Enjoy access to a free NMLS renewal class when you attend an in-person event.
Windy Lafond Honors Her mother’s legacy while making Her own mark on the industry
You meet a lot of Uber and Lyft drivers when traveling across the country to attend mortgage conferences. Once, while taking an Uber through San Diego with a few colleagues of mine, our driver decided to relay his entire life story of how he emigrated to Southern California — “The most amazing place in the world!” — from Italy.
Although some of us in the car wished this were another quiet Uber ride, we listened to him, with his thick Italian accent, tell us how wonderful and beautiful America is. He mainly spoke to my male colleague in the passenger seat, no doubt noting his fancy suit and shiny wrist watch.
The driver turned to my colleague and said, “I came to this country with only $10 in my pocket.”
My colleague widened his eyes and said, “Wow, really?”
“Could you do it?” The driver asked in a more serious tone.“If you were alone with $10 in your pocket, speaking no English, could you make it?”
Looking away now, my colleague said, “No, probably not.”
“After traveling around for my job and meeting so many people, I thought to myself, ‘What’s the difference between them and me? I just kept asking myself ‘Why not me?’ ”
The immigrant experience is truly unique and can be hard for natural-born Americans to relate to. It’s often a harrowing journey, and even harder for those who want to break out of the mold and do something extraordinary with their lives, like becoming a business owner. But there are people who actually do it and end up succeeding; people like Windy Lafond, CEO of Genie Notary Inc.
Once upon a time, Windy Lafond was a 7-year-old immigrant from Haiti, arriving at JFK airport in New York with her single mother, twin sisters, and nothing but the luggage they carried. Luckily, these girls had a strict mother, Marie Genie Pierre — known as Genie — who was determined to have her children succeed in this country, no matter how many working hours it took.
As a child, Windy watched her mother struggle to provide for her and her sisters, working two to three jobs as a certified nursing assistant in Newark, N.J., just to keep food on the table. Most days when Windy came home from school, she’d know her mother had been home only because the house was clean and there was a home-cooked meal on the table. “My mother was always working because our father passed away when I was a 1-year-old,” she said. “I never really saw my mother enjoy life — I hardly saw her at all — all I saw was her struggling and always working for everyone else.”
Genie couldn’t afford to provide her family with healthcare, so Windy and her sisters never went to the doctor’s office growing up. Her mother insisted every sickness or ailment could be treated at home.
Windy recalls her mother always coughing, though she never smoked. At first, her mother would shirk it off because more important things needed to get done around the house. Eventually, after much deliberation, Genie went to the emergency room. During that visit, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She passed away just nine months later, when Windy was only 22.
When it came time for Windy to lead her own life, she started down the path her mother had planned for her. She decided to join many of her relatives and become a first responder. “That’s what many immigrants are taught to do: follow in the footsteps of your relatives,” Windy said. Her mother, like many immigrant parents, believed there was a formula to success: “Get a good education, get a nice union job with benefits and job security, get your kids a good education, and work until you die,” Windy said.
After she received her Master’s in Criminal Justice from Curry College, Windy was put on the Civil Service waiting list. In the meantime, she worked as an overnight campus officer at Curry College and as an EMT. However, the jobs were not nearly as fulfilling as Windy had hoped. She was physically and mentally exhausted having to work long hours, especially when COVID-19 hit, and even longer hours as an EMT.
“We were called out in all kinds of weather and put our lives on the line to look after our patients,” she said. “Every day it was chaos — long hours with low pay. I thought about how I could potentially die out there and there was so little respect given to us.” That was until a close friend, an attorney, recommended that she become a loan signing agent.
In a matter of months, Windy quit both her campus officer and EMT jobs to work for herself as a loan signing agent full time. At the time, in 2017, her sisters were completely baffled by her decision to give up a stable union job to become a notary with only a commission to rely on.“Are you serious?” one sister asked. “You must be the stupidest woman on Earth!”
Windy had to explain that she wanted more for herself. “I definitely did not want my future children to see me in the same stage which I saw mother in,” she said. “I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be happy. I want to enjoy life and watch my children grow. I want to show other Haitian women, Black women, women who grew up in poverty, women who grew up in Newark, N.J., women who grew up in Irvington, N.J., that there’s more out there. Make your own path.”
A few months after receiving her certification and undergoing a background check, Windy was a full-time loan signing agent and notary. She immediately took to it, enjoying the flexibility and independence it afforded her. “You get what you give in this job,” she said. “I went from making minimum wage to making $100 off of one closed loan. You can do up to five closing a day, making up to $2,500 in a week.”
Other than the substantial paycheck it provides, Windy says one of the most interesting and exciting parts of being a loan signing agent is the ability to travel and meet different people. “I’ve met the CEO of DraftKings [Jason Robins],” Windy said excitedly. “His mansion was incredible!”
Although she has met and connected with hundreds of clients over the past few years, one particular visit to a client’s house made a lasting impression.
