Say Goodbye to Being Mediocre

Reaching Higher to Become more than just the average originator.

I’ll bet you remember the day you got into this business as a mortgage loan originator. I’ll also wager to say that you started out with the motivation and determination to become a smashing success. You probably didn’t tell your family and friends: “I intend to be mediocre at this new job, average at best.”

Nobody wants to be seen as “mediocre,” but the fact is that many in this business are. If you are not in the top third of the loan originators in your market or the bottom third, you are in the middle. Your performance is mediocre. If you produce, on average, three to five transactions a month, your production volume is by most standards, in most markets, and at most companies, “mediocre.”

Please don’t shoot the messenger here. I am not trying to make you upset. I’m your friend and your coach and I am really trying to help you. I want you to see that maybe you have lost that motivation and determination for success you once had and consequently have conformed to mediocrity in your performance and your results. I know that this article is speaking to perhaps 33 percent of the loan originators in America who, whether they are willing to admit it or not, are “average” loan officers. Perhaps I am speaking today to you and making you think: “He’s right! That’s where I am! Why have I conformed to become an average originator? What happened to my dreams of success I had when I started this career? What is holding me back?”

Motivational master Anthony Robbins says that the only reason people will change for the better is because the pain of change is less frightening than the pain of staying where they are at. He’s right. While many loan originators will stay mediocre throughout their careers, others will break out of the pack and rise to the top because they are tired of being mediocre at what they do for a living. Even though becoming better might mean hard work and sacrifice and doing things differently, they are ready to go for it. Does that include you?

Let’s be brutally honest and look at why some loan originators are mediocre at this business. More importantly, let’s look at how to break out of that “average” level of performance, and move your success forward this year:

  1. Time. Many loan originators are mediocre because they can’t or won’t put forth the time it takes to become a success. They work “part-time” hours, coming in at 10 a.m. and leaving at 4 p.m. They don’t work late and they don’t work weekends. When they do come to work they rarely get a lot of work done, allowing personal matters, distractions, and errands to rule their day. Great originators will tell you that success is an investment of your time. Hard work has rarely created a failure.
    How many hours do you work every day and every week? How much of your time at work is actually spent working? Are you ready to make a commitment to as much as double that this year? If not, your results could remain mediocre. The top third of the loan officers in America out-produce the other two-thirds mostly because they out-work them. Plain and simple.
  2. Money. This business requires personal investment of the monetary kind too. It costs money to buy a good cell phone, a home fax machine, quality marketing materials, advertisements and a database contact management system. You have to reach into your pocket to pay for good instructional books, CDs, seminars, coaching systems, and tools to run your business. Top producers do this. Maybe that’s why they are top producers.
    Is this something you are willing to do? How much money did you spend on your business and your career growth during the last six months? Are you ready to write checks for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to capitalize your success? There are no cheap seats if you want to sit with the superstars.
  3. Fear. Many mediocre loan officers stay mediocre because they are afraid of something. Some have sales call reluctance. They fear nearly all forms of prospecting, they shy away from using the phone to set appointments, and they rarely make any sales calls. Others are afraid of trying something new like targeting a new market (builders) or selling a new program (interest-only loans). This fear is stifling. It keeps them frozen in mediocrity and waiting at their desk for the next safe and comfortable opportunity to find them.
    Are you afraid of doing the things it takes to create success? Why? Is that fear worth you having a “marginal” career? In the end, on the day you retire, what will you tell that person in the mirror you were so afraid of? Everyone’s afraid of something; that’s only human. The key is to accept your fears, face them, be bigger than they are, and get to work.
  4. Desire. One out of three loan originators has a passion for this business, and that’s why they succeed. One out of three doesn’t want to be in this business, and that is why they fail. It’s the mediocre loan officers hovering in the middle group who can’t make up their minds. They can’t quite taste the desire for the business the way a top producer can. They want the fame and fortune, but lack the forward thrust to race ahead. It’s hard to get excited about working 50 hours a week, investing $1,000 a month in your business and making hundreds of prospecting sales calls a year if you really aren’t sure if this is the right business for you.
    How would you measure your desire to be in this business? On a scale of one to 10, how would you score your passion, your enthusiasm, your desire for the profession of mortgage loan origination? What will you have to do to increase that? How can you get really excited about what you do for a living? Like anything, if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it. Desire drives success.
  5. Effort. I often tell my seminar participants that there are two ways to achieve success: by effort and by accident. Look at 2002 and 2003. Many loan originators produced successful results by accident. Writing mortgage loans in record refinance years didn’t take a ton of brainpower or sales prowess. It took showing up for work and answering the phone. Many were successful by accident. But in a normal purchase loan environment like we have now, success will come by effort. And effort equals work—hard work. Somebody has to make those sales contacts. That somebody is you. That same somebody also has to build a business plan, study new programs, attend Realtor events, work trade show booths, participate in community activities, distribute flyers, send faxes, book appointments, deliver seminars, and a hundred other things to generate the leads, loans, and referrals you need to raise your results from mediocre to great.
    Are you willing to put forth that kind of effort? Do you see the connection between activities and results? If you are serious about moving out of the “average” group, it will take above average performance, the willingness to do the things most average loan officers won’t do (as previously mentioned). As I learned a long time ago, in the mortgage business effort and execution are everything.

