Features

Kenneth Block – New American Funding

Using experience to keep risk low for mortgage lender

While he’s the top attorney at New American Funding, Kenneth Block thinks of himself as more than an attorney.

“I see myself as unique, acting as both lawyer and non-lawyer, and serving as an integral partner to the business team,” Block says. “I think that is rare for a person in my position.”

As general counsel and chief compliance officer for the Tustin, California-based company, he leverages more than 25 years of experience in the mortgage industry to manage risk and ensure financial and regulatory compliance.

Kenneth Block | General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer | New American Funding

Kenneth Block | General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer | New American Funding

“I’m practical. Business comes first and compliance is imperative, but I have a knack for knowing when to move a project forward and just how to do it while protecting the company,” he says.

Since joining the company eight years ago, Block has helped oversee continued growth, including two record-breaking years in 2020 and 2021. He says the mortgage lender is poised for even more success in 2022 and beyond—and he’ll use his expertise in the industry to ensure it happens.

“We’re currently going through our first international expansion, and we’re in a perfect position to bring in new talent,” Block says.

Implementing processes and procedures

With new document retention rules that limit the number of years documents remain on the company’s systems, Block is helping New American Funding enhance its data management processes. These new controls also limit the retention of new email correspondence on a record retention schedule.

Other changes in the company are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed the mortgage industry, Block says. For decades, there were general rules that required state-licensed mortgage lenders to work from a licensed location—there’s now over 37 states that allow loan officers to work remotely.

That change has impacted recruiting and hiring for the better, Block says. But there were also challenges. For example, a loan officer who moved out of the country and wanted to continue to work remotely raised regulatory concerns, so Block had to implement a policy that employees are not permitted to live outside the U.S.

“Honestly, our CEO was encouraging people to move out of California to a place where home ownership was more affordable,” Block says. “Remote hiring has allowed me to decide where to recruit, especially in the legal space.”

While being able to hire outside of California and Texas has been a positive change, Block says it’s still important to have an in-person connection. So, recently, the legal and compliance teams met in Dallas for dinner as well as general meetings and board conversations.

“Some of the people had never met in person, and there’s been enough great feedback that we’ll probably do this again next year,” he says.

Protecting the company

Another part of mitigating New American Funding’s risk is having a robust cybersecurity infrastructure, Block says. He’s recognized over the years that the legal department must partner with the IT team, especially the chief information security officer, to understand what’s being done to protect the company’s data.

“We want to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” Block says.

Kenneth Block | General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer | New American Funding

With regulations changing frequently, protections like multi-factor authentication and encrypting data become more important. There are also new privacy rules and regulations for consumers that give them the right to withhold certain information.

The legal and compliance teams offer regular compliance training and the IT team provides online cybersecurity training.

“We’ll put out our own phishing and ransomware test emails trying to engage our employees and see if they’re taking the right steps to protect themselves and our company’s data,” Block says.

Mortgages in his future

Block earned a degree in English language and literature from the University of California-Irvine, but he knew that wasn’t going to be the focus of his career. Like so many lawyers, Block got interested in law because of his father, an attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School and had his own practice in Southern California for 34 years.

Focusing on real estate law, Block earned a juris doctor from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He says his legal training helped him deal with people, develop communication skills and to see things in a different way. After he graduated law school, he was a sole practitioner for four years and supplemented his income by doing eviction work for a property management company.

“I then found myself in the mortgage industry and haven’t looked back,” Block says. “I ask a lot of questions and understand a lot about secondary markets and the work that loan officers do.”

While working for a small lender in Costa Mesa, California, Block taught himself the compliance aspect of the mortgage business. He was the chief compliance officer for LendingTree for more than two years and was vice president and general counsel for Home Loan Center and LendingTree loans for nine years. He was then a director and senior counsel for nearly two years for Discover Home Loans and began his current role for New American Funding in April 2014.

Mortgage lenders like New American Funding are facing some headwinds for the rest of the 2022 given the rising interest rate environment and continued inflation, Block says.

“In this ever-changing environment, our company will stay nimble and will adjust to meet the financing needs of our customers,” he says. “Our legal team will help guide us through the tougher times to ready the company for continued growth.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2022 Edition here.

Published on: June 27, 2022

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