Learning Across Borders (LAB): Building Bridges To Unite And Serve

Early in my career as a loan officer, I had a very important realization regarding business processes that led me to understand not just my job better, but also the tasks and requirements of my colleagues. I was lucky enough to work with outstanding team players who, unbeknownst to me, were completing my work. They were doing things I could have easily done but I simply was not aware that I needed to at the time. Not only was my lack of knowledge inconveniencing those working around me, it ultimately created a less than optimal customer experience as well. My loan processor would have to contact the customer for additional information, which inconvenienced the borrower and extended the loan closing cycle time. The result was decreased efficiency across the board. Despite the fact I was a high producer, I had yet to detangle myself from siloed work habits. Once I better understood the nature of the broader loan process and could see the effects of decisions on the people around me, it enabled me to become a much better and stronger employee who was a better colleague and could now provide better service to customers.

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Understanding the Ripple Effect

What got me to that point of understanding in my career was a simple conversation with my processor. She explained what she had been doing “behind the scenes” for me. In essence, what we were doing was breaking down the barriers of communication and expectation. This level of communications between sales and operations, for example, gives employees more context which in turn translates to a better understanding of how important it is for them to do their job well and how it affects the rest of the process.

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The mortgage industry has traditionally had an uninspiring reputation for proper training. However, with intentionality and focus this can change. There are some companies making great strides toward implementing job training programs combined with a strong focus on creating a collaborative culture within their organizations. It is this training and collaboration component that is going to remove obstacles between internal business efficiency and customer-facing experiences. What has been missing is training across job specialties.

Training across job “borders” will open the opportunity for everyone in a company to learn how their role fits into the process as well as the role of their colleagues. This does not mean that everyone will be trained to do everyone else’s job. Instead, they will gain a deeper level of appreciation and a better understanding of the total process, which we believe creates empathy.

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This level of training goes beyond having a better quality process and better quality loans; it actually improves the culture of the organization. With it, companies can remove the wedge between people in different roles and departments and create an environment where employees understand the ripple effect of decisions throughout the organization to ultimately work better together.

So, consider mortgage LAB training where it is not an experiment, but is a culture of collaboration where everyone learns across borders. This additional training gives us as an industry the opportunity to learn from different perspectives. Generally, people want to do a great job but simply don’t know what they don’t know. This level of collaborative learning across boarders creates a deeper understanding of the process and empathy between roles, which ultimately results in not only a great consumer experience, but a great corporate culture of collaboration that breeds high performance and long-term employee loyalty. This will not happen by accident, though. It takes an organized effort from the top down to ensure the mortgage LAB is a priority and specific initiative.

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Competition For Seasoned Originators Heats Up

According to the latest STRATMOR Insights report, featuring survey data focusing on lender salesforces put out by STRATMOR Group, the industry is looking for good originators. Included were findings from a recent Spotlight Survey that looked into the ways in which lenders were recruiting and retaining loan originators. As Senior Partner Dr. Matt Lind explained, there is significant competition in the industry for seasoned originators, particularly among independent lenders.

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“Due to a multitude of factors, the mortgage industry today is smaller than in recent decades, and both short and longer-term growth prospects are smaller as well,” said Lind. “In this kind of environment, a key strategy for growing origination volume and market share is to recruit seasoned originators while, at the same time, retaining the productive originators a lender has on staff. Findings from STRATMOR’s most recent Originator Census Survey – representing a sample of almost 17,000 retail originators – prove that to be a harder task than one might imagine. The data shows that nearly 60 percent of originators have been with their current company for just two years or less. This simply underscores what any industry veteran knows: originators like to change companies.”

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“This makes recruiting a competitive affair, and retaining seasoned originators more difficult than ever,” Lind continued. “Our Spotlight Survey results suggest that the most intense competition for seasoned originators is seen as coming from regional and national independent lenders, rather than banks or credit unions. STRATMOR believes this reflects the focus of independents on highly-prized ‘Hunter’ loan originators versus the focus of banks on ‘Gatherers’ who can work as well off of bank referrals. In both cases, banks and independents were far more likely to pay incentives to recruit seasoned originators than to retain originators. Likewise, both groups agreed that Increased commissions – along with non-refundable signing bonuses – were seen to be the most cost-effective incentives when it came to both recruiting and retaining.”

