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Kelly Zitlow | Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Cornerstone Home Lending

Kelly Zitlow: Breaking Barriers and Empowering Women

A passion for education. If there’s one thing you need to know about Kelly Zitlow, it’s that she has a true passion for education. Breaking down barriers as relates to the home loan process and empowering not only women but all people to make educated decisions about the home loan process is what fuels her passion.

For over 27 years she has developed a reputation for being a strategic thinker and an innovative problem solver. Not only is she a top 1% mortgage originator in the country but she has also become a standout in the digital marketing space. Video marketing has provided her a vehicle to reach people all across the country with the good news about mortgages.

This has led her to take her career to new heights as the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Cornerstone Home Lending a division of Cornerstone Capital Bank. We caught up with Kelly to learn more about her professional journey and how she has become a trailblazer and inspiration for women in the mortgage industry.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Kelly, please briefly describe for our audience your professional journey up until now.

My professional journey in the mortgage industry started in 1996. I was on my way to law school when a friend talked me into giving the mortgage industry a try. So, I took a detour that lasted 27 years. I have been a mortgage loan originator the entire time, in addition to serving in various leadership capacities. I am currently an Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Cornerstone Home Lending as well as running my loan origination team.

What challenges did you face along the way?

Mortgage lending is fluid in that the ups and downs are cyclical based on what’s going on in the economy, what’s going on in the real estate industry, and what’s happening around the globe. Along the way, there are challenges that come up and impact people. When people have challenges, it affects our industry. For example, one of the biggest challenges I experienced was in 2008 when the housing market crashed. It was not easy in the sense that overnight the faucet turned off. Overnight, liquidity became an issue.

Overnight, lending became an issue. Credit became an issue. And while there were all these challenges, I still believed in home ownership and realized I had an opportunity. Despite all that was happening around me– I could bring education to my community. I could get them the valuable information they needed during this crisis.

There were still people buying houses. There were still people that needed guidance on short sells, foreclosures, etc. Some people needed a trusted resource, and I realized I could be that for them. That was when I started to think bigger about my impact, not just as a loan originator but honestly as a leader in our community. That was also when I began leveraging video to expand my reach and bring more information to more people.

What significant impact have you brought to the mortgage industry?

The impact I have brought to the mortgage industry is that individual loan officers can genuinely influence and educate their community by leveraging social media. We have the ability to chunk down financing information as well as create the narrative around homeownership. This allows us to help people in a much more powerful way. The way I did it was by incorporating video in 2014 into my business. That has allowed me to build my brand and reach more people. I’ve been able to break down barriers that keep people from purchasing homes and help keep that dream of home ownership alive by educating people on how to use homeownership to build wealth.

Tell us about Cornerstone Home Lending and its foundation pillar.

Cornerstone home lending has been in business since 1988. Marc Laird and Judy Blanchard started it with the purpose of wanting to do something better. They wanted to create a culture of people that were focused on serving their respective communities.

Our company mission statement is: “We exist to use and improve upon our God-given talents to make a positive difference in the lives of our team members, customers, shareholders, and the people who provide services to us.”

Marc and Judy always cared about doing the right thing. That’s important because doing the right thing is helpful as a loan originator working with Cornerstone. We know that their head and heart are in a suitable space. If something happens out there- they’ve got our back, and we have their back, making it a great collaboration. We are all here to please do the right thing and serve those on their path to homeownership.

How does Cornerstone Home Lending promote workforce flexibility, and what is your role in it?

Even prior to COVID, Cornerstone has been forward-thinking when it comes to remote workers. We are over 1500 employees that work in-office and remotely across the nation. When COVID came along, we did not skip a beat because the investment in technology was already in place to allow people to work from home. Still, to this day, we continue to support hybrid schedules.

What is your take on technology’s importance, and how are you leveraging it?

I’m a big believer in high-tech, high-touch. Technology doesn’t rule the roost, nor does the relationship. It’s a combination of both of those things. That’s where the magic happens. While I’ve always been a relationship-based leader and relationship-based loan originator, I still only have so many hours in the day. As a result, technology is paramount in helping us be more efficient. Therefore, we are constantly re-evaluating our technology platforms, improving them, and investing money in them to create efficiency in both the client experience, the referral partner experience, and our loan officers’ experience.

What will be the next significant change in the mortgage industry, and how are you preparing for it?

The advancement of technology and AI, such as ChatGPT, etc., are going to create additional tools, resources, and noise in the industry. Anyone who wants to remain in the mortgage must stay connected to what people want and need while helping to lead them through the process. This is where we’ve got to stay focused while still leveraging all the fantastic technology.

Our industry right now is going through a massive change. We are going to continue to see inventory at limited levels across the country for a while. When interest rates drop back down if they do, and when they do, we’ll potentially see another resurgence of that entry-level buyer being bid out because they can’t compete. So understanding what’s happening

on the street is essential for leadership in the mortgage industry, and bringing solutions to whatever real estate cycle is occurring is the key. We are very focused on affordability and bringing financing options to the market that help achieve affordability, especially for entry-level and moderate-income first-time homebuyers.

What are your goals in the upcoming future?

As the EVP of Sales & Engagement, my primary goal is to evolve Cornerstone’s story and bring it to the masses via social media platforms. I’m looking forward to helping people better understand what we are about, why we are here, and the mission at hand. Outside of that, I would say the additional goal is to help our loan officers continue to build their brand and be relevant in this market cycle.

What advice would you like to give the next generation of aspiring business leaders?

Be bold, be courageous, and align yourself with really great people. When you collaborate and tap into the superpower and skill set of those around you, that, combined with a leader’s vision, is where businesses are going. Those business leaders who are bold enough to think differently, have the courage to go after something that’s never been created and do things more streamlined will succeed. It’s the current wave of the future and inspiring to me.