Benaisha Poole Watson has never been a follower. Since childhood, she was a leader. She just didn’t know what path she would go on.
Her surroundings were unkind growing up. A native of South Central Los Angeles’s Crenshaw District, she saw the effects of poverty and constant systemic failure. The loss of young friends due to violence. Drug deals on nearby street corners. Hopelessness.
Her Guatemalan mother did the best she could as a single parent to Poole Watson and her sister who passed away at just 10 years old. After her African American father and mother divorced, the matriarch found herself working double-digit hours to keep her family afloat. She modeled true work ethic for Poole Watson. Audacious hope put into action.
Poole Watson held on to that early lesson and leveraged a modeling opportunity to set herself up for the future. She was able to use the earnings to purchase her first investment property as a consumer at just 19.
“I had no idea that my process would take me here,” she tells ESSENCE, referencing her real estate career that now spans more than 20 years.
After serving in the military for nine years and working as a corporate executive for a bit, she realized her passion was in real estate, and launched her brokerage firm, the Bailey Watson Real Estate Group in 2018 alongside her friend Lori Bailey. Since then she’s helped build a multi-million-dollar portfolio and rose up the ranks to be listed in the top 1% of realtors in America. She says she prides herself in helping people find homes, including Section 8 voucher recipients in renting homes and selling residences ranging from $60,000 to $10 million.
But that wasn’t enough.
After she spoke at a financial empowerment, she was approached about owning “I said ‘I sell real estate—I don’t want to own and fully operate a bank on my own,” she tells ESSENCE. “But I learned that I could hire the right team with know-how, and I agreed.”
In 2021 she launched her own federally chartered bank, Prime One Lending Group And Home Loans, where she is operating as a direct lender. This was intentional, as she wanted to build the bank in a way that gave traditionally underserved applicants a leg up.
“I didn’t want any restrictions,” she explains. “I was able to create all of this on my own. When you’re creating your bank, if you get to that point where you’re able to do this, you have the ability to pick and choose how you want to run your programs. And I think that people choose to go higher on their overlays, which means that they increase the credit scores because a lot of times that decreases their involvement with certain communities. I chose to set a 580 credit score as my limit because I knew this is where minorities sat.”
Prime One Home Loans is a direct lender, Fannie Mae approved.
It is non depository, so the bank currently does not provide any checking or savings accounts for customers, not yet at least.
“There are plans to expand into different areas, for sure—the sky is the limit.”