So, have I enticed you? Did I strike a cord with you? If so, good. Your job is to decide that being mediocre is no longer for you, that average isn’t good enough. Your job is to set your sights on belonging in the top third of the mortgage loan originators in your company, your market, and this industry. You can do this. Your journey starts with your conviction that you are done being mediocre at what you do and that nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop you from becoming a success.

By Douglas Smith

Establishing Expectations

“Our goal is to meet and exceed customer expectations.” This statement has become a common refrain for businesses building customer loyalty through exemplary customer service. Although many aspire to this noble goal, achieving it is virtually impossible without first discussing, documenting, and understanding what those expectations are. A goal cannot be achieved unless it is first quantified, otherwise how will you know whether or not you achieved it?

If you are a wholesale lender you count brokers and correspondent lenders as your customer base. If you are a broker, you count Realtors, financial planners and borrowers as your customers. Customer service levels are measured on perceived values. As we all know, fact does not matter, perception does. Setting proper expectations is one thing but even more critical is doing so mutually. This key step in the expectation formula is all too often missed. A business relationship, strategic alliance, partnership, whatever you want to call it, is a two-way street. It is a communication between two parties, ostensibly for the mutual benefit of both. Setting expectations should never be a one-way street, but that is how many travel this road.

Your Job
If you consider your business to be relationship-based, as opposed to transaction-based, identifying and discussing expectations is your job. No one else will do it and why should they? This is your business. As the “president” of your business, it is incumbent upon you to know the baseline against which your customer will measure your service and the value you bring to their business. The bottom line is, if you don’t do this, it will not get done. If this step is ignored, there is no way expectations will be met, because you will not know what they are. Non-quantifiable criteria remain non-quantifiable and therefore a candidate for subjective customer review. This ‘review’ can often result in a failing grade.

In addition, since this is your business, you must realize that it is you who must take the initiative to address this issue with your customer, not the other way around. Unfortunately, self-fulfilling prophecies often become a major stumbling block. If you are uncertain or even remotely hesitant about entering into a mutual discussion about expectations, it will show in your body language and verbal communication skills. Some even go as far as saying they would not be comfortable in having this conversation with their customers, for fear of the negative issues that may arise. If this is your current perception and attitude, it is time to start rethinking it. The upside potential far outweighs the downside risk. Have you considered how impressed your customer might be about your sincere desire to strengthen your working relationship? Have you considered the potential of your customer telling his or her peers about your desire to move your working relationship to a higher level resulting in more success for you both? Identifying and discussing expectations is your job. .

When?
It is never too soon to start discussing expectations. Not discussing expectations or worse yet, doing so after it’s too late, is not the most efficient method of communication. It is critical that expectations be identified in any business relationship as early as possible. If you have established business relationships already, you may not be comfortable in going back to your customer for a “heart to heart.” Get over it. If this is an exercise you have never before contemplated, let alone completed, identify your top ten customers and approach this challenge on an incremental basis. Set a goal. Do three a month for the next three months.

How to Generate Reciprocation
Expectations go both ways. “This is what you can expect of me, and this is what I expect of you.” If expectations are ever discussed, it is too often a one-sided conversation. It never should be. If building a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship is your goal, then mutually sharing expectations is key. Go ahead, put the cards on the table. Be open and honest with each other. Pre-position permission to address difficult issues up front. When they do come up it will be easier to bring them to the table because you have already established that expectation. We all know the value of reciprocation (“you give me a lead and I’ll send you more business”). The value of ‘reciprocate’ also holds true in setting and quantifying expectations. It is also imperative to identify how you will quantify and measure expectations.

