On-Demand: CAPstone: Shattering the Tech Ceiling | Part I - Community Preservation Corporation
October 26, 2022
For our kick-off episode, we heard from the COO and SVP from a finance and real estate organization and dove into how they use technology to run an effective business.
Rahul Mahna:This is the fourth series of our CAPstone webinar and I'm really excited about this one. In regards to how we've conducted the past ones, we've often focused, as with most consulting models, on people, process and technology. And for those that have visited and been with us for the previous ones, thank you. And we focused a lot on technology, as you know, we talked to vendors, we talked to very specific people with very specific skills.
The area that we've never really focused on a lot is people and how people make such a dramatic change and impact in an IT organization and in a business in general. And upon reflection, I really thought about it this year and thought, "We have an absolutely fantastic amount of women, in this case, that are executives and many of our clients." And I thought that they're doing such an amazing job of running not only their organizations but IT organizations in particular. And as many of you know, IT organizations are predominantly male-oriented. So, I thought it'd be a really nice opportunity to learn some of the skills and techniques that they have and how it can help others in managing an organization, an IT organization, and how perhaps they could start moving in different career paths.
So, with that, I have a wonderful group of colleagues with me here, that are going to chat about this. So, we have Carolyn Au, and Stephanie from the CPC, as well as my colleague from Eisner, Elaine Fazzari. And we're going to delve into some of these questions, hopefully get some secret sauce that Carolyn and Stephanie can share with us, and walk away from this a little bit more enlightened. So, with that, I'll turn it over to Elaine, to hopefully kick in and get us going here.
Elaine Fazzari:Hello, everyone. Carolyn, and Stephanie, can you give us some detail about what services Community Preservation Corporation provides and who are your customers?
Carolyn Au:Sure. Do you want me take that one?
Carolyn Au: So, CPC is the nation's largest affordable non-profit, multi-family lender. What does that mean in English? It means we are committed to providing affordable housing and lowering the cost of building affordable housing. So to-date, I think we've invested about $14 billion and I think we've created about 1.1 or 1.2 million homes, affordable homes, for people in our area.
Elaine Fazzari:Carolyn, can you share your career path with us, you being a woman in the tech space?
Carolyn Au:Sure. So, I don't think of myself as woman in the tech space. I think of myself as women in the business space, but it's related to tech space. But I don't know that we have enough time in the day to go through my entire career. I've been at CPC for 34-plus years. This is home. I started out on the loan closing side of the business and worked my way up to the origination side of the business, then back onto asset management, then helping run our servicing and asset management platform. And then, eventually moved onto operations for the entire company. And that is how I got introduced into technology and how IT became under my umbrella. And it was quite the learning experience, but here we are.
Elaine Fazzari:And Stephanie, can you share your experience?
Stephanie CanzaSure, I'd be happy to. So, it's similar in many ways. I like to think of myself as a longtime CPC employee. I've been here about 16 years, but somehow that doesn't seem quite so impressive sitting next to Carolyn.
Carolyn Au:It is.
Stephanie CanzaBut I came into the affordable housing space in the early 2000s, kind of unawares. I knew I wanted to work in a non-profit area, but I wasn't necessarily committed to housing at the time. I was a recent college graduate and trying to really figure it out. I had happened upon CPC in a roundabout way and took an initial job here as a loan servicer, right? Entry-level job, foot in the door, and just fell in love with housing, affordable housing in particular, the company and generally our mission and how we serve the communities in New York City, New York State. And we are expanding nationally as well in our footprint.
I've moved in a lot of different areas of CPC. We're relatively small at 150 employees, but I have had an amazing opportunity to wear a lot of different hats and learn a lot of different skills. I worked in our finance and accounting department. I helped stand up our mortgage company and our pricing desk on the finance side of the house. And then a couple years ago I started working for Carolyn as we really rethought about our expansion into the mortgage company and agency lending space, and running our servicing platform. And it was really through Carolyn's mentorship and my work on the business side, that then I shifted into IT when a opportunity arose. So, I really took an opportunity that was presented at an organization and a place that for me has always been a safe space. So, I'm not a traditional IT candidate necessarily, but am enjoying it quite a bit.
Rahul Mahna:That's fantastic, Stephanie. And so, I did not give a lot of my background, but my background has been in the IT industry for my entire career, it's what I've done. And I am so excited, I heard this term yesterday and I hope you give me some liberty here, I'm so excited that the room is going to start smelling a little bit better. I'm so used to having all these guys in the IT room and in the decision-making of these rooms, and it's terribly exciting to me now that you with your title, and if I repeat your title properly, SVP of Technology and Business Infrastructure, which is fantastic.
I wanted to run something by you. So, I read a lot of news when I wake up, it's just part of what I do. I saw a headline which said, "Japan cybersecurity minister claims he's never used a computer." And this is Japan, right? This isn't a small, micro country. So, with you not being in technology like me for 30 years, not being in those rooms for 30 years, I would just be curious to get your thoughts on Japan's cybersecurity minister not having ... Let's just assume he's never used a computer, as he claims. Someone who has not come through 30 years of technical expertise, and so forth, I would just love to get your thoughts around, is it important for somebody to have 30 years of technology to be hireable, to be the SVP of Technology in a firm? What is your thoughts around this?
Stephanie CanzaSo, it's a great question and I think it's astonishing that anybody today hasn't used a computer, right? So, that is just a wild statement.
