Karen Yolevski didn’t expect to find a role that would bring together her industry experience in both real estate and technology. Now, as president of Nationwide Home Closing Services (HCS), she’s doing just that — leading a fintech that’s innovating and loving every moment of the experience.
By Hailey Eisen
In January 2011, Karen Yolevski made partner at the law firm she’d been with since starting her career just three years prior. “Once you make partner that’s usually where you stay,” Karen says. “But I looked left and I looked right, and I recall asking myself, ‘Is this really for me?’”
While her career in real estate law lasted only six years, it set her up perfectly for what was to come — she just didn’t know it yet.
“Real estate has always been with me,” says the now president of HCS. “My very first jobs when I was younger were admin positions with two real estate offices, which took me all the way through high school, university, and law school.”
Prior to joining The Nationwide Group (the umbrella company for a host of real estate, appraisal, and technology businesses, including HCS), Karen left real estate law to work with a client who was starting a financial technology company. In a role that was digitally driven, and innovation focused, Karen had the opportunity to try her hand at something different.
“Because I joined the company in its early days, I had a chance to dive in and get my hands dirty — to try something with more of a business focus which I’d always been interested in.” Karen found this particularly empowering. “Anyone can learn something new and become good at it, but when you do so, it’s a real confidence booster. And it was particularly encouraging when the male leadership was onboard with driving change and putting qualified women in the driver seats of their own futures. At a time when we are demanding a seat at the table, it’s refreshing to see that there are men eager to help.”
When she was recruited into the role of president with HCS in 2017, Karen says it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the fintech company, but one that made sense given her expertise and career experience to date. “It was a real estate and technology-based role, and the combination of the two isn’t something you see every day,” she says. HCS is a burgeoning cloud-based technology platform that is making the process of buying, selling, and refinancing a home easier and more convenient. And it’s streamlining the home-closing process by being a single point of contact for brokers, lenders, lawyers and consumers. HCS is essentially digitizing the experience and lifting the curtain on the closing process, Karen explains.
“Many buyers today want to be empowered and to understand what’s going on in the home-closing process, but often don’t have access to that information,” she says. “You can order a pizza from your phone and know when it’s being put in the oven. But when it comes to a huge transaction, like buying a house, people don’t normally have access to information on their own terms. I’ve heard this time and time again from many clients, so knowing that HCS is changing all this and innovating an industry primed for change is especially enticing to me.”
With their primary clients being banks, but also realtors and real estate lawyers, Karen says HCS has created a digital platform through which all stakeholders can communicate, exchange documents, and receive updates. “Technology is a great equalizer — it doesn’t discriminate based on gender and it gives everyone the ability to access information. Today, technology is advancing societal and economic progress and creating great opportunities for both men and women to excel.”
Stepping into the role of president so early in her career could have been intimidating, but Karen says she’s been excited and inspired by the company since day one. “I think calculated risks are the way to go,” she says. “Leaving private practice was my big shift. I took a big chance doing that, but after that point it all became straightforward and clearer for me.”
“Technology is a great equalizer — it doesn’t discriminate based on gender and it gives everyone the ability to access information. Today, technology is advancing societal and economic progress and creating great opportunities for both men and women to excel.”
And while Karen still finds herself, at times, the only woman in the room (by the way, her “right-hand person” is also a woman), she believes that being prepared and putting in maximum effort are keys to success. There are more and more women joining the ranks of such companies, and other women at HCS specifically are moving into more senior roles because the ownership believes that women are underrepresented in technology.
As a leader, Karen doesn’t feel alone in that respect — she is watching this shift and ecstatic about the progress.
When she became president, the first thing she did was “get into the weeds in order to really understand the product.” For Karen that meant going “undercover” as a mobile signer to see the closing process from start to finish. “It was an amazing experience as I got to meet clients first-hand and see what had been built in action and hear feedback firsthand.”
Thanks to her company’s belief in giving back, Karen says she and her staff have paid time off for volunteer work. The company sponsors many different programs, including providing breakfast for three schools — feeding 700 kids a day — and supporting Camp Oochigeas, SickKids, and the Children’s Wish Foundation, among others. “I am extremely fortunate to work for a company that supports such important causes, while redesigning the workplace to be more inclusive.”
Karen is also a mother. Having a young daughter at home, she says finding balance is challenging, but important. And for her it’s all about continuity — one life where work and family are blended together. “If you love what you do enough then you’re willing to make it a large component of your life — and blend all aspects of life together, giving priority to things as they come up. Working for a company that encourages its employees to put family first is also essential.”
Karen has found the role that combines her passions, enables her to balance what’s important in her life, and she’s happy that women are filling executive roles at tech companies every day. “To say, ‘I love what I do’ is an understatement. I also hope that one day, my daughter will be inspired by what women are doing today and understand the impact that will empower her. Women are joining the ranks of pioneers in every facet of life, including the workplace, and this has created an opportunity to build momentum and strength and eliminate obstacles.”