Robert McPherson cares about policy and social issues surrounding housing, and has worked in the mortgage lending and banking industry since graduating from college in 2004. He recalled the practices prior to the 2008 housing market crash that helped fuel many borrowers to overextend themselves. One example involved a wait staff person at a restaurant who stated that he had a six-figure salary. He was given a loan without income verification for a home that cost over $400,000, on top of having a bad credit score.
“No one batted an eyelash,” he said. Although just fresh out of college, McPherson was skeptical that that kind of lending could be sustainable.
Those times were rough for Americans and the mortgage industry itself. On Halloween 2009, when he was just 26-years-old, McPherson was tasked with having to close down the mortgage offices of a bank he was working at in the Washington, D.C., area.
“I sat in an office while movers came in and picked stuff up and then I locked the doors,” he said. He was responsible for telling other employees, many of whom were twice his age, that they were losing their jobs. Many just walked out, he said, leaving personal belongings behind and no contact information, worried ironically, about how they were going to pay their own mortgages.
He is now Vice President of Compliance at First Federal Bank in Madison. He reviews complex banking regulations and translates them into plain language for bank employees so they can understand the rules. In his role, he helps protect both the bank and the consumer.
“By keeping the bank informed, it protects our customers since so many issues with banks have a root cause of bankers just not knowing how to follow the rules,” he said.
Given his background, he was interested in, and then later selected to join the Waunakee Housing Task Force (now completed) that sought to assess, among other things, housing affordability in Waunakee. Knowing that many people will overextend themselves so they can live in a desirable area, he wanted to share his knowledge of banking programs that could help communities when it comes to affordability, he said.
McPherson grew up in Frederick, Maryland, a rural area in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range, near Camp David. He graduated from high school in 2001 and attended the University of Tampa on an academic merit scholarship. It wasn’t a full ride, however, so to keep his costs lower he pushed himself to graduate in just three years. He did so with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics.
After graduation, he moved back to his hometown of Frederick and worked with various community banks in the Washington, D.C., area until the fallout from the housing crash. He then took a break from the industry and for a few years became business manager for his stepfather, who is a musician.
He ultimately got back into the banking business though when he moved to the Madison area after meeting his future wife, Leslie McPherson, who already lived here. Leslie is a Veterinary Anatomic Pathologist at Covance Laboratories. They moved to Waunakee in 2013, and have a daughter, Cordelia. They enjoy the ocean, something Leslie grew up with while living in New Jersey, and McPherson added with a smile, “Lakes are not a good substitute.”
In addition to serving on the Housing Task Force, last spring McPherson ran for one of the open seats on the Village Board. Although his bid was unsuccessful he plans to run again. He enjoys living here but would like to see policies and practices that provide for a more inclusive community, including improvements made in terms of affordable housing and tax incentives. And he would also like to help bridge the gap between the newer neighborhoods and the rest of the community after hearing concerns there is a less unified feel when neighborhoods seem to be separated by income levels and access to amenities.
When asked about his interest in housing, he said, “It helps build generational wealth, it gives people access to quality school systems and municipal services, and it brings stability to communities.”