A collections agency that cares: How DEVAL is preserving Hispanic homeownership

Deborah Garcia-Gratacos makes waves with her loan servicing firm, DEVAL, protecting the interests of the Hispanic community

“My company hatched on my kitchen table. Since that day in my kitchen, DEVAL has competitively received more than $90 million in contracts to provide financial services and has grown to a nationwide financial advisory firm in a male-dominated industry. There are a lot of Hispanic firms, but we are the only noninstitutionalized loan service provider in the nation. That’s a big deal.

With the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, homeownership within the community has grown tremendously. In fact, the number of Hispanic homeowners increased by 58 percent from 2000 to 2012, a period when the rest of the country saw a net increase of only five percent. In this environment, DEVAL has found its niche to stand out.

It is my belief that once you reach a certain level of success in life, you have a responsibility to give back to your community. For me, that has been through financial services.

Although we are a national loan service provider, one of our primary focuses is advocating for underserved Hispanic communities. We aim to fill a gap in the market where, for example, people like my mother—a woman over 70 years of age who speaks little English—are not provided with a transparent process when signing their mortgage. That is where we can help, by knowing the challenges within our community and by relating to our customers.

Our consulting background sets our methodology apart. We see people going through difficult financial situations—unemployment, daunting medical bills, even deportation issues. As consultants, we do our best to provide the best solutions to imperfect situations. We never view our customers as just another loan in our books. Our goal at all times is not to offer short-term fixes, but to find resolutions for the long term and to keep borrowers in their homes. We try to work in partnership with the community and bring clients the resources they need to be successful.

Some of the DEVAL team surrounds founder Deborah Garcia-Gratacos at the Tyson’s Corner VA Office. From right to left (first row) Angelica Kyrus, Cristina Murray, Deborah Garcia, Lusby Sarmiento (back row) Mark McGann, Paola Rivera, Marye Ish and Edgar Garrido.

We are adept at finding nontraditional resolutions to problems. For instance, if a borrower has the desire to pay their mortgage, but can’t get a job, we talk them through a series of options, including taking a look at their résumé or giving them employment resources. For people who do not have Internet access, sometimes a solution is as simple as guiding them to a library near their home to utilize it. Typical loan servicers offer options that do not take into account whether or not people get to keep their homes. That’s why it is so important for us to have a deeper understanding of the Hispanic culture and their needs. When we offer our customers options that will allow them to keep their homes, we earn their trust.

DEVAL is giving Hispanics a voice by lobbying for awareness and legislation to make loan documents available in Spanish. Many times people will sign loan documents without knowing what the document says, so DEVAL is urging for mandatory legislation that will provide access for Hispanic borrowers in Spanish. If you study the marketplace and how credit is established, you’ll notice areas of the country where, in Hispanic neighborhoods, access to capital is limited. That shouldn’t happen. We’re bringing awareness to these issues, so people can be informed, ask more questions, and demand solutions.

Ever since I was young, I’ve always been aware of the need for leadership in our community. I am proud to have successfully served more than 50 clients in the public and private sectors and become the largest noninstitutionalized, Hispanic, woman-owned firm licensed to conduct loan servicing in the nation. I see a need for more Hispanic women entrepreneurs to lead in the financial sector. But from my perspective, the future looks promising in terms of gaining access to capital within the Hispanic community.”