Kevin Keegan is a rarity among mortgage bankers in that lending to minorities accounts for the majority of his business.
Mr. Keegan is chief executive officer of Mortgage Capital Investors, an independent mortgage bank in the Fairfax County community of Springfield, in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Last year, loans to minorities accounted for 58% of the company's originations. Mr. Keegan started the company in 1986.
What makes this company unusual is that it doesn't focus on any particular minority group.
The company goes into ethnic enclaves of communities in an attempt to encourage minorities to buy homes. Mr. Keegan said that representatives from his company give speeches at churches and recently have gone to ethnic grocery stores to give information while passing out free sodas.
Why does a lender in the affluent suburbs actively seek out first-time homebuyers with low and moderate incomes when it would be easier to go after wealthier customers who would require bigger loans?
Mr. Keegan said that since few mortgage bankers do what Mortgage Capital does, the company has been able to take advantage of a market niche. "It's obvious that somebody is not paying attention if we're doing almost 60%" of total business from minority lending, he added.
And the company's reputation for lending to minorities makes it difficult for competitors to gain market share.
Mr. Keegan's interest is more than just business. His wife, a clinical psychologist born in Peru, runs a center that focuses on minorities.
"Every time I speak about mortgages, I've got to speak multicultural," he said. Mrs. Keegan says that by the year 2000, half of Fairfax County's population will speak English as a second language.
Mr. Keegan said he finds his work with minorities more rewarding than focusing on "50 year old white Anglo-Saxons and doing jumbo loans in McLean, Va.," another affluent suburb.
But trying to appeal to groups from many different cultures also has its challenges. Mr. Keegan said you have to know a person's background or risk losing business because of a cultural misunderstanding.
Mr. Keegan cited the example of a man from Saudia Arabia who stormed out of the office when told the interest rate was about 10%. After Mr. Keegan caught up with him in the parking lot, the man said that in Saudi Arabia he was used to interest rates of 1% - a month.
When Mr. Keegan explained that the 10% rate was an annual one and that it actually amounted to less than what was paid in Saudi Arabia, he had won a customer.
Fully 45% of Mortgage Capital's employees are minorities. Mr. Keegan usually tries to make sure that in an area with a large ethnic enclave, the loan officer will be of the same background, or at least speak the language and know the culture.
Mortgage Capital originated about $435 million in residential loans last year and Mr. Keegan said he expects an increase to $500 million this year.
The company also is looking to expand into North Carolina and South Carolina. Mr. Keegan said the company will build business there the same way it has in suburban Washington, by focusing on minorities.
"If we open up in Raleigh don't expect us to have four loan officers in the rich areas. We'll have maybe one in the rich neighborhoods and three in minority areas," he said.