Shannon Leight – CMG Financial
Leading the legal charge in the mortgage industry was never in Shannon Leight’s initial career plans, but in March she found herself sealing the deal for one of the industry’s largest retail acquisitions in the past decade.
Leight, a 2001 Widener University School of Law graduate, had early interests in criminal defense and First Amendment law. But her passion changed courses when she studied consumer bankruptcy during her final year.
That subject engaged her in a new way. Representing such clients while under a lawyer’s supervision was a new thrill, she says. Upon graduating, Leight followed her newfound passion and focused on developing skills like handling foreclosures and managing bankruptcies for lenders and mortgage bankers.
In 2006, she added commercial litigation and reorganization to her skillset at Philadelphia-based Ciardi, Ciardi & Astin. For eight-plus years, she took on larger and larger roles. One of the most notable was representing a Delaware Chapter 7 trustee in the collection, recovery and sale of assets from liquidating commercial entities to maximize return for unsecured creditors.
But Leight yearned to be involved in day-to-day activities with one client, and one team, which meant going in-house. She took the jump in 2015 as corporate counsel to New Penn Financial LLC, a mortgage lender that’s since rebranded to Newrez. After three years-plus she moved to Sprout Mortgage as general counsel and chief compliance officer, until finally finding home at CMG Financial in 2021.
The real deal
CMG, one of the nation’s largest privately held mortgage banking firms, saw a total origination volume of nearly $30 billion last year and ranked 16th on Scotsman Guide’s 2022 Top Overall Lenders list. The company increased its financial footprint with the recent acquisition of the retail division at Homebridge Financial Services, which originated $12 billion last year.
At the heart of this mega-acquisition was Leight, CMG’s only in-house lawyer. While financial terms remain confidential, Leight says it’s easily CMG’s biggest acquisition.
She drafted the letter of intent, discussed buyer must-haves, transferred financial specifics, went through due diligence, finalized documents and juggled countless moving parts. But she got both sides to the finish line, which in part was a result of the seamless cohesion between the parties.
“The interesting and encouraging thing about Homebridge is that we share similar values,” Leight says. “Their employees closely fit CMG’s culture. They’re a reputable and large retail lender and at the end of the day, everybody felt comfortable.”
It’s almost unprecedented, Leight mentions, how CMG’s internal teams worked together to ensure that approximately 1,000 former Homebridge employees were onboarded the day after closing. Prior to then, she and colleagues formed task committees and met to address every anticipated aspect of the integration. Much of the interaction between the teams was remote, which incidentally proved useful for Leight and her executives.
“They get even more of my time than if I were in the office,” she says from her home office in Palm Bay, Florida.
Leading growth through legal gauge
If there’s a consistency to this industry, it’s the ever-evolving changes that largely fall on a legal department to navigate. It’s always a challenge, Leight says, to stay at least in line with market conditions, which in recent years have included higher-trending interest rates. CMG’s adjustments rely heavily on Leight working closely with sales, marketing, compliance and leadership to ensure that CMG stays within the rules of a regulated industry while maintaining its sense of innovation and access to consumers.
“It all comes back to this core concept of how legal is a business partner,” she says. “Part of that partnership means upholding the CMG legacy of doing right by the customer.”
One of CMG’s most prized possessions and coveted innovations is its All In One Loanä, a program designed to help borrowers save more on interest and pay off their loan faster.
Leight defines CMG’s All In One Loan as a combined mortgage banking and functional checking account, both rolled into a one-of-a-kind home equity line of credit. Though patterned after programs long popular in financing homes, All In One Loan goes to a new level.
In most states, the All In One Loan allows borrowers to directly deposit money into a designated checking, which automatically lowers their home loan’s principal. The money in this account is still liquid but lowers the mortgage interest based on a formula of average daily balance with the potential of saving tens of thousands of dollars over the typical 30-year loan.
“We’ve grown it in different ways and offered it to states where it hadn’t been offered before,” Leight tells Vanguard. “I’ve had to revise our guidelines in those states and we’re also working on expanding the program to construction loans.”
There’ll be many more details for Leight to fine-tune as she does her part to sustain CMG’s growth. And as seen with the acquisition, the San Ramon, California-headquartered firm has been growing.
More growth, no problem
CMG has a nationwide presence, including Florida, where Leight has since relocated and from where she will continue serving the firm. The home’s become somewhat of an empty nest with her daughter, a recent law school graduate, embarking on a career of her own in environmental law in Boston, a son who is starting his career in computer science in Miami and a youngest son who is in college at Winter Park outside of Orlando.
Despite the empty nest, Leight still has much to keep busy, including triathlon training and other strenuous activities that include boxing and paddleboarding. As a dog lover, she has three rescues of mixed breeds and sizes. There’s nothing like pups to keep a busy person sane, she says. But all in all, Leight says she doesn’t need much of a calming influence to balance everyday life.
“I’m in a place where I feel like I’m continuing to grow and the more CMG rolls out, the more opportunity I get to dive into something new,” she says. “That’s what I want to do, keep growing.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer III 2023 Edition here.
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