Cindy Buhr – PrimeLending
When many of its 1,100 loan officers asked for a new mortgage refinancing product for customers, the executives at PrimeLending listened. After all, with interest rates and inflation on the rise, homebuying was on the decline.
In 2022, the leading national retail mortgage lender and refinancer introduced Rate Redo for customers purchasing a loan between October 26, 2022 and March 31, 2023.
Through the program, loan holders can refinance to get a lower interest rate until the last day of 2024. As part of the deal, they don’t have to pay lender fees, which are common in the industry for refinances and can be as high as $2,000 on a mortgage.
“The current interest rates and the potential fees associated with refinancing are currently holding many potential new homeowners back from fulfilling their dreams of owning a new home,” explains Cindy Buhr, who’s been with PrimeLending since since April 2009 as its general counsel, and now also serves as executive vice president and secretary.
Collaboration from inception
Buhr says loan officers took the idea of the Rate Redo to the production team in early 2022, as interest rates were beginning to climb from around 3 percent to upwards of 7 percent.
“Some of our best and most creative ideas come from the field, because our loan officers are working directly with our customers, so they know how PrimeLending can best serve our clientele,” she says.
Once the production department approved the project, she and her legal and compliance teams weighed in, ensuring state and federal mortgage regulations would be met when the Rate Redo kicked into action.
For instance, with every advertisement, she or someone on her team ensures the ad complies with governing laws, including the U.S. Fair Housing Act and SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act. As she explains, compliance can sometimes be as simple as having license numbers and the Equal Housing Lender logos visible on posters and billboards.
For the Rate Redo, she and the marketing team developed training and published advertising disclaimers. Loan officers could clearly explain to applicants the eligibility rules, including the need to make seven timely mortgage payments.
Buhr and the marketing department also worked with the information technology department. Now, once a PrimeLending borrower applies to refinance, the system automatically checks the address and notifies the loan officer of the borrower’s eligibility for the Rate Redo program. This ensures that nothing—and no one—falls through the cracks and PrimeLending’s legal obligations are met, she says.
Rate Redo became available in October 2022, one month after officers first pitched the idea.
“The legal team has an excellent relationship with PrimeLending’s loan officers and managers, which means new ideas get to legal quicker,” Buhr says. “This allows us to say ‘yes’ a lot more, because we can build it like we did with Rate Redo instead of something coming to us in the late stages and us having to then tear it down.”
Knowing when to lock doors
Of course, Buhr has no issues tearing down counterfeits and copycats to protect the PrimeLending brand. She’s been doing this since April 2009 when she became PrimeLending’s first in-house general counsel.
“I had come in from Southwest Airlines, where I was in charge of litigation enforcement,” she recalls. “I always had a passion for protecting intellectual property, so to say that I hit the ground running at PrimeLending would be an understatement.”
That’s because a lot of the mortgage lender’s taglines, colors and color combinations, as well as visual images and even the name, weren’t trademarked.
“Even something adjacent to ours can be a problem, like a company called Prime Lending or someone using a similar tagline like ‘Mortgages made simple’ because it’s too close to our brand,” she says. “We can’t have our value diluted and customers confused.”
Loan officers and around 500 production support team members in the field look for counterfeiters and infringers. If they see something of concern, they immediately contact Buhr. They can’t catch everything, which is why she also works with outside counsel, which runs quarterly checks for her.
Handing others the keys
In addition to these duties, Buhr helps PrimeLending meet fair lending requirements for its fair lending program, most focused on eliminating discrimination based on race or marital status.
She says the program, which she oversees, enables PrimeLending to participate in bond programs—something not all lenders do. Among other benefits, these bonds help homeowners, including those on a fixed income, lock in lower mortgage rates.
“We do a lot at PrimeLending to serve communities, and we’re really proud of that,” she says. “We even work closely with the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create products that help people the most over a long term.”
Helping protect companies and their consumers has been Buhr’s goal since she graduated cum laude from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in 1990. After working as a litigator with two firms and then Southwest Airlines, she took a job with PlainsCapital Corporation Bank and was soon appointed general counsel of its subsidiary, PrimeLending.
“I’ve enjoyed every day here since because the work is so collaborative, and everyone from the loan officers in the field to my legal department to the marketing team are working together to get people in homes they’ll cherish for many years if not the rest of their lives,” Buhr says.
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter IV 2023 Edition here.
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