Mariana Bakalar: Reigniting relationships and building trust to grow a portfolio and a career

First National Financial LP Mar 26, 2024   mins

Mariana Bakalar shares why humour is so important to creativity and why earning trust is a value that resonate with her most.

Take us back to the beginning of your career at First National.

MB: I started in the industry in 2009. I worked for a brokerage that had a very close relationship with First National. So before I started at First National in 2014, I had strong relationships with my underwriter, documentation person and Ray Quan, the manager at the time. I left the brokerage for another opportunity in underwriting, but it was apparent quite quickly that it wasn’t a fit for me. I called Ray right away and asked about any opportunities at First National. He asked me, “how fast can you drop off your resume?” I was there within half an hour, interviewed the next day and was hired. 

What was your first year like?

MB: It was exhausting and ton of fun. I thought I knew a lot about mortgages, but I realized how much I still had to learn. There is so much more detail on the lender side in terms of guidelines, requirements, investors and QA. We had a hectic Spring market that year, and I was in learning mode. I was also trying to find opportunities to apply my knowledge from the broker side and strike a balance between being autonomous and a team player. 

What was your “I’m in” moment?

MB: It didn’t take me long at all to know I was in. I always knew First National would be a great place to work from collaborating with the team when I was on the broker side. I felt like I was meant to work here. And once I started to get to know everyone, I felt that even more. Everyone is so likeable and helpful. 

Describe some milestones in your career.

MB: Two stick out for me. When I was hired as an Associate Mortgage Underwriter (AMU), I worked really hard to learn my role. My promotion to underwriter validated all the hard work I did. My second milestone is tied to the first. My assigned portfolio when I started as an underwriter was a bit stagnant. I set a goal for myself to reignite those relationships and leverage the trust I built as an AMU. Months later, I saw that effort paying off. I had strengthened those broker relationships, and my portfolio ended up being one of the busiest in the office.

What stamp have you put on the business?

MB: Humour. I always try to find the light side of things. When talking with colleagues and brokers, I want to make it as fun and entertaining as possible. We can’t take ourselves too seriously. Play brings out our creativity, which allows us to get things done and find more solutions. That approach has gotten me through my career and many difficult deals and situations. 

What are you most proud of in your career?

MB: First National has a mission to always be the top lender of choice for brokers. So anything that I’ve done to help with that mission makes me feel proud. Whether it’s doing my job, keeping things light or motivating other people, I am proud to contribute my talents to help First National be the best at what it does. We are all here working toward a collective goal, which is the value of service, relationships, consistency and confidence. 

Any favourite memories?

MB: I’ve had so much fun at work, so there are so many memories. But I do remember specifically, one Christmas, our office really got into the holiday spirit. We had an empty cubicle, and someone found two pieces of cardboard, which became the roof of a house over the cubicle. That creation became a massive gingerbread house with tons of decorations. We had snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, candy canes and gumdrops. We had a big contest, and everyone got really into it. 

Which one of First National’s values resonates with you most and why?

MB: We earn trust. We can’t earn someone’s business if we don’t earn trust with them first. People put everything they have into their mortgages. It’s not only a house. It’s a home. They are living there, spending precious time and raising a family. I want brokers to know my word counts. If it’s a yes, it’s a definite yes. Since the day I started, I knew I wanted to be close with my brokers and know them personally. Deals or no deals, the trust I’ve built with my brokers matters most to me. I want every broker I work with to choose First National based on the trust we’ve established. 

As a woman, what’s it like to work at First National and what inspires you?

MB: I have never felt like I am a woman working in a man’s world. Ray has been a great support since day one, as have all my male peers. They pushed me to have more confidence and urged me to pursue my goals and dreams. I have always felt equal. First National also has a lot of women in leadership positions, which is so inspiring. There are no boundaries to what you can achieve at First National. 

From your experience, how does the First National culture value diversity and elevate the voices and perspectives of all team members?

MB: I was born in Mexico City and I can be who I am at work. I’ve never had other ways imposed on me. Everyone, from any walk of life, country, ethnicity or background is able to show who they are and share their traditions. No voice is ever silenced at First National. 

What advice would you share with people growing their careers at First National?

MB: Work hard and be patient. The rewards you will value most will come when you least expect them. I never thought I would be a manager, and 10 years later, I am one. I worked hard, and that hard work paid off. 

Any final thoughts?

MB: I always knew I was going to end up here. First National is a great place to work and has given me a second home. I’m proud to work here and I’m always excited to spend time here. 

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