Christopher Dunleavy, chief financial officer of Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, invited Windy into his immaculate home “with marble floors, walls, counters — everything,” Windy said. “His house is … across from a beautiful park, in a beautiful brownstone. Mr. Dunleavy met me and opened my car door for me. He was in a black suit and tie with a fancy gold watch — I remembered the sun shining on it and I was like, ‘sheesh!’”
Windy was completely blown away by the beauty of the estate and the wealth this family had, describing it as a “surreal experience,” but what truly left a lasting impression were Dunleavy’s two golden retrievers.
“The dogs were very well behaved,” Windy said. “One was out and roaming around while the other one was laying down. I said he had a beautiful home and beautiful dogs. That’s when he said the one laying down was recovering from chemo. He explained that their dogs mean a lot to them and how they are part of their family.”
Windy was caught off guard when Dunleavy said his dog had just finished his last round of chemotherapy. That conjured up memories of her mother catching the city bus to get her chemo treatments at the hospital. The picture draws a stark contrast to this dog lying in front of her, alive and well in a beautiful mansion, not even aware of how close it came to death. Surprisingly, she laughed, saying, “I didn’t even know they had chemo for dogs.”
According to the Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Studies, dogs are treated with the same chemotherapy drugs that humans receive.
Dunleavy explained to her how cancer is common among golden retrievers. Windy asked, “Why not get a different type of dog?” Dunleavy replied, “Growing up, we’ve always had golden retrievers, and that’s the type of dogs we want, so when they reach a certain age and get cancer, we’ll just treat it.”
“Eighty percent of the notaries and attorneys at Genie Notary Inc. are women and minorities.”
“The entire thing was mind-blowing to me,” Windy said, recalling her mother’s brief and brutal battle with cancer. “I remember they [doctors] gave her samples of shots to take home after each of her chemo treatments. These samples were free for a month before the charges kicked in. After the month of free medication ran out, we would have to pray we’d get more. But here is this dog who got chemotherapy and he was able to live … . I thought, there’s medicine and resources out there, but only for the rich or for those who have access to it.”
Then something caught Windy’s eye. She saw a book on Dunleavy’s shelf that she had on her own shelf at home. The book was “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. She told him she was reading that book and was enjoying how profound it was. Dunleavy said his own father made him read it over 20 years ago, when it was first released, to teach him financial literacy. Windy and Dunleavy then discussed how the book impacted both their lives, driving them to achieve things they never thought were possible.
Kiyosaki’s books are well-known among professionals in the finance industries. For those unfamiliar, Kiyosaki had two fathers growing up; a rich one and a poor one. One was highly educated with a Ph.D., while the other never finished the eighth grade. Both made substantial incomes, but they had diametrically opposing philosophies when it came to managing finances. The highly educated father struggled with finances his entire life, while the other father became the richest man in Hawaii.
The rich father in Kiyosaki’s book was actually his friend’s dad, though the two became close throughout their mentorship. Kiyosaki recognized that it is primarily parents, rather than schools, that teach children how to manage money. So, if your parents are poor, where does that leave you? Impoverished, most likely.
Kiyosaki, Dunleavy, and Windy Lafond all recognized this disparity at some point in their lives before deciding to overcome it.
After about a year working as a loan signing agent, Windy decided to go the extra mile and do something extraordinary — start her own business.
“After traveling around for my job and meeting so many people, I thought to myself, ‘What’s the difference between them and me?’” Windy said. “I just kept asking myself ‘Why not me?’”
At first, she merely wished there were more of her to travel and get these loans signed. That wish became a reality after she obtained a license to run her own notary business. The company, Genie Notary Inc., is named after Windy’s mother.
Genie Notary Inc. provides loan signing agents (notaries and closing attorneys) to signers within a 1-hour notice. They are the backup when your closing goes wrong or when a notary and/or an attorney doesn’t show up. They are who you call when you don’t think your loan is going to be funded. “We are here nights, weekends, holidays, snow, rain or hail — we are your loan signing service,” Windy stated. “We’ll be there anytime, anywhere!”
The beauty of becoming a loan signing agent is that there is little in the way of qualifications. You need a high school diploma; you must be able to pass a background check, and you need to have Error and Omission insurance. Other than that, all you need is a printer, a stack of paper, and ink.
Being a female Haitain immigrant and aspiring entrepreneur in an industry dominated by white males comes with a few challenges.
“People don’t realize how much money there is to be made,” Windy said, explaining that everyone else involved in the loan process depends on the loan signing agent or notary to tie up the loose ends before closing. Loan signing agents and notaries are hired by mortgage companies, escrow companies, title companies, and signing services to identify loan documents, obtain signatures, or deliver the documents to the borrower. A loan cannot close without a signing agent or notary, so employees know they’re valuable.
“Eighty percent of the notaries and attorneys at Genie Notary Inc. are women and minorities,” Windy said, not shying away from the fact she consciously seeks to hire minorities and women. “I’m not ashamed to say I go out of my way to do this. This is a very white industry — I mean you go to conferences around the country and look around — it’s very apparent. I want to bring in more people like me, who are ambitious.”