Carolyn Au:That's my mother.
Stephanie CanzaBut that being aside, I can believe it. Right? So, I think in a lot of ways when you start growing in a career, coming into a career, shifting careers, I think one of the things that make a leader a really great leader is an acknowledgement and a self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? What do you need help with? And so, it's an assessment. Where's your organization, where's your department, and where are you?
So for me, identifying some of the more technical weaknesses and then supplementing them either through outsourced resources, through partnerships, through hiring and staffing a team that brings that knowledge to the organization and the department, I think is a way to bridge that gap. I think at the uppermost levels, it's less to do necessarily with the technical knowledge of the job and more figuring out, whether that's in tech, or in finance, or in loan originations, it's more just, "How does my piece fit in the larger hole and how do I help support the macro organization to really push our mission forward and continue doing the work we do?"
So, I think you can absolutely be in a role that traditionally is defined differently, but you have to be aware of it, right? And you have to know when you are not the smartest person in the room, which is often, right? And you have to know when there is a question that you defer to somebody else who knows better. I think there's a certain amount of self-awareness and confidence that you bring to be able to say, "Hey, I'm not the right person to answer that question, but I know exactly who is." And I think in that way you can really bridge that gap there.
Carolyn Au:I would also add to that, I think, having business acumen, something we have completely missed out when I've looked back at the IT platform. There's so many people that are so technical, but they can't actually talk business to the business people. So, you just go around and around in circles and I think that is a really big gap that Stephanie, for our organization anyway, has been able to really bridge for us. Speaking IT to the people that have to agree to pay for it. It is a very different lens.
Rahul Mahna:I love that perspective and let's just lean in on that for a second, because I think a lot of IT folks don't understand the business. Just because they understand how a network works, doesn't mean they know what the business needs. Right? And so I think if I understand, Stephanie, and to repeat, you understand the business really well, so you're making strategic IT decisions based on what the business needs predominantly. And Carolyn, what you're saying I think is that by having that business knowledge, you know what's the right money to spend to get the best bang for the buck for the business, mostly. Is that right?
Carolyn Au:Totally. And I think it's the job of a good director of IT to tell the business person, "Slow your roll here. I know you saw this shiny new toy, but it solves one problem for you. It doesn't make sense to spend this kind of money on a solution that isn't going to help you in more places than one. And let's take a holistic approach to how we can help all areas of our business, or a few areas of our business, and stop building what I call the Frankenstein model of applications and all of that stuff."
But I feel like in past when I've hired other very technical IT directors, they only can talk to, "Oh, that's the shiny new toy, let's go out and get it because it's cool and it's going to deal with one particular thing." But it doesn't really marry well if you don't understand returns and how are we going to manage that over time and how does it fit into our business goals for the future?
Rahul Mahna:And so, there's people that have joined this webinar that are technical, that have been technical predominantly, how can they get a perspective onto what Stephanie sees and she knows so well? The flip of this, is there a way that you both think someone can learn the business to be a better technologist?
Stephanie Canza Sure. One of the ways that I think we're challenging and changing at CPC and really being successful, is increasing our communication and having a lot of people in the room, so you hear it firsthand. And I think how that plays out at CPC and under Carolyn's umbrella, largely is the combination of the two. Right? So, we have this problem we need to solve, how does the business view the problem? How does the technical IT people view the problem?
And at the end of the day, what's the end goal? Is it an application solution? Is it an investment solution? Is it just a complete upheaval solution? What do we ultimately want to do? And then, having both sides of the house talk to each other and understand what some of the roadblocks would be, I think, have been really helpful. So, a couple years ago I think, Carolyn, you created with our CFO, a group of individuals at CPC that reported into IT, to address I think exactly Rahul's question here.
Carolyn Au:All of that, I also feel like giving IT a seat at the table, right? We often think of IT as service provider. The business runs full speed ahead and then we come back and in 30 seconds or less, we want you to build us some kind of solution. And I think we have never really elevated that role to have a seat at our senior table, which Stephanie brings all of that experience, knowledge, and the ability to go back and fill in her people, to give them the view into what the business thinks like and the things that we think about forward moving, backward looking, all the things that we learned from our mistakes. And it really gives her people an opportunity to learn how the business thinks and moves, outside of technical.
Rahul Mahna:I think that that makes a lot of sense. And I'm sorry, I'm belaboring a little bit here because I think it's so interesting. Stephanie, could you talk about that group that you and Carolyn, or Carolyn had created, that combines? I think that's pretty unique. I'd like to learn about that.
Stephanie CanzaAbsolutely. So, it was a combination of folks who had business knowledge. So, it was a gentleman from our finance and accounting department, accounting background, understood our GL, understood the billing side and the financial components, FP&A side of the business. And then it was another gentleman from the more traditional loan side of the house, so asset management and servicing. And so, understood how at CPC, that's our bread and butter, right? We originate loans and we deploy capital into underserved areas.
So, how does that happen? Through the mechanics of a loan, right? Through a closing. And so this individual really understood the mechanics of our business and how we get that money out and how we impact homes. And whether it's on the origination side, the debt side, or the equity side, that part is not as important in this context, but more just someone who understood the business. And it was bringing those people under the IT umbrella and saying, "Okay, now flip the switch. You're smart individuals, let's think about it differently. You know what the issues were on the business side, how do we solve them from a technology perspective? What can we learn? What can we bring?" Kind of the question, like you don't know what you don't know.
