Tomek Rondio sees the world in green.
Green represents his environmental activism streak as well as the money he hopes to raise for environmental groups though his new mortgage company. Earlier this year, he opened MortgageGreen, a Larkspur, Calif.-based mortgage brokerage that donates 10 percent of its gross profits to a variety of environmental and social causes.
“It is high time that the financial sector shows greater responsibility and gives back to our communities and to our planet,” said Rondio, an industrial and mechanical engineer by training and founder of Environmental Engineering Corp.
Hear what Tomek Rondio has to say about why financial institutions should support environmental causes:
The company has closed only a handful of deals so far, but Rondio said he hasn’t marketed his services yet beyond posting information about a few for-sale houses on an online bulletin board. The houses were listed with realty agents he knows. Most of his customers heard about MortgageGreen through word-of-mouth referrals.
Dan Dillett decided to get a mortgage for a San Rafael, Calif., townhouse through Rondio because he’d met him and had a good vibe from him. He didn’t learn about MortgageGreen’s 10 percent donation until after he began the application process, but was pleased to know he was helping good causes.
“There are so many people in this business, it’s nice to be able to differentiate,” Dillett said.
Rondio first came up with the idea of a “green mortgage company” about two and a half years ago. His struggle at that time to get funding for a company to focus on renewable energy systems led him to realize nonprofit environmental groups must face similar fundraising challenges.
He concluded that the profitable financial services sector should be showing more responsibility for environmentalism than it was, so he decided to establish a series of financial institutions to help raise money for environmental groups.
“We could raise enormous funds and really make a true, global impact,” he said.
He decided the mortgage sector would be the easiest financial field to enter. He obtained a mortgage broker’s license toward the end of 2002, filed papers for the company in mid-2003 and opened for business in January.
The company’s target market is what Rondio calls the “Cultural Creatives,” a term coined by sociologist Paul Ray and psychologist Sherry Anderson to describe people who value environmental sustainability, sustainable living, social justice, health and the like.
Rondio believes the 60 million people who fall into the Cultural Creatives category are an underserved niche in the mortgage market.
“There are very few people in the financial sector that are addressing that sector,” he said.
Rondio knows that while potential customers might be attracted to MortgageGreen because of his philosophy, they won’t obtain mortgages through the company unless its products are competitive. The company promises to beat the cost of any lender’s total loan package, and if it can’t, Rondio will contribute $400 in the client’s name to the Social and Environmental Activism Fund.
SEAfund is an entity Rondio founded to separate his environmental contributions from MortgageGreen’s finances. The fund allocates 100 percent of the contributions to 12 different organizations, including the Rainforest Action Network and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Ten percent of MortgageGreen’s gross profits from each real estate financing transaction are donated to SEAfund. That percentage is off the top before Rondio pays the company’s expenses, he said. The donations could make some of Rondio’s loan business unprofitable, but he expects to make up the difference on other transactions.
He acknowledges that 10 percent is a fairly large chunk, but he said the mortgage lending industry enjoys such substantial profit margins that it can afford to make generous contributions.
Customers can select which of the 12 environmental organizations they’d like their business to benefit, Rondio said. MortgageGreen clients will vote semi-annually on how the balance of the funds will be distributed among the causes.
Rondio hopes the donations are just the beginning. He wants to partner with realty agents who will contribute some of their profit to environmental causes as well, and he hopes MortgageGreen will be a model for other such ventures.
Rondio already has his own sights set on wholesale mortgage banking, real estate investment trusts and retail banking. All of which, of course, would have a “green” focus.
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