Loan officer’s standard of service recalls banking of a bygone age
story, photo, and illustration by Naomi Johnson
If Mary Kate Rikard isn’t the most heartfelt banker in the world, she’s got to be close. In an industry not generally known for its ebullient idealists, Rikard, a loan officer at HomeTrust Bank’s corporate headquarters in downtown Asheville, is both — as well as an enthusiastic cheerleader and life coach who is willing to go way beyond the call of duty to see her clients in a home of their own.
Consider this story she tells: after working with one client, a single mother, for a period of years, laboriously getting her finances in shape, they finally got her into her own place. But the woman’s son didn’t have a bed of his own — so Rikard went with them to the furniture store and helped them buy a bed. That’s a lot more than most people expect from their loan officer, but for this Asheville native, who specializes in “out of the box” loans for non-standard clients, it’s just another day on the job she’s passionate about.
This month, Rikard will be among the 20 accomplished women honored at the YWCA of Asheville’s annual Tribute to Women of Influence gala, dedicated to celebrating “women who’ve made a difference in their company, community, or world.” Rikard will join a diverse and impressive roster of local women ranging from a minister and gay-marriage advocate (Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of the Campaign for Southern Equality) to a visually impaired climate scientist (Dr. Imke Durre of the National Climatic Data Center), each notable in some way for her commitment to values embodied by the YWCA’s mission: empowerment, equality, and transformation.
In Rikard’s case, she’s brought those values to a field that leans strongly toward the impersonal.
At age 32, she’s worked at HomeTrust her entire adult life: “I graduated on Friday and I started work here on Monday,” she says with a laugh. She started out in the back office, plowing through reams of paperwork, but 11 years later she’s a loan officer and the bank’s top producer. “I’ve always taken pride in not being your standard banker,” she says with a big smile. “I think I’m more relatable. I’m younger, I don’t wear the little suits, and there is nothing, I mean nothing, you can tell me that will shock me. I’ve heard it all.” About 50 percent of her clients are single women, many with children; similarly, about half are minorities including immigrants, Latinos, and African Americans. Other borrowers might be young folks just starting out, or artsy types whose income stream doesn’t fit the usual mold.
Among her legion of fans is client Nicole Rule, a 34-year-old physical therapist in Asheville. She and her husband Sam first met Rikard in a first-time homebuyers’ course about seven years ago. “Since that time we’ve met with her multiple times for refinancing and the purchase of another home, as well as just dropping in to catch up,” says Rule via e-mail. “She has seen us through our newlywed stage to marriage of 10 years and three children. She knows us and knows our dreams...having her as our broker makes me nostalgic for what it must’ve been like years ago when bankers actually cared for the people they served.”
In unconventional Asheville, where most people seem to be out of the box in one way or another, there’s a great need for this kind of service — but not many bankers who want to fill it, and for good reason, according to Rikard. “It’s a lot more work,” she says emphatically. “And it’s easier to say no to doing more work than you have to.” For example, she’ll often meet with clients monthly for years, helping them find resources on everything from balancing a checkbook to getting out of an abusive marriage, before they qualify for a loan. But for her, therein lies the true payoff. She comes from service-minded stock, with an immediate family boasting two teachers, a sheriff, and a police officer, and she views her work as its own form of service.
“The most important thing I can do is help other people. You get more by giving.” When she talks about the difference she gets to make in people’s lives, her voice is full of feeling: “I get to help people have a home, a place nobody can take away from them. And home is the most wonderful place you can be.”
The Tribute to Women of Influence gala will take place Thursday, September 20, at Diana Wortham Theatre. 7 pm. Tickets are $60 (all proceeds benefit YWCA programs). For more information, visit ywcaofasheville.org or call 828-254-7206