So, putting them under this umbrella of tech and saying, "Okay, let's learn a lot, let's understand a lot. And then bring that knowledge back." Because in a business sense, when your day-to-day job is full with actually being on the business, it's harder to think about a technology solution or a different application, or how you could do something better versus you've just always done it this way.
Carolyn Au: I think we challenge those individuals to become the subject matter expert for certain applications that we own, so that they could be that resource, where before the business even knows what the business needs or wants, they understand, "Hey, there's this widget, there's this application or some module that you've not used. It could really save you time, it can really create bandwidth. It can do all these things." Before we even go to ask. So, that I think is always progressive and moving, but it really helps to move business people into the tech side, make them really familiar with the tech solutions we already own.
Stephanie Canza I think it also creates a framework for it to become repetitive and just part of the every day. So, we instituted this a couple years ago, three years ago or so, but I just adopted it, I inherited it. It was a beautiful thing. It's like a big state somewhere else that you just get. And so, now I'm able to look at the business and bring other individuals at the organization who I see excelling in their individual roles, and invite them to join. Right? "We have this exciting IT project, but I need a business sponsor. It might be a little out of your wheelhouse, but I think it's going to be interesting. Do you want to participate?"
And you talk to their manager, you talk to their boss, but you constantly bring in new people and new talent and a fresh set of eyes to open both sides of the house. And I think having laid that framework and that being an existing acceptable way to share resources at the organization, has been really transformative and leveraging talent outside of a traditional technology department.
Carolyn Au:We have spent a lot of time building the culture of collaboration and not being as siloed as we were and to change the view of IT as that service provider, but really a business partner. So, it's taken us a while, but I think culturally we are there, and adding Stephanie there, who's well respected by the business, just keeps adding more credibility there, to what I need.
Rahul Mahna:I love it. I love it. And I'll take a pause here because I think I could just keep talking. Elaine, why don't I pass it back to you?
Elaine Fazzari:You guys sound so very exciting and passionate about what you do. Stephanie, when you were originally entering the field, what soft skills allowed you to really effectively execute what you do? And how did you go about structuring that phenomenal team that you were just explaining, that now actually has a seat at the CE table?
Stephanie CanzaI think for me, I actually credit a lot to Carolyn. When this job opened at CPC, I didn't really even think about it for myself. I knew I wanted to grow and develop professionally. I knew I was ready to take the next step in my career. And I say that intentionally being very broad, right? But I hadn't necessarily decided what that would be. And I thought when the opportunity presented itself, I would know. I had no idea it was going to be technology. Right?
Stephanie CanzaSo, it was many conversations with Carolyn, but it was the way that I think our relationship has existed for years. We worked together just at the organization and then I've worked for Carolyn since 2019, 2020, right? So, a relationship there. I think it also for me, was an easier leap because it was at an organization that I feel supported at and encouraged at, and I was willing to take a risk, right? It was absolutely a risk, it's a jump, it was a lot of learning, but it's all worth it.
I think when you think about big opportunities and life changing moments, for me, there are a couple that define a career, right? If you stay, if you go, if you get a different degree or change of path, if you meet someone or take on something new. Some are happenstance, some are intentional and not all are right, sometimes you reverse course, but some are big watershed moments. And for me, this was really one of them, because it was so out of what I could just do off the top of my head. And it required me really leveraging a lot of other resources internally and externally as well.
We have a lot of external resources in our IT team, whether they're consultant-based or outsourced help desk resources, or individuals that we bring on to help shepherd us through projects. So, it's been really a learning curve across the way, but I really credit my colleagues here at CPC for their faith in me to be able to execute and just at an organization that was willing to take the next step in technology and kind of flip it and think about it more from being this service side, not afterthought, but additive almost, versus sit at the table, have the conversation, let's be collaborative and really do it together. And I think it's for the benefit of our organization as a whole and really pushing our mission forward.
Carolyn Au:I also think Stephanie's being a little bit modest.
Elaine Fazzari:And really melding-
Carolyn Au:She has a ginormous number of soft skills that have transitioned really well into the IT space, in a place that we didn't have it before. She's very disciplined, she knows how to manage people really well, she knows how to assess people's strengths and weaknesses and how to build teams that are successful. And she also has this really great level of empathy and she is really a people person. So, she is really, really good with both the IT team and with the business. And I think that is often so downplayed on a soft skill. I mean, she really can see the forest for the trees, understands the bigger picture, can talk business to the business, talk IT to the IT team, and then talk to all of us collectively on where we need to go.
Elaine Fazzari:That's really terrific, advancing the business side through tech. It's quite a project to marry the two.
Carolyn Au:It's okay if you
Elaine Fazzari: BIPOC is a term that is growing in the industry. Carolyn, what is CPC's position?
Carolyn Au:So, it's one of the things that I think I'm most proud of about CPC, right? We are completely committed to reducing the racial wealth gap, and we put our money where our mouth is. We're the first, I think on this side of the coast even, to put together what we call our access program, which is basically taking BIPOC emerging developers, first-time developers or second-time developers, giving them what we call our access incubator. So, we trained them on how to be a successful developer. We gave them pre-development loans, so that they could get started on their first deal, and then we gave them a construction loan.
