Features

Christopher Cali – BHG Financial 

Lending a legal hand to nationwide lender 

You hear a lot about companies proclaiming how fast they’re growing or how they have become bigger over the course of several years. Often, the numbers don’t quite back up the comments. But when Christopher Cali talks about how much BHG Financial has grown since he joined the organization, he’s right.  

“When I came aboard 17 years ago, we were a small company with about 50 employees and a few million dollars in revenue,” says Cali, the company’s chief legal officer. “Now, we employ about 1,500 people and are valued at around several billion.” 

Fort Lauderdale-based BHG Financial is a non-bank direct lender specializing in unsecured commercial lending. Its mission is to provide innovative financial solutions as a commercial lender, particularly aimed at helping healthcare professionals and other professionals secure the funding they need to start and grow their practices.  

In his role, Cali is responsible for all BHG legal matters, including compliance, regulatory, collections and litigation. He manages a team of three attorneys and seven paralegals.  

“The compliance, regulatory and customer service departments still answer to me from a legal perspective, but as we’ve grown, they’ve developed independently and have chiefs that manage those teams,” Cali explains. “A good lawyer knows when to defer to someone with expertise and the best information.” 

Wearing many hats 

As the chief legal officer, Cali considers himself in the middle of the wheel with different spokes supporting the business through the legal department. The regulatory team, which is always dealing with the FDIC, employs several former agents of the federal government, and the compliance team is constantly working to ensure the business complies with changing federal rules and regulations. Having experts in the regulatory and compliance fields has been an invaluable asset to BHG’s business, he says.  

BHG, or Bankers Financial, was founded by Al Crawford, Robert Castro, and Eric Castro in 2001 and includes brands like BHG Money, BHG Bank Network, BHG Connect, Fund-Ex Solutions Group, Risk Management Solutions Group and. Forty-nine percent of the company is owned by Pinnacle Bank, and its chief financial officer, Harold Carpenter, sits on the BHG board. 

Cali is not a board member, but as CLO, he serves as the board’s counsel. Through this, he supports the company’s inner-workings. 

BHG works with over 1,500 banks that buy its loans and has two sales teams selling its products. On the front end, the company originates loans from doctors, lawyers, CPAs, and other professionals. On the other end, the sales team is selling loans to banks across the U.S.  

As of the end of 2023, BHG has provided over $15 billion in loan solutions and receives over 31,000 new applications monthly. Though growth is always the goal, consistent, compliant growth with credit-worthy borrowers is always the primary goal. 

A unique path 

Most in-house lawyers, especially those who’ve risen to the position of chief legal officer at big financial institutions, have years of experience at big law firms nationwide. But Cali took a different—and very unique route—to get to where he is today.  

To get to know Cali’s story, one must start with his undergraduate time at SUNY-Oswego in upstate New York, where he studied elementary education. 

“During my time student teaching, I realized that I didn’t have the personality for the job, so I became a youth pastor at my church and worked for a nonprofit,” Cali recalls.  

In 2000, Cali moved to Portland, Oregon, for a new adventure, and while there, he worked as a temp at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton. But he was in his 20s and far from home, so he moved back to the East Coast.  

Cali says he doesn’t have a lot of lawyers in his family, but one day, he was sitting with his brother when they both decided to apply to law school. And the rest, as they say, is history.  

“I got my JD from Suffolk University in Boston, and all of my law school friends were giving their all to land a job at a big firm,” Cali remembers. “But I didn’t want that lifestyle.” 

Instead, Cali went back to Syracuse and hung his own shingle. About 18 months into his professional career, he was trying to land a client and met with Crawford, who was looking for an in-house attorney to join his company.  

“Nike was the coolest company I’ve seen until I started working for Al [Crawford] and BHG,” Cali says. “The office had a Nike-type feel, and I decided to take a chance and take advantage of the in-house opportunity.” 

Looking back, Cali doesn’t regret not joining a big law firm and calls the decision to go in-house with BHG the best he’s ever made. He still gets to work with lawyers and law firms—as a partner, not an employee. It is the best of both worlds, he adds.  

Throughout his time at BHG, Cali has grown as a lawyer and a leader. The company was small when he started, and Cali was in charge of many departments. Over the years, much of that oversight was handed over to others, and he admits that made him a little insecure.  

“You spend all this time developing a department, and then someone takes over. It feels like you’re losing something, but you’re actually gaining a bigger role and more responsibility,” Cali says.  

Because of how the company has invested in its employees, especially its leadership team, Cali says BHG is a great company to work for.  

“We’re just one big family. I can see myself working here until I retire,” he says.  

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2024 Edition here.

Published on: April 16, 2024

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