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This month’s report also surveyed 2016 MortgageSAT data to examine borrower satisfaction with the origination process across age, gender, income and ethnicity characteristics. STRATMOR notes the possibility of an upward bias in the sample set because the MortgageSAT data for the roughly 100,000 respondents speaks only to the experience of borrowers whose loans have closed, not those whose applications were rejected or who dropped out post-approval because of negative experiences. With that caveat, though, STRATMOR reports that it finds almost equal levels of satisfaction across multiple borrower characteristics.

Satisfaction by gender was virtually identical (90 out of a possible 100) and there was but a one point difference between significantly younger or older borrowers and those in prime home-buying age groups. A slight differential (-3 points) existed between borrowers seeking smaller loans and the national overall average, but not as great as that between the national average and those seeking loans above $750,000 (-6 points). It also seems that borrower satisfaction decreases – slightly – the greater a borrower’s monthly income, probably because higher income groups expect higher levels of service. Finally, the data indicated a four-point difference between the highest and lowest satisfaction scores by ethnic group. Hispanic borrowers rated their experience highest overall, at 92.

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Consolidation And Higher Loan Volumes Leading To Recruiting Challenges

With mortgage origination volume up and the industry experiencing substantial consolidation, lending executives face an increasingly competitive environment in acquiring key industry talent, according to recruiting expert Rick Glass, of Sacramento, California-based Rick Glass Executive Search. Glass, a 20-year search veteran who has placed hundreds of executives in the mortgage industry, finds the market for top talent especially competitive in the mortgage-centric markets like Dallas, Southern California, and the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area.

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“Since the big banks started reducing their presence in mortgages, non-bank lenders have been picking up the slack by competing for former bank mortgage customers and new markets,” said Glass. “In order to compete successfully, C-level executives must hire leaders with the ability to identify, engage and develop origination talent in a progressively competitive ecosystem.”

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The market, the strategies and the tactics are changing, Glass noted, and management has to be prepared to address these changes, not only in recruiting, but in career management and long term incentive options. “Elite performers want to understand their own career paths as they go through the recruiting process, but all parties in the industry must be prepared with career management and retention strategies, whether hiring or being hired,” Glass said. “Unlike previous generations, careers are far less likely to be linear in nature and good people will expect to work for many companies over the years, thus amplifying the need for improved retention planning.”

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Glass spoke at MBA’s Annual Accounting & Financial Management Conference in San Diego in November, in a session entitled, “The growth in the market to pre-crisis levels and the downsizing and aging of the workforce mean tremendous opportunities for mortgage professionals at all levels in the years ahead,” Glass said. “Fortune favors the prepared, and it is essential that industry leaders appreciate and understand the fine points of acquiring and retaining the best talent, as well as managing their own careers over the long term.”

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Embrace Home Loans Shows Strong Recruitment

Embrace Home Loans has announced that industry veteran Pete Butler has joined the national lender as its newest executive, responsible for correspondent sales. In his role, Butler will spearhead Embrace’s Affinity Mortgage Solution, a residential lending program for community banks and credit unions.

In its 33rd year in business, Embrace has prided itself on being a market leader by differentiating the experience it creates for its customers, clients and employees. The lender’s unique approach has resulted in industry-leading customer satisfaction scores, several national and state employer-of-choice awards, and a doubling of the company’s sales force in the last few years.

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Embrace’s Mortgage Solutions Affinity group fills a need for credit unions and community banks by allowing them to offer competitive mortgage products while removing compliance challenges as well as the day-to-day and seasonal challenges, with a completely onshore solution. The consumer remains the important central figure in the mortgage transaction while Embrace acts on behalf of the institution by providing all of the necessary sales and operational support helping the client to retain a customer relationship.

“Our belief is that the consumer relationship is paramount to credit unions and banks, thus unleashing our customer service experience to our client’s consumers is mutually beneficial,” said Jeff McGuiness, chief sales officer at Embrace.

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“Using our Assisted Correspondent service allows institutions to maintain their in-market mortgage presence without the challenges of staffing and training an operational support team, which ensures a  competitive and compliant service. By design, this works well for larger institutions leveraging their licensed origination staff and marrying the expertise and experience of Embrace,” said Butler. “Embrace Home Loans has a solid reputation for excellence in lending demonstrated by its long history in the business. I’m thrilled to join such a talented, knowledgeable and highly-respected team, and I look forward to helping them grow their business.”