And we continue to do that, take risks with our own money where credit isn't there, where knowledge isn't there, where experience isn't there. And we have built a team whose job it is, is to literally find these people, help them, work with them. And we don't just give you some classes, some training, throw some money at you and then move on. We literally take these loans through the life of their loans and we find them all the right subsidies and we find them all the right partners. And then we sit there and we really help them manage through and teach them, so that they can go on to become bigger and better developers that when they don't need us anymore. But we have been doing that now for two years, roughly, and we I think, have $40 million in this program currently. So, it's pretty wildly successful.
Elaine Fazzari:That's terrific.
Rahul Mahna:So, just to talk a little bit more about CPC, Carolyn, and you've been there for how many years again?
Carolyn Au:Oh, 34-and-a-half.
Rahul Mahna:Okay. So, you have over 30 years, you have a lot of information and a lot of data. And so, when I look at some of our other clients and I talk to them, a common issue that they all have is, "How do we get access to this data? How do we use it in a meaningful way to help our organization, to help our communities, to help our policies?" How can we get this information out, being a public entity, a not-for-profit that you are? A lot of this is transparent and you have to push some of this out, but I would like to just get some of your thoughts on your data and what's your mindset? Because this is a hot topic right now. You've got data lakes, you've got BI tools. How do you think about data in CPC today, where it should go in the future and what does it impact in terms of your shareholders and stakeholders?
Carolyn Au:Goodness, that's a really loaded question. Good one. Look, data, we have a treasure trove of it. Right? We've been in business since 1974 and we've collected all kinds of data through the life of a loan. I mean, we generally have a construction loan and then a perm loan that stays with us for 32-plus years. So, there's a lot of data that we have collected along the way, that is meaningful and impactful, not just to a changing rate environment like we are in right now.
We use our data to inform, what is our underwriting criteria while we're in this horrible interest rate environment? What trends are we seeing in our portfolios? Where are people having trouble paying rents? Where are expenses going? What are trends looking like? And we published this data, the City of New York and many of our state partners use what we call our M&O study, which is essentially our income and expense reporting. They use that data to actually inform their own underwriting and how they're going to be lending for the next calendar year, for their business.
And the other ways that we use our data, I think are more interesting ways, in that we're asked every single year as an example to testify at the rent stabilization hearings in New York. So, we talk a lot about what we're seeing with our smaller developers, not the big developers that own multi zillion units, but mom and pop who own a 10 unit building. Is insurance killing them? If you don't help them with a certain rent increase, they're not going to be able to afford the maintenance. And then, that just deteriorates the collateral and you just go around in the vicious circle. So, we're often asked to use the data that we house, own, all of that, to inform public policy. So, we do, do that often.
So, I think data is really valuable. Good, clean data is even more valuable. And there's a lot of things with data that's prone to human error. I mean, I started here in the days when we used typewriters and carbon paper. It is very different from the machinery and hardware and all of the applications that we use now. But my favorite saying, junk in, junk out. So, we've come to learn over time, that the quality of the data is almost more important than the data you actually have. So, we have spent a lot of time with data cleanup and building this sort of data warehouse with the help of your team, so that we really can utilize the data that we have and really make it useful and make it meaningful to what we do.
Rahul Mahna:Yep. That makes a lot of sense. And it's a never ending battle as well, cleaning the data. I like what you said, junk in, junk out. It's a constant battle. I just want to take one moment to let everybody know we're approaching 2:30 and I can't believe half of this webinar's already over, but if anybody has any questions, please put them in the QA box, we'll try to get to them at the end. If we don't, we'll follow up afterwards, but we will leave some time to answer some questions and answers. So, please use that tool below.
So, going back to data, Carolyn and Steph, you've got 30, 40 years of data, you're almost like Dow Jones and being able to trend and predict and analyze certain things, and offering that data to impact public policies and to other stakeholders that you might have.
Just going back to tech a little bit, we're often asked by clients to look through a myriad of softwares and tools and to pick and choose what to use. And software selection process is really hard and sometimes it's not to pick the most complicated, but to pick the simplest tools to use. Sometimes you don't have to have such a sophisticated analytics tool, maybe Excel is just as simple and could be used. And so, I'd love if you could share perhaps one or two of the tools that you use in your organization today, whether it's just on simple project management, or data management, or intake, or just receiving contact from somebody that wants one of those BIPOC loans. Just talk about some of the tools you use across the organization.
Stephanie CanzaWant me to go first?
Stephanie CanzaSo, I think one of the interesting ones, and I promise this will answer the question, but I might go about it a little circular.
Stephanie CanzaSo earlier, Carolyn alluded to how at CPC we have a bit of this Frankenstein approach to applications. And I think it's really because we were founded in 1974, we were really this little housing agency, non-profit, born of the Bronx is burning, money from the City of New York. And we have just continued to grow and evolve and change. And we made decisions all along in point in time and then the needs changed and we've just, "Oh, we need this, let's add it on. Oh, we need this over here, let's add it on. Oh, we need this here, let's add it on."
And so, we came with this place that some things talk to each other, many don't, sometimes we enter the same amount of information in four different applications. So, one of the things we've been really focused on is actually reducing the amount of tools at CPC, because I think we got to our place where there is the same set of data that's showing up in many different systems, that then becomes confusing, because then when the data isn't exactly the same, then you're questioning which dataset is actually accurate.
