] to make things better, to improve whatever environment she’s associated with in all facets of the operation. Kim is continuously striving to raise the bar, and [has done so] through the course of her career.”—Greg Giammario, Executive VP, National General Lender Services
“Kim Yowell is an expert, and [best of class] as far as servicing. All the ins and outs, all the people to talk to, what’s good, what makes sense, what doesn’t: any mortgagee would trust and would be able to trust a person like Kim Yowell.”—Steve Jacobson, Founder and CEO, Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
“The way she’s inspired me is that she’s always so bright, smart, energetic, passionate. When someone’s got that kind of energy and passion, you can’t help but be inspired. It’s so fitting that she’s winning this because it’s people like Kim who’ve dedicated their life to a mortgage industry career.”—Len Krupinski, COO, Fairway Independent Mortgage
“With Kim, her integrity never wavers. She is solid in her beliefs and a person who always does the right thing. Her intelligence, her stability, and her integrity [are] what I admire most. Kim knows how to build a plan, and most importantly, knows how to execute a plan. She’s a strategic thinker and a problem-solver.”—Marion McDougall, CEO, Celink