Bringing more than 30 years of banking and financial services industry experience, Butler held previous senior leadership positions at Wipro BPO, LenderLive Network, Inc. and Interthinx (now First American). Additionally, he held prominent lending roles at Lehman Brothers, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc. and others.

“The feedback from the banks and credit unions we support has been remarkable,” said Kurt Noyce, president of Embrace Home Loans. “Pete’s extensive experience and industry contacts will be invaluable as we showcase these successes and present Embrace as the ideal solution to the banking world. Pete shares our passion for personalized service, for extraordinary efficiencies and for integrity of how we do business. I join Jeff in celebrating Pete joining our team.”

The Next Generation Of Mortgage Professionals

Freedom Mortgage Corp., a privately held, full-service mortgage lender licensed in all 50 states, announced it is actively recruiting and training its next generation of mortgage executives through its college recruitment and training program. The First Flyer program was created in early January 2015 to accommodate the company’s growth and add fresh perspectives to its expanding workforce.

On January 26, 2015, Freedom Mortgage launched the first class of the First Flyer one year credit based rotational training program in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Each month, a new class of recruits was placed in an existing cohort to comingle with the existing group. The program is managed by an executive staff, cohort leaders who manage and guide their teams, and coaches matched to help mentor and guide each participant.

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Today, there are 100 First Flyers. Twenty-two are licensed loan officers, with others in rotating assignments while working towards their certifications. Cohorts and coaches support their teams with company projects, soft skill workshops and group networking events that augment the recruits’ daily work responsibilities. The program is producing positive results and many First Flyers are performing above management expectations and even outperforming veteran employees. In January 2016, members of the first class will graduate.

“The First Flyer pilot program is now a platform upon which Freedom Mortgage can build and grow its future leadership,” states program founder and Freedom Mortgage vice president Michael Middleman.

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The fundamentals of the program had its beginnings with college graduates who joined the company prior to 2015. “Early shaping of work ethics and behaviors through our structured development program impacts career progression and success, which is why our program balances products and industry knowledge with team and corporate relationship building,” says Middleman.

Freedom Mortgage is actively expanding its program by recruiting both recent college graduates and students from colleges and universities for First Flyer programs conducted in New Jersey, Maryland and Florida.

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Pay, Perks, And Purpose: 3 Rules For Recruiting

Throughout the past several years, it appears that—in many industries—employers have had the upper hand. The recession led to many layoffs, reduced hours, and increased responsibilities. In terms of employment, it has been a buyer’s market—many people looking for work and few offering it. In such a market, employers have the option to choose from the pick of the litter and get the best talent without having to offer a great deal in return. But, as we all know, the pendulum will always swing back in the other direction.

As we come out of the recession and the economy begins to improve, talented workers are able to get back more of that bargaining power and choose employment that better suits them. In the mortgage industry, we need to do what we can to attract the most qualified candidates to our organizations. We’re only as good as the people on our teams. So, what are these emerging talented workers looking for in potential employers? I suggest that there are three areas in which we need to focus in order to get the best people to work for us.

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First and most obvious is pay. Compensation has to be reasonable or else you’ll attract only the desperate. The people who know they’re worth more will completely ignore you. It’s like looking for a car. You may settle for not getting the absolute best deal, but you aren’t even going to go see the car that is advertised at a highly inflated price. When job candidates are looking for work, they may settle for less than they want but—if it’s too much less—they aren’t even going to contact you. The advertised compensation has to be competitive—in a reasonable range of they could expect in the position. If you want good talent on your team, the bottom line is that you’ve got to pay for it.

Money isn’t everything though. Beyond pay, talented workers are also looking for perks. Those non-cash incentives can make all the difference in setting you apart from other employers who are competing for the talent. Some examples? Vacation time. Sick pay. Holidays. Gym memberships. Various discounts. Flexible schedules. Insurance. The list goes on and on. Salary is what hooks great talent, but these extras are what close the deal. Offering such perks will not only attract talent, but it will make them less likely to leave once they’re hired.

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Finally, after the basics are covered, people want to find purpose in their work. They want to believe in what they’re doing and find some higher meaning in it. How can you offer them this opportunity? Well, you can start by having a clear vision for your organization and its role in society and communicate that vision frequently to your team. But you can also host community events, create team-building activities, give your employees as much autonomy as possible, and encourage your employees to suggest ideas to improve the company. When your employees feel like they’re part of something special, they’ll never want to leave. Yes, you’ve got to pay them and the perks can go a long way. But, at the end of the day, people will only be loyal to you if you allow them to find meaning in their work.