So, what we've been endeavoring to do this past year is really take a look at our systems and figure out, are there redundant tools? Are there tools that can do more than one thing? Are there tools that can do the work that two other tools are also doing? And how do we think about it that way? So, one specific example would be we had this system for our document management, right? We have a lot of documents, we close loans, hundreds and hundreds of documents for each transaction, and they're long. Right? An appraisal is hundreds of documents, mortgage notes, all of this.And we have this system that's like a dinosaur. It's terrible to use, it's really hard to manage. There's very little security. The things go there, they never come out, you can't find them. It's awful. And then talking through a lot of our partners at Eisner and through teams that we've been working with, we are largely a Microsoft shop at CPC. We use Outlook, we use Word, and part of our suite is that we have SharePoint, and we really underutilized SharePoint.
And so, we went down this process to think about it and say, "Can we use SharePoint as a document manage system? Can we take advantage of a tool we already have and get rid of a tool that's not serving us anymore?" And so, it remains to be seen, we're currently in the process, we're aiming for Q1 next year and we'll see how it goes. But I think to your point about data in and data out, it's also where we're storing that data and how we're housing that data. And so that's one of the things that we're trying to do is eliminate repetitive data, duplicative data, and really create the single source data that then makes us feel much more confident in what we're sharing also, and the user experience much better.
Rahul Mahna: And so, how do you-
Carolyn Au:Go ahead.
Rahul Mahna:How do you make sure you don't over-engineer that and become overly technical? Because you could go, we've developed those, and you can go down to a really deep pit on those and you never get out of that and you're just constantly going down with a technical tool, and so forth. So, how do you balance that, Steph?
Stephanie Canza So, I will tell you that I promise you I will never be that technical and we're never going down that hole, because full stop here, right? And so, sometimes that's not the right answer because the technical people want to go a little further. Right?
Stephanie CanzaSo, it's almost more like going back earlier, where are your strengths? Where are your weaknesses? I'm looking at it from as a business user, if I want to find the assignment of leases and rents, whether it's called that or an ALR, I just want to type that in Google and you give it to me.
So, in a way, you could over or under engineer whatever you want, to an extent that it's not cost prohibitive or what it looks like, but the result actually has to be for the user to be able to just find it. And I like to think that how we design tools is with that end user in mind. So, saying at the end of the day, I want to pull this singular document from this cloud or whatever it is, in the easiest way possible. And that's what actually dictates how technical or not we get.
Carolyn Au:I've been spending a lot of time looking for recurring themes, pain points that aren't just to a singular user. Right? So, I then think we go back and think about solutions based off of large, thematic pain point data sources. And the other thing that we do a lot of is we think about our partners and what are their reporting needs and requirements? What is the actual data that we do need to send out of here? Spend a lot of time thinking about B2B and making sure that we can just give them direct data from our own systems versus us having to pull it out of the system, redoing it, repackaging it and sending it out.
Rahul Mahna:And so, we do these development projects a lot. We try to get into the client's business processes, we build requirements. So, we want to understand ... And I think Steph, you explained it nicely, you want to know what your outcome is first. You want to know how easy it will be and then build according to that. And so, we can go through that process very often, but then we get stuck with, which I'd love your thoughts on, is that the users don't want to use it. And you've built this whole process and you want to roll it out and then people just say, "No, I want to do it this way." Or, "I want to use Excel." Or, "That's great, Stephanie, but I think I need to do it in a different way."
And so, how do you think about adoption and how do you drive adoption when you've spent all this thoughtful time thinking about it, business, technical, spent the money, spent the time, and then you get stuck with people that don't want to implement it?
Stephanie Canza Do you want me to take that one?
Stephanie CanzaSo, I think CPC's at a unique place. That option doesn't exist often, really, which is the short answer. So, we as an organization are going to, for many reasons, we'll just pick this document management system, we need to migrate, why do we need to migrate? The system is not being supported. It costs a lot of resources from a different team. It's not the best in the field. And then what we do is, so I'll bring something like that to Carolyn or to the operating committee as a whole, which is the governing body at CPC. And we'll say, "We need all of these business leaders to buy-in and then push it down through your teams."
Carolyn Au:All top down.
Stephanie Canza"Because it's not possible to continue doing what we've always done. This is a better solution. But we will provide training, we will provide a long runway to get you there. We will let you know. We're not just going to tell you, you have to do it tomorrow. We're going to give you the tools to get there, we're going to give you the time to get there, the training to get there, and we'll do the heavy lift, so then it's just at that point going forward." But I think often at CPC, because we just don't have the capacity to run in parallel ways, we almost have to pick a horse and then we have to migrate that way.
Carolyn Au:We will eventually cut off the old horse, so you really can't use it. But I do think Stephanie's right, we start off with our operating committee, where we bring whatever it is, that new technology we're talking about, we get the buy-in of the executives and then have them push it down to their teams.
And usually, what I'm saying is, "This is in response to a need that came from your teams. So, we built this for your teams and so we need you to work with us and we'll give you the training and we'll give you all of the tools, all the things that you need to be successful when we launch something out." And then I think the rest of it is really ongoing training and documentation and giving people the overall repetitive learning, so they get used to it.
Stephanie CanzaSo, I think there's actually a real-time example of this, which is interesting. So, we have a mortgage company at CPC, it's a subsidiary of our non-profit and I think we are the first cooperative, right? We have investors in our mortgage company that we largely leverage to originate multi-family, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, FHA.