How to Begin

  1. Set an appointment with your “customer”—this could be a Realtor if you are an originator, a broker if you’re a wholesale lender, and so on. Tell them up front that you are moving your business to the next level of professional value and service and would like a few minutes of their time to mutually discuss strengthening your existing relationship.
  2. Do not blind-side your customers. Give them ample opportunity to think about your meeting. You may even say, “I’d like to commit to three things I can do to help your business be more successful and if you are willing, I’d like you to reciprocate and commit to three things you can do at your end to help me be more successful. I’m committed to the success of this business relationship and I want it to grow—and it won’t unless we work on it together.”
  3. Don’t belabor the issue. Get in and get out. Make the focus of your meeting forward not the past. If you achieved nothing more than identify five critical issues that seem to be stumbling blocks or obstacles to your business you have succeeded. Building relationships is about opening up channels of communications, not shutting them down.

Stepping to the plate and mutually discussing specific expectations, how they will be achieved and measured are the actions that will earn trust and lead to successful partnerships for lenders and brokers, originators and customers or Realtors—or any other “team” you may be a part of.

By Bill Evans

Creating a Learning Culture

One of the saddest sights a trainer can see when entering an office is the company “resource center.” This is often a library consisting of sales books, videos, tapes, CDs, DVDs, and workbooks. When you brush off the dust you may find several thousand dollars worth of material. This is emblematic of the adult professional learning environment – seminar oriented one- or two-day learning episodes.

If you think back to any of your own seminar experiences, you may find some commonalty with most people who say that they learn one or two things at a learning event. But there is also a great deal of motivation gained from the learning experience. We always see a pop of activity in students after a seminar—increased call frequency, more complete time management, and a studious attention to trying the theories espoused during the class. The problem is that there is less than complete treatment of the seminar topic in the seminar environment. This results in a cycle of motivation and disillusionment that can leave the student with the impression that they aren’t able to learn appropriately.

What’s the Problem?
Most people don’t learn well in short, concentrated bursts of time. That is, they can absorb a limited number of facts, but principles that are introduced verbally aren’t put back into practice. This creates retention shrinkage. The Chinese saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” is an illustration of why any training program must include practical applications in order to cement or lock-in the information being presented.

I discovered this in my mortgage training business. We looked at the difference in key concept retention between students who had been through traditional “sit and listen” seminars and students who had been forced through drills, testing, and homework projects. The students were given five narrative questions (not multiple choice) to answer in an open-book format. The difference was astonishing. In five areas, students who had recently attended “seminar style” training courses with no proficiency measurement had markedly lower retention than those who reinforced the learning. Obviously, students were hearing the information—enough to gain a familiarity with the data they were being given—but they had no chance to really retain it enough to use it. This shows that students don’t have a basic proficiency in the major concepts unless they are given an opportunity to put them into context or into practice.

The bigger problem is that without this information, most new loan officers will not be able to advance into more detailed understanding of the business, requiring additional weeks to learn information on an ad hoc basis. They need to focus on sales, but do not have a basic understanding of the business, so do not feel comfortable venturing from the office.

Changing Habits
Steven Covey talks about creating new habits as a success tool. Many of us have habits that help or hurt us. Work habits are as intractable to change as a more tactile habit like smoking. Basic problems like poor time management, lack of self-motivation, or procrastination are impediments to success as much as lack of product knowledge or a solid sales strategy. But these are much more difficult to teach. Many people possess learned behaviors that have served them well throughout their lives. These must be undone before new behaviors can be created, so this process requires a commitment to personal change.

If we can recognize that the path to reaching our goals is to identify the behaviors it takes to reach them, then what seemed to be an impossible challenge—changing people’s behaviors—becomes part of a system where we, over time, unfailingly meet our objectives.

Creating a Learning Culture
The steps to creating a learning culture are simple in concept:

  1. Identify the behaviors and skills that lead to success.
  2. Break them down into their smallest components
  3. Establish a daily routine that reinforces this behavior
  4. Benchmark a time frame for the individual in which those behaviors become second nature.

For individuals who work in a structured office environment, such as operations personnel or call-center sales staff, it is much easier to identify, create, and monitor these habits. These roles are “templates” and rely less on the ability of an individual to structure their life, and more on the daily flow of business. For outside sales people, it is more challenging.

Entropy, or the tendency of things not to change, is why it takes a vision to execute this strategy in the real mortgage world. The reason is simple: for the last 40 years it has been sufficient to allow people to sink or swim—loan officers who can’t make it are assumed to be suffering from a character defect. We allow natural selection (survival of the fittest) to choose who succeeds and who fails. Why not? For employers, this system is free! Loan officers are commissioned, and if they close a few transactions and leave the business, as employers we haven’t lost anything. In fact, we made a few bucks. The problem is who survives and why.

There are not many examples of people who have the vision or resources to create a learning culture in any business, but it is even more rare in the mortgage business. When we find them, we want to understand what they have done and try and emulate it.