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The Recruiting Cycle Begins

As the housing market continues to show signs of improvement, Embrace Home Loans, a prominent leader in the mortgage industry, is actively recruiting virtual-office underwriters to support increased demand for home financing. Here’s what they’re doing:

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the housing market continued to strengthen throughout 2014, noting that delinquency and foreclosure rates fell to their lowest levels in more than six years. In response,Embrace aims to tap location agnostic talent to virtually support its goal of providing individuals and their families with mortgage loans, as well as help banks provide home financing through its Affinity and Assisted outsourced mortgage solutions.

The success of Embrace’s virtual office is reflected in the satisfaction of its current remote team. Michelle Baker, working from her home in Ocoee, Fla., previously worked from the lender’s Maitland, Fla. office, driving 25 miles each way to work. “Not only has it saved me fuel and the wear and tear on my vehicle, I love not having to commute. I find I am actually more productive working from home,” Baker said. In addition, Baker said she was pleased with the training and ongoing support received.

Amongst the Top 25 of all FHA lenders nationally, Embrace is also named among the “50 Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America” as specified by the Great Place to Work Institute. Embrace Home Loans serves as an active member of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the FNMA Regional Advisory Council.Additionally, the lender offers competitive pay and benefits designed to attract and retain staff who share a matched commitment to excellence.

“As the housing market continues to recover, adding talent – the right talent is essential to meeting the growing demand for mortgage solutions,” said Kurt Noyce, President of Embrace Home Loans. “The response that we have seen from our virtual-office concept has been encouraging. We remain committed to helping families across the nation, and we are thrilled to offer this opportunity to the industry’s best and brightest credit professionals across the country.”

With rates remaining low for the foreseeable future, Embrace will continue to recruit to meet the influx of new business.

The Next Generation Of Mortgage Professionals

Churchill Mortgage has launched a new employee training program called the Churchill Mortgage Academy (CMC Academy) to prepare candidates entering the mortgage industry for a long-term career. The company is a leader in the mortgage industry, providing conventional, FHA, VA and USDA residential mortgages across 33 states.

According to the 2013 National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends, 31 percent of recent homebuyers were Millenials. Churchill created the academy to develop the next generation of mortgage professionals, as this demographic continues to grow. Coordinated out of Churchill’s headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn., the CMC Academy aims to strengthen its relationships with customers by supporting this generation’s unique needs as well as the needs of its existing customers.

Following an initial interview and evaluation, the participants undergo a rigorous, nine-week program, where they gain essential mortgage knowledge from experienced industry professionals and receive intense loan officer training and testing. Upon completion, the participants engage in a six-month program with Churchill, during which they receive on-hand training and additional mentorship from current employees. Participants who successfully complete the entire program become officially licensed home loan specialists.

“The path to homeownership for Gen Y borrowers is radically different from previous generations – but the desire to buy a home still exists. According to a study by BMO Harris Bank, 74 percent of 18-34 year olds plan to buy a home in the next five years, with nearly one-third saying that they will buy within the next 12 months,” said Mike Hardwick, president of Churchill Mortgage. “To engage this group, we must understand their lifestyles, attitudes and the unique challenges that they face. The CMC Academy positions us to do that by developing the next wave of mortgage professionals who will help a new generation of borrowers realize the real American dream of debt-free homeownership.”

Over the next year, Churchill plans to recruit qualified participants for the CMC Academy at its branches in Orange, Calif., Brentwood, Tenn. and Dallas.

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The Coming Industry Talent Squeeze

*The Coming Industry Talent Squeeze*
**By George Yacik**

NEW-GeorgeY***Not many mortgage lenders are in the hiring mode at the moment – probably just the opposite, unfortunately – now that refinances are starting to dry up and overall volume is likely to tank.

****But a lot of people I’ve talked to over the past several months are worried that the industry is not prepared for the talent crunch coming over the next several years. An entire generation of mortgage loan officers and other employees in their mid to late 50s will be retiring over the next decade, but the industry hasn’t developed nearly enough talented people to replace them.