Carolyn Au:All across the country. So, it was our easy way of expansion nationally. We're using other people's boots on the ground and partners with like-minded firms.
Stephanie CanzaAnd so this was really industry changing, this idea of creating a mortgage company within the greater nonprofit and then having investors in the mortgage company. And one of the things that came out of this was, so now you have originators at different shops, in different areas of the country. And we didn't have a CRM tool. We didn't have a way to manage whose leads is who, and whose business context is whose, and what area and what address gets allocated to who. And that's critically important in an origination platform.
So, this was a need that came from the business and said, "We have these new investors, we have a need for a CRM tool." And so, what we did was instead of just choosing one and saying, "Here, take this." We went through an exhaustive process, we leveraged an Eisner team to help us go through, with the experience, with the knowledge, and we picked business leaders across the organization in all areas. So, not just the mortgage company, but our policy team, our communications team, our equity team, finance team.
And they each met and did these focus groups on what could they leverage out of a CRM tool, what do they need out of a CRM tool? How do we onboard something like a CRM tool? Then collectively, we had a couple different choices in terms of a platform and we analyzed which suited most of the teams internally, which suited most of the teams externally. And we ultimately made a decision. And then by the time we made the decision and now we're at the point where we need to get the loan originators who are existing on our construction side, putting their contacts in, and all of that, instead of just saying, "You have to do this by this date." We have a big company meeting tomorrow, a field office meeting. We have one of the team members come in. They're going to do a presentation about why it's helpful for the business, why it makes sense for them to load their contacts, what they're going to get out of it. We'll take questions. We'll set a timeline.
And so, then by the time we're cutting over and really to your point, Rahul, forcing them to adopt it, it's already been part of the conversation, part of their workload. They've been a partner in adopting it for so many months, that it becomes more of just like, "I can't wait to use it." And I think if we can psychologically get to that point, then we hedge against, I think, some of the angst from having been forced to do something.
Carolyn Au: Some of it is also psychological, right? Originators are by nature, proprietary of their data. So, getting people to understand, "No one in the company can see X, Y, and Z. They can only see this data." So, all of that data that you use for your personal work relationships will just remain that for you. So, I think it's good to just constantly allay people's fears about technology and what other people can see and can't see.
And then also just, I think demos are huge. Right? Giving people the opportunity to see what it can do and how simple it is to use, is really key. Because I have lots of people that are used to doing the ... I have someone who uses a Blackberry still. This is one of those things where you really have to show them how much better their lives will be if they just came into this century, and working with them. But it does take time and it's cultural shifts, for sure.
Rahul Mahna:I love that example. That is just such a wonderful way ... I hear in my mind, transparency, communication, involvement, and these are words we don't typically hear in the IT space. I have to tell you, we are not known as being good communicators, as being very open and transparent and inclusive in decision-making and in buy-in. I love the way you've got buy-in, that as you both mentioned, people are excited to go now and ready to use the tool. So, wonderful lesson. Thank you for sharing that. It's a good lesson for us to hear about. So, Elaine, I think you have another question I can see.
Elaine FazzariI do. And bouncing from that story where IT has created so much excitement within the entire organization, I know we have trouble and I'd like to hear how you attract and retain the staff now. Across all different industries, we're having difficulty bringing in, retaining, and keeping people excited and passionate about what they've done. How do you keep your IT so passionate, as you just explained in that last story?
Carolyn Au:Well, I can go first, if you don't want to?
Stephanie CanzaYeah, please.
Carolyn Au:I think there's always so much to do in the IT space, I think that makes it more exciting. It is very rarely boring. It will never end up being routine. There's always a new problem, a new solution that we have to think about. And I think giving people a voice and a seat at the table has really helped us in terms of attracting talent, because people really want that. They don't just want to be the technical resource, they want to be part of the business team.And so, we've really spent a lot of time rejiggering our culture around IT and understanding how much we can't move our business forward without a good technology platform. And building an agile platform is our main goal. And so, that is forever challenges of all different kinds, and people get to work on all kinds of different projects, which makes it more interesting I think, for everyone.
So, I think that's how we have attracted people, and keeping them is really giving them a voice and letting them be involved with our business and having a say in the directions, because there'll be times we're sitting there and the business people like me think, "Oh yeah, let's just go do that $5 billion program. Sounds like an awesome thing." And the IT people are like, "Whoa, slow your roll for one minute. Yes, that's great, but that's like a three year process. We don't have infrastructure for that, but we'll work with you on finding ways to get there." And then they get engaged and everybody then learns how to collaborate together and they really feel like we're one team. So, that is just my view of how that happens here. Unless you think otherwise?
Stephanie Canza No, I think that's exactly right. The only thing I would add onto is the piece about communication. I think the easiest way to retain employees is to know when they're unhappy and if you can solve the problem before they're inclined to look for another job. Right? So, a one-on-one check-in, weekly meetings, really checking in what are people doing? Are they happy with what they're doing? Do they want to be doing something different? Do they like what they're exposed to? Do they want a different angle in? And just that constant feedback loop, I think, so you're not caught unawares and so it's not necessarily surprising.
