Brian Castle never underestimates the value of knowledge in changing lives.
Castle is vice president of real estate at $63 million asset Pine Bluff (Ark.) Cotton Belt Federal Credit Union. He began his career as a teacher, football coach, and later assistant principal, then gradually got into property development.
A real estate agent named Miss Florence Peters took him under her wing and introduced him to lenders and landowners, Black and white alike, who taught him that the most important insights may come from unlikely sources.
“If I would have allowed stereotypes and prejudices to influence me, I would have missed those opportunities to have those conversations,” Castle says. “You’ve got to treat each individual on the basis of their own merits.”
Castle had “a wealth of knowledge” by the time he joined Pine Bluff Cotton Belt Federal in 2002. Now he passes along that knowledge to interns, new hires, co-workers, and people he meets in the community.
“I try to mentor everybody,” he said. “I encourage them to work toward their strengths, develop in areas where they’re weak, become more knowledgeable about what they do, and understand the process of what we do.”
Roughly a year after joining the credit union, Castle realized its size limited its ability to offer home loans to potential members in diverse communities. So he proposed selling real estate loans in the secondary market to expand lending capacity while relying on technology to minimize costs.
In 2004, Pine Bluff Cotton Belt Federal starting holding most adjustable-rate mortgages in portfolio while selling 30-year, fixed-rate loans in the secondary market.
The ability to make more home loans allows Castle to change more lives. He delights in sharing information that helps members overcome the “fear of the unknown” and qualify for mortgages.
One member worked at a cotton seed oil mill for more than 15 years and had more than $12,000 in savings with minimal debt and a “decent” credit score when Castle helped him qualify for a first-time homebuyer loan. “He said to me, ‘You’re telling me I can go buy a house? I never thought that would happen.’”
Castle is also a pastor at a historically Black community church and cites Biblical figures Moses, Joshua, and Caleb as leadership role models.
He says Joshua and Caleb were trusted to lead people to the promised land because they had faith, knowledge, and a deep skill set. Without all three qualities, people might have been unwilling to risk following them to a better life.
“You might have some grandiose ideas but you won’t get people to buy in if you haven’t listened and you don’t have the knowledge,” Castle says. “That’s why it’s so important to walk with those who’ve been this way.”
For Castle, lasting change will always matter more than quick results. That change comes from listening to what people are saying, sharing the knowledge that helps them achieve their goals, and having the vision to work toward long-term results.
“For me, credit union philosophy embraces that because it’s built around the idea of a cooperative,” Castle said. “It understands we can uplift and build our community and develop opportunities for everybody. If we understand this principle, we can carry one another.”