Residential Magazine

Featured Top Originator: Kelly Malatesta, Cadence Bank

No. 1 Top Women Originators, No. 12 Top Dollar Volume

By Hannah Darden

Kelly Malatesta is a goal setter and a goal getter. Last year, she finished in fourth place on Scotsman Guide’s Top Women Originators list, so she decided to set a goal to become No. 1. This year, she achieved that feat. Originating $416.2 million in loans in 2022 wasn’t easy. In June of last year, Malatesta went on her first two-week vacation in 30 years, and when she came back “it was like someone had turned off the water hose,” she said. The market had gone south and Malatesta decided it was “time to revamp.”

“If you come from a mindset of serving others, you can really find joy in each day.”

“I really try to be intentional,” Malatesta said. “I did a lot of one-on-ones with my agents and builders. I’m a firm believer in not taking the shotgun approach but in going deeper with those referral partners. It’s so important, when you do have the time, to get out and see those people and see what’s going on in their world. How can you help them with their business?”

Malatesta’s relationships with builders are especially important, since she does 50% to 60% of her business in one-time-close construction financing. “Builders are extremely loyal if you know what you’re doing. In that field, you’ll get referred a lot,” Malatesta said. “It’s been such a joy working with clients building their dream homes. They’re excited to get started and for it to come together. It’s just a fun process.”

As the market compresses and more lenders are fighting for business, Malatesta said that having a niche product such as construction financing softens the blow. “If you build a reputation within a niche product, I think that you are going to do well in the times that we’re seeing right now because you’ve carved out that specialty and you’re still going to have that book of business,” she said. “It’s critical to be able to set yourself up that way.”

As business has slowed for everyone, Malatesta took it as an opportunity to dive deeper into every transaction, prospecting for potential new referral partners like title companies and buyer’s and seller’s agents. She’s also shopping herself out to new builders and leveraging her 30 years of experience.

“It’s funny, I’m now at the age that I can really use my experience,” Malatesta said. “I still feel like a kid sometimes in this business, but I’ve been doing it over 30 years now, just building that database. It grows and multiplies over time. If you treat people the right way, they do come back to you.”

Treating people the right way — clients and referral partners alike — is at the center of Malatesta’s business. She loves to creatively solve problems by getting to know her clients’ future goals and plans, then guiding them to the right product for their situation. And Malatesta does everything from a standpoint of serving others. “If you come at it from a grateful heart and are appreciative of the opportunity to get to work with these people, it changes your mindset,” she said. “If you come from a mindset of serving others, you can really find joy in each day.”

This year, Malatesta is staying positive despite inventory issues and a market slowdown in Texas. Homebuilding is still showing growth, so she’s diversifying her product catalog and getting back to lunch-and-learns and check-ins with agents and builders.

“At the beginning of every year, it looks like you’ve got to climb the big mountain again, to build that volume for the year and try to reach those goals,” Malatesta said. “But I love that the mortgage world is so different. Every day is a different challenge, a different situation, a different customer. … It never gets boring; it never gets old.”  ●

Tips of the Trade

Invest in yourself and a team. Don’t be afraid to hire an assistant and see how your business grows. When the market drops and you have a team to support, you’ll feel obligated and motivated to keep the business coming in. Invest in trainings and listen to podcasts and interviews from people at the top of the industry. Pick up their tips and then adapt them to your business. Have multiple pillars to your business instead of focusing on just one thing. When one of your pillars goes down, the rest will help keep you up and protect you from the ebbs and flows of the business.


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