I think the conversation when an employee leaves and you didn't know why they were unhappy versus a conversation where you just have this bright star and not an option is very different. So, I think it's really thinking about, what is the communication? Being aware, where is your team? What do they like working on? What are they good at? And just that constant open door and open conversation to just judge where people are.
Carolyn Au:We've pushed a lot of people out of their comfort zone. I'll be like, "This looks like a project that would be interesting for you." And they're like, "No, I don't want to try." And I was like, "No, no really." And giving other people an opportunity to take the lead on projects and giving them a whole different perspective on what their abilities are, that they didn't even know that they had. They didn't see it in themselves, but we as managers can see how they work. And there are so many opportunities and roles that people can try and move. And we move people around a lot, to give them that broader global CPC experience and the global IT within that.
Elaine Fazzari:That's terrific, because I think challenging our younger generation is really what keeps them excited and keeps them engaged, and I'm sure they help you promote the company message out there. How is tech being leveraged to promote your company and making a real impact out in the lower income property mortgage area?
Carolyn Au: I can start with that. I think our marketing and communications team is light-years ahead of where it was before, and a lot of that is due to our technology platform. Our ability to reach more people given the advances that we've made in technology, is amazing. Being able to get our message out about the access program, having people be able to go on our website. I mean, years ago we barely had a website, right? But being able to see the products that we offer, the kinds of deals that we make, and getting a good look at the company and our people has really been, I think, one of the largest, the best tools that we have when it comes to technology.
The other part is the service we provide now, right? The technology platforms that we have invested in and that Stephanie is constantly upgrading and changing, gives us the reputation in the marketplace to continue to be building best-in-class service. So, our reputation is built and flourished because of the platforms that we are using and our ability to still have that ... You can pick up the phone and call CPC and get a person. Now, I don't know where else you have a mortgage or a loan or whatever, where you can actually reach a person without hitting 7,000 buttons before you can get there. But that is one of the things, we have a very sophisticated phone system, so that we can reroute calls to people, live bodies, so that we can give you that one-on-one personal touch.
But then we also have created the go online and check your loan amount if you want to do that, if you don't want to talk to a body. But you couldn't do that before here at CPC. So, I think the platform has really come a long way in helping us continue not to just promote our business, but to get that reputational risk on a level playing field. We don't have that, because we have good technology.
Elaine Fazzari:It sounds like your technology has assisted the people that need you the most out there, to be able to access you in a much easier manner.
Carolyn Au:We still take applications on paper if you so choose to, because I think a lot of people that are not tech savvy, but we are looking at ways with artificial intelligence to take all of those things that come in on paper, to be able to just read them and go straight into our system, instead of having us have to key it in.
But we have some very unsophisticated borrowers and some very sophisticated borrowers, right? So, there is a lot of being able to be not so rigid and being flexible is really what I think a key is to our success, in terms of how we deal with ... Because we have borrowers that have a $50,000 loan and people that have $500 million loans. It's a very different level of sophistication.
Elaine Fazzari:That's terrific.
Rahul Mahna:I like what Elaine said, and just to follow up on that is with a question that actually came in, which I think perhaps is a little redundant, but perhaps it gives you an opportunity to talk a little bit more about CPC. In that the question is, "How do you encourage investments in opportunity zones?" So, I guess the real question is, how do people learn about you? How do you foster this communication? How do they get to CPC? So, maybe you can share with that a little bit.
Carolyn Au:Well, I think we're out there a lot. The president of CPC, Sadie McKeown, serves on many boards, right? So, we are constantly in the affordable space. Everyone knows us in the affordable space. We do a lot of speaking engagements. We serve on a lot of boards. So, we're out there. We are the largest partner for the City of New York, as an example, on their housing platform.
So we do spend, I think, a lot of time highly visible in the markets and communities that we serve. We are boots on the ground a lot of the times, my loan officers are still, they're out in the street, they are talking to people, they are talking to first-time borrowers. They know their communities. And I think it's important when you are trying to build ... We did a main street facade program once in Beacon, when it was, nobody would do anything in there. We did like $2,000 loans to help commercial on the main street just fix their logos and their signs, to try to bring more business into that, which then fed into the revitalization of the main street in these towns.
But we do a lot of things that are unorthodox and not usual with lending, so to speak. But I think that's how we get our message out there, we put our money where our mouth is, we put our people where we say where they're going to be. And we spend a lot of time doing the research, learning our markets, and being a part of the communities we serve.
Stephanie CanzaI think the other thing that I would add to that is, we are very nimble and we're very fast. So, for example, in another life I ran our Sandy Build it Back program. So, Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City, particularly in the Queens and the North Shore of Staten Island, and on the Lower East Side. And there was this huge amount of money that came from the Federal Government, right? Through FEMA and then through HUD. And it filtered down to the City of New York.And the City of New York has a hard time administering money just because of the rules that govern the City of New York, the departments at the City of New York. So, they approached CPC and they said, "Can you help us get this $40 million into the communities and neighborhoods? We don't have a way to get the money out. We have the money. Can you administer?" And so, we hadn't done disaster recovery. We had once upon a time did a flood program in the Mohawk Valley up in Upstate New York-
But we didn't have a big disaster recovery presence. We didn't do a lot of CDBG-DR lending, but we figured out that this is where the city needed us. This hurricane decimated a lot of the neighborhoods where we already had investment and we had buildings. So, it was close enough, it was out of our wheelhouse, but relevant, that we decided to stand up a program. We took in the money, we leveraged the money, we closed those loans in-house. Our deputy general counsel closed every single one of those loans from $5,000 to $5 million. And we really were accountable to the people and communities we serve.