When Windy travels around the country to attend conferences for entrepreneurs, agents, and mortgage professionals, she sees only a few other Black people in a sea of white. “It’s very lonely and it’s heartbreaking when you walk into a room and you don’t know anyone and you are the minority. My hair looks different, my clothes are way too bright. Apparently, I didn’t get the ‘black and blue dress’ memo. My words sound different because of my accent. People would look at me strange because English isn’t my first language.”
Luckily, Windy has met a few people who have become mentors along the way to help quell her self-doubts, including the CEO of Dynex Capital Inc, Bryon Boston; the founder of Equilibrium Mortgage, Paul Campbell; the president and partner of American Finance Resources, Laura J. Brandao, and vice president of residential lending at IberiaBank, Tim Allen. Windy met most of her mentors by reaching out to them on LinkedIn, and these people were kind enough to respond and help guide her through her entrepreneurial journey.
“I was talking to a group of loan officers at a conference one time when my mentor, Tim Allen, grabbed my hand to drag me away from them. ‘You don’t need to talk to those people,’ he said, then started to introduce me to someone else. He always pushed me in a good way, and I’m so grateful,” Windy said.
Of course, being a female Haitain immigrant and aspiring entrepreneur in an industry dominated by white males comes with a few challenges. In Windy’s own experience, she said the racial tension could be felt at some conferences in the Sunbelt states, where her appearance truly stands out in the crowd. “You can’t hide big curly hair, dark skin, and the overwhelming differences between us,” Windy said. “This industry is somewhat appearance-based, and in this particular area, it’s hard to fit in.”
While attending one of these southern conferences, Windy met a man whom she described as very articulate. He wore a navy blue suit that conveyed an air of professionalism. He spoke how she wanted to speak; he had connections she wanted to have; he exuded a confidence she wanted to harness in herself. He also happened to be white.
After talking to each other for quite some time, the two decided to head to the bar, where Windy explained her company’s mission: she wanted to become the preferred loan signing agency for all major U.S. banks. The man showed interest and listened attentively before telling her: “I think you need me.”
He explained how he had connections with bankers and potentially could help her reach her goals, if he could own 25% of the company. “When people see you, they won’t take you seriously,” he said. “I’m older, I’m white, and these people are more welcoming to that.”
Windy took in the man’s words without getting defensive. He was saying things she had thought about a million times before, and she could not deny that she was different from most of the people in the industry. It would be harder to relate to them and build a lasting relationship. At the same time, it’s never fun to have someone put down your culture and identity, saying you cannot succeed in your goals because of your appearance.
Windy spoke to her mentors; they reminded her that she did not need anyone like that working for her, that she could make it on her own. They reminded her to “follow the path of least resistance” and go along with the original plan of making it by herself. “I could see what the man said was somewhat truthful. It’s going to be harder for me, and I accept that,” she said.
Today, Genie Notary Inc. is a 100% minority and women-owned small business (WOSB) that employs 70,000 remote agents and notaries (80% being minorities or women) and has partnered with hundreds of title companies, escrow officers, loan officers, lenders and banks thus far. Genie Notary Inc. was officially established in January 2021, and became classified as a WOSB eight months later.
Looking to the future, Windy said she sees herself married, “with beautiful chocolate babies.” But unlike her mother, she plans to enjoy life and watch her babies grow and thrive. Ultimately, she wants to live life, enjoy it, and hire people who want the same things for themselves.
“I still struggle with self-doubt,” Windy said.” Once a month, I take an hour-long drive. I don’t know where I’m going. Sometimes I end up in New Hampshire, sometimes it’s Maine or Connecticut or western Massachusetts, and I just cry. I allow myself one hour a month to drive somewhere and just cry. After 30 minutes to one hour of crying, I say, ‘Enough Windy, it’s time to move on.’”
That is the kind of fortitude and strength it takes to be a business owner, and if anyone has it, it’s Windy Lafond.
Those of you pursuing the same journey as Windy should perhaps consider these wise words from millionaire Robert Kiyosaki: “I wish I could say it was easy. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t hard either. But without a strong reason or purpose, anything in life is hard.”
View the discussion thread.
Pulling back the curtain on the ins and outs Of annual increases
Can increasing the LLPAs on Second Homes and Jumbos help?
Digging deeper for better understanding
Subscribe to the Daily newsletter.
National Mortgage Professional Magazine presents a DealDesk featuring Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions' Investor C…
We host Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions for a special 2021 edition of their virtual town hall series they ran fro…
Hear from Melissa Merriman, REALTOR® with The Melissa Merriman Team at Keller Williams, on what real estate pr…
The fourth quarter consolidated results were driven by higher-than-anticipated margins in the IMT segment and lower than expected inventory losses from the Homes segment.
Sagent will buy certain intellectual property rights related to Mr. Cooper’s proprietary, cloud-based technology platform for mortgage servicing, and Mr. Cooper will receive an equity stake in Sagent.
For all of 2021, Freddie Mac reported net income of $12.1 billion, a 65% year-over-year increase.
Meet your your colleagues, both national and local, by attending an event in your area.
Enjoy access to a free NMLS renewal class when you attend an in-person event.