Jennifer Lopez Kouchis: The Trailblazing Woman Leader, Successfully Leading at One of the Largest Credit Unions in the United States, VyStar Credit Union

Leadership is not about titles, roles, or guidelines. It is about the impact of one life on another. Jennifer Lopez Kouchis, the Senior Vice President of Real Estate Lending at VyStar Credit Union, lives by this philosophy and leads by it. She adheres to the principles of servant leadership and is committed to the credit union movement, with a particular emphasis on developing innovative solutions. She holds over 10 years of experience in the credit union sector and 22 years of experience in financial services. During that time, she has learned the importance of setting an example for others to follow and supporting the upcoming generation of business leaders. Because of her excellence and leadership qualities, Jennifer Lopez Kouchis earned the “40 Under 40 ” honor in 2021 by the Jacksonville Business Journal and was recently named one of the “Most Powerful Women of Mortgage Banking”.

A Leader with Proven Experience 

In the key position of Senior Vice President, Jennifer Lopez Kouchis is responsible for managing all aspects of mortgage lending at VyStar Credit Union. VyStar was established in 1952 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville to serve the financial needs of military personnel, civil service workers, and their families. Today, VyStar serves more than 875,000 members throughout Central and North Florida and Georgia. VyStar provides it’s members with the greatest features of credit unions—individual attention, affordable rates, and superb products—with a dedication to enhancing the communities in which they serve. The commitment of employees like

Jennifer Lopez Kouchis makes that possible.

Jennifer is responsible for managing all aspects of mortgage lending at VyStar, including sales, operations, credit, risk, technology, secondary marketing, quality assurance, mortgage servicing, loss mitigation, and VyStar Title Agency. She is charged with implementing innovative technologies, process improvements, and mortgage products and programs that align with the credit union’s strategic vision.

In academics, Jennifer attended the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2002 and later completed her Executive Education Program at the School of Management, UT Austin, McCombs School of Business through a Top Talent Program in 2017. She received the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Certified Mortgage Banker (CMB®)  accreditation in September 2021. Prior to her role at VyStar, she led at BBVA in the USA as a Senior Vice President. She was designated as a sales manager at NVR Mortgage and a regional manager at Navy Federal Credit Union.

“Over my career, I have experienced highs and lows, but what has shaped me most is my passion and drive and not allowing those lows to define me. I have worked in a variety of roles within the mortgage industry and have made it a priority to keep learning more, working harder, and dedicating myself to mastering the trade I adore. The magnificent woman affirmed, “I too have had the privilege of working alongside some wonderful leaders who taught and encouraged me throughout the years.”

Through these experiences, Jennifer has developed into an authentic, passionate leader who is dedicated to upending the status quo, and it has motivated her to mentor the next generation of business leaders.

VyStar’s Unique Initiatives at a Glance

Jennifer and her teams have made it a priority to develop distinctive products and services that meet members where they are and assist them in achieving their financial goals  to best meet the needs of current and potential members and to contribute to the strengthening of the communities that VyStar serves. Just a few of those initiatives include:

  • Military Heroes Mortgage Program for those on active duty, veterans, and surviving spouses
  • The Everyday Heroes Mortgage Program is open to more than 200 professionals and gives back to those who give to their community every day.
  • With Jennifer’s leadership, VyStar earned its Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Certification, which strengthens VyStar’s ability to serve low-income individuals, minority business owners, and many others in distressed communities, particularly those with low to moderate incomes.
  • Expanding homeownership opportunities through partnerships with non-profits like Habitat for Humanity (HabiJax) to offer affordable mortgage loans.
  • VyStar was approved to participate in the Department of Treasury’s Homeowner Assistance Fund to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and displacement of homeowners.
  • Continued development of a full Spanish-speaking mortgage process, from   origination through processing and closing.

What Makes VyStar Credit Stand Out?

VyStar members have access to great rates, low or no fees, early direct deposit, rewards on credit cards, member-centric service and more. By offering cutting-edge solutions, products, and services, VyStar places a high priority on meeting members where they are in their financial journey. As SVP of Real Estate Lending, Jennifer places an emphasis on finding new methods to assist underserved members, particularly those with low to moderate incomes. VyStar is happy to fulfil its purpose to Do Good. VyStar donates millions of dollars annually to hundreds of nonprofit organizations that every day improve the communities the credit union calls home.

VyStar’s Healthy Work Environment

As a leader, Jennifer feels it is necessary that her team be a direct reflection of the communities that VyStar serves. Its diversity promotes the development of unique and inventive strategies. Jennifer takes pride in the fact that, via deliberate hiring and internal promotion initiatives, the diversity of her leadership has increased by 23%, and women now make up 58% of the entire leadership within VyStar’s Real Estate Lending division. Jennifer holds open forums dubbed “Catch-up with Kouchis” to encourage meaningful dialogues, talk about new ideas, and debate methods to evolve through varied, open talks to maintain an open line of contact with her team.

Overcoming the Major Industry Hiccups

The whole credit union industry is struggling with liquidity. Jennifer is already working to address this issue through her recently established secondary marketing division, where her team is able to sell mortgages and generate additional liquidity for the credit union with noninterest income. Furthermore, she and her team spearheaded VyStar’s efforts to have the service portfolio examined for reevaluation, which resulted in a substantial increase in the valuation of mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) income. The fluctuating interest rate environment is one issue that all mortgage lenders must deal with. Prior to the climate of rising interest rates, Jennifer established a purchase-first origination strategy, which led to continuous growth in the mortgage portfolio in spite of a significant decline in the market as a whole.

A Bright Future Ahead

Jennifer is committed to the “people helping people” credo of the credit union sector. Her career objectives include advancing to the position of Chief Lending Officer and ultimately CEO to advance the credit union movement. In addition, Jennifer takes pride in her involvement in the community, which she intends to keep up for the next five years. She currently serves on the following boards:

  • TransUnion’s Mortgage Advisory Board
  • Habitat for Humanity Jacksonville (HabiJax)
  • Cecil Field National POW/MIA Memorial & Museum
  • Rethreaded

Jennifer’s Advice: Be Your Authentic Self  

For our work specifically, I adore the idea that “No means Yes.” This revolutionized my life when I started working in the mortgage sector, especially when I was a mortgage loan officer trying to earn agents’ business by making presentations to them. I tried to find methods to turn the numerous “no’s” into “yes’s” rather than dwelling on them. I’ve come to understand that getting people to say “yes” requires you to gain their trust. I was ultimately successful because of my perseverance, desire, and a special method for seeing gaps that needed to be filled. When you are sincere, thoughtful, motivated, and purposeful, you can use these qualities in any situation and in any industry. What value do you add? What contributions do you make? What makes you special? It’s crucial that you learn to feel at ease presenting yourself, so you need to figure out the answers to those questions. In the end, a company, item, or group may bring a customer to the table, but they really want to do business with you. Also, the idea of failing quickly and moving forward is not new. Resistance to adversity is essential since challenges and objections are inevitable. Last and, in my opinion, most vital, is authenticity. Authentic leaders encourage openness, collaboration, and equity among their teams, which fosters trust and results in improved team performance. Remember, don’t change for anyone. Your uniqueness could be what others value most about you!