And so, I think it's establishing in a time of crisis and a time of need, to be able to be there in the ground, in the neighborhoods, that then years later you might come across an individual who said, "Oh, I did a loan with you back in 2010. I'm back." Right? Or, "I told my neighbor about you when you helped me back before."
Carolyn Au: Exactly.
Stephanie CanzaSo, it's a lot of that as well, I think, that we're accountable and true to.
Carolyn Au:And I do think, like during the pandemic as an example, we're housing, that's what we do. But we got called from Goldman Sachs and they were like, "Hey, we have these surge money we need to get out to hospitals." I was like, "Hospitals?" I was like, "No, no, no, we don't do that." But they were like, "No, no, no. We know you guys know how to administer money and we need to get this money out to all these crazed hospitals that need to pay their doctors and nurses that are traveling in from other places. Can you please administer like $50 million for us?"
And we did it during the pandemic, but our systems allowed us to be able to take a non real estate transaction and be able to administer money, get it out, do all of that stuff. And now we have all kinds of programs that we now do with Goldman Sachs as a result of our ability to do that, which gets us even more into the affordable space of where we want to be. So, we do a lot of different things that are not in our wheelhouse or our comfort zone, that pay back later on when we are in a different position.
Rahul Mahna:That makes lot of sense. And I guess the short answer too is, if anybody wants to learn, they could just go to the website and use many of your tools that you've built-in, whether it's phone, whether it's email, whether it's writing you a letter, that sounds like you'll answer a handwritten letter as well, Carolyn?
Carolyn Au:Sure. My favorite story is how I got a rent roll once from a person on the back of a Wendy's napkin. Got it. Did the deal. Done.
Rahul Mahna:Well, I mean, I think we've learned a lot about your secret sauce. I think it was really interesting, as Elaine and I prepped for this and thought about you and some of your skills you have, the concept of high communication, high involvement, transparency. I'm repeating these words because I'm impacted by them and I think you've done a wonderful job in your organization and it's something really interesting to learn for us in the IT world and in outsource consulting practice that I run. And then I will take that away from this.
And so, in the closing minutes that we have, we have about five minutes or so left, I would love to hear from both of you. You both reached pinnacles in your career of sorts, of where you are right now. And the topic of this conversation is shattering the tech ceiling. And as female executives, you've risen and you've had certain skills and you've learned them through trial and errors over the years. And so, what would you suggest to someone who is perhaps younger in their career, but they want to make this type of change or they want to move in a different direction? And what guidance or suggestions could you offer to current women executives that might not be directly in IT, but they see a pathway for success for them to get there, and they've heard about these soft skills and these tools, and they have those tools? Perhaps some suggestions, how can they transition their career? From both of your perspectives.
Carolyn Au:Want me to go first?
Carolyn Au: You know what? Volunteer. I find it so interesting that people get often stuck in the day-to-day of what they do and they don't put their hands up for something else. So, there's a whole bunch of IT-related projects that we are always constantly in flux on. And volunteer to be the subject matter expert for the one that relates to your team. Bring your skills and your experience to the table, so that we can see what your interests are and where you can excel and where you can fit into a different piece of the puzzle.
It's not always technical for us, it's all about being able to pull all the pieces together. And there are a lot of skills that I think people don't recognize in themselves that they even have, and the way that they think and they pull things together. So, I really feel like, raise your hand and volunteer for a project and let us work with you. You can learn so much and you can move so far and you can figure out what your interests are from that, I think, if you were trying to switch careers.
I think, and the other thing is just taking a step back all the time, I think people often scurry because they always want to know, "What's my next move? What's my next thing?" In my career, the things often that were the most rewarding and the most challenging were things that I would never have thought of for myself. So, having conversations with your boss, your mentor, and just putting yourself out there, I think is very interesting. I've had a number of roles here that I probably was not technically qualified throughout my career, but they were challenging and my bosses at the time and my mentors saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. And I think you really can open a lot of doors by spending a little bit of time and taking a step back and just thinking about other avenues that you would never have thought of before.
Stephanie Canza I agree with all of that. I think one of the things that I would add is, I've often thought that every day you come to work, you're interviewing for your next role. Right? So, everybody has a bad day and everybody needs a week off, and that happens all of the time. But generally, when you come to work every day, that's who you're showing your colleagues, your peers, the executives at your organization, what you're capable of, who you are and how you are conducting yourself.
So, kind of what we were talking about a little bit earlier, about picking people from the business. How do you find people to pick? Well, you just observe them on a day-to-day, right? There's not always a formal interview opportunity, but it's more along the lines of, "Hey, I really need help here, can you?" Or, "I saw you work on this project over there and it blew me away. Do you think you could do this?" It's all of that. So, almost like coming to the job and coming to your professional career in a way, on a day-to-day that shows you're ready and you're excited and you're committed and you're open to it. And for someone like me, I think that's really very engaging and I think that goes a long way.
Rahul Mahna:Those are fantastic. Really great. Well, I want to thank you from Elaine and my side, for spending this much time with us, sharing all of your really good experiences and your wonderful examples that I think are very helpful. So, with that, I'll turn it back to Astrid. And thank you both.