****“As I look around, most of the folks are close to retirement or will be retiring in the next five to 10 years and we’ve not really developed the bench strength,” a senior mortgage executive told me. “That’s one of the things that is glaring in the industry: there’s that talent void. We’re all getting older, and there’s not a lot of bench strength.”

****The people I talk to say that the industry still to a large degree finds talented new employees, just not nearly enough of them. A big part of the reason is that most firms have no professional, systematic recruiting process in place, as companies in other industries do.

****“People still get into this business by accident, or somebody knows someone who is in the business, or through a little bit of nepotism. I’m not sure that has changed since I got into the business,” another senior mortgage executive said.

****That may not be enough going forward.

****“Our industry hasn’t been mining that up-and-comer and bringing in fresh new talent,” says Rick Glass, head of R.T. Glass & Associates, a mortgage industry headhunter in Carmichael, CA. “The sophisticated MBA graduate has been going to Silicon Valley and not into mortgage banking.”

****“Young people are not getting into the business like they used to,” adds another 50-something executive I talked to. “When I got into the business everyone was young, and a lot of them are still in the business.”

****Part of the problem may go even deeper than the simple lack of recruiting. At least one mortgage executive I talked to said the industry still has an image problem stemming from the collapse of the housing bubble. Telling someone you work in the mortgage business may now be like saying you’re a personal injury lawyer or a penny stock salesman.

****“Many people today don’t see it as the noble career that it really is because so many of them saw their parents lose their homes,” she said. “They don’t see what we do as good. I think we have a really big task on our hands to raise that image again and for young people to see it as the great career that it is, and it’s going to take some time.”

****Mortgage companies also need to make their workforces look more like the people they serve.

****“Our employee base should reflect our customer base, but it doesn’t,” said another mortgage CEO. “We’ve got to invest in understanding who our customer is and making sure that we’re a reflection of our customer. If you look at demographics for housing growth, it would definitely suggest that we must be more diverse. Not only is it the right thing to do, but all of future housing growth speaks to diversity.”

****The place to start recruiting is internally.

****“The companies that are able to bring in that talent organically and grow and nurture it are really going to have a leg up on the competition,” Glass says.

****One company that is taking the “build your own” approach is Residential Finance in Columbus, Ohio. In less than a year, the company has doubled its workforce, to more than 800 people.

****The company has an active “rookie” program, in which it recruits people with sales experience from outside the mortgage industry as well as recent college graduates. The company has held career fairs at local colleges near its Columbus and Tampa lending centers, where it’s made some hires.

****“We give them a career opportunity to learn the business the way we do business,” says Carmen Scalise, Residential Finance’s director of talent acquisition. “The industry has changed dramatically since 2008. You can’t grow fast enough if you’re going to sit there and hope you’re going to have experienced loan officers who want to come back into the industry. So instead we got a little smarter and started to grow our own.”

Lender Looks For New Talent In New Ways

*Lender Looks For New Talent In New Ways*
**Recruiting And Training**

***Churchill Mortgage, a lender providing conventional, FHA, VA and USDA residential mortgages across 26 states, announced its partnership with Ron Quintero, CEO of the Real Estate Radio Network, a nationwide alliance of real estate professionals reporting on the current real estate market. Through this partnership, Quintero will help support the lender in recruiting, training, motivating and retaining loan officers.

****With Quintero’s strategic guidance, Churchill Mortgage has also created, a centralized training portal to support branch managers in recruiting and training local talent. The website features employee testimonials and informational videos about Churchill’s lending philosophy, in addition to information about applying for open positions.

****“I’m excited for the opportunity to work with a mortgage company that is not only celebrating its 20th anniversary, but continues to excel despite the challenging economic environment,” said Quintero. “Churchill Mortgage truly sets the industry standard in mortgage lending, and I look forward to supporting their recruitment efforts.”

****Churchill Mortgage continues to maintain steady growth and is currently on track to reach $1 billion in loans. In 2011, the lender increased staff by more than 11 percent, and continues to recruit industry talent and open new branches across the nation.

****“Ron’s professional insight and proven methods give us a tremendous advantage in preparing our employees for the evolving mortgage landscape as well as recruiting new staff,” said Mike Hardwick, president of Churchill Mortgage. “As we continue to grow, Churchill aims to recruit the industry’s top professionals, and we look forward to Ron’s support as we maintain our commitment to being the nation’s most trusted financial advisor.”