Visionaries Working to Create a Learning Environment
Ralph Masella is the Eastern regional manager for Columbia National Mortgage, which was recently acquired by American Home Mortgage in New York. Like many managers, he worked his way through the ranks as a loan officer, running a branch and a small area before assuming responsibility for a huge region. His region was consistently at the top of the company’s production and had remarkably low turnover. How did he engender loyalty and how did his people out-produce their counterparts elsewhere?

Masella would be the first to tell you that there was no single thing that he did, but one thing immediately set him apart. He brought an outside training company in and he wanted to find out what they could do to help his people. Already he had taken a step that many in the mortgage business are unwilling to take, which is to assess how he could help his people in concrete ways. In addition to implementing a sales and initiation training program, he created incentives for loan officers to automate their business and contact management systems. The result was a slow but steady change in the perception of the loan officers. Instead of eschewing changes in technology for the inevitable learning curve issues, they began to embrace them for the way that they eased marketing and business management. The company wins too, because now customer and relationship databases are shared, so that if a loan officer quits, the company has still gained knowledge and contacts in the marketplace.

Masella’s business model included an approach that supported and encouraged bringing new loan officers into the business. From his perspective, the ability to spend a small amount in training and evaluation to determine the most suitable candidates was a substantial savings over investing in two to four months of draws to a loan officer who ultimately did not produce.

Pat Casey, a regional manager at Suntrust Mortgage, had a different problem. With a growth plan that called for hiring over 140 new loan officers, there was a supply and demand factor at play. There were simply not enough experienced candidates in the marketplace. Meeting the quota would require adding inexperienced or “rookie” loan officers. Suntrust had the training resources in place—a six-week Loan Officer University. But the approach of branch managers forwarding recruits and expecting them to return trained and ready, did not work. The new loan officers still needed an inordinate amount of hands-on training and the managers, already taxed with personal production and corporate reporting demands, couldn’t be available.

Casey envisioned a coaching program where the company’s mortgage trainers worked as surrogate managers and mentors for new loan officers, helping them to navigate the sales and marketing set-up process, and to answer the multitude of questions that invariably come with newly initiated loan officers. In doing this, Casey created a learning environment in his region, because new loan officers had a venue where they did not have to be afraid to ask questions and challenge their beliefs. One of the side effects of the Suntrust program was that new loan officers, once introduced into the mainstream, learned that they were stigmatized for being “rookies.” This caused some to reject the learning environment.

No solution is a panacea, and with each success there are setbacks, but as a business the mortgage industry is beginning to understand the learning process better. Companies with significant resources often commit substantially to training, but fail to create a culture where daily learning, including learning from mistakes, is acceptable. The statement “mistakes are the best teachers,” is a truth and most managers are unwilling plan for and accept mistakes as a part of doing business. As a consequence, organizations that punish learning and questioning in favor of the status quo will never be able to foster a learning culture. Those that are able to, however, will not only find that their short term learning needs are better met, but that their organizations are more suited for adaptation to changing business conditions.

By Thomas Morgan

The 10 Percent Difference

What separates the top 10 percent from everyone else?

It was Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto that came up with a mathematical formula describing the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that 20 percent of people owned 80 percent of the wealth.  Pareto’s 80/20 principle has since been used to describe many similar situations, including the phenomenon in sales and mortgage origination where often the top quartile (25 percent) generate over 50 percent of a company’s production. When we dig further, often the top 10 percent generate the majority of the business.

This principle has always concerned me—wouldn’t you rather see at least the second and probably the third quartiles produce as much as the elite top 10 percent?  Is this possible?  Certainly it is, but not unless individual loan originators really want to improve their results and create a more secure long-term financial future for themselves and their families.

One obvious question is: what do the top 10 percent of elite producers know that the other 90 percent don’t know?  And could it be replicated?  With the goal of finding out, the dean of our Loan Officer University, Doug Smith, asked the question of our top performers.  It should surprise no one that there was a reoccurring theme throughout the answers.  There are some very clear common denominators that make up the 10 percent difference.

In reverse order of recurrence, here are the top loan originators’ answers to the question, “what makes you a top 10 percent producer?”

10. Become a student of your profession.  Loan officers have been told for years that the key to success is to learn how to become successful from others already there.  Top producers understand and practice this philosophy.  They invest in training, coaching, personal development, and themselves.  Other originators don’t take the time or spend the money for personal development.  As a result they rarely improve their results or their careers.

9. Have a dedication to the job.  Many loan officers appear to be in this business for the short haul; as a job and not a career.  This inability to “stick with it” causes them to fall short in most things they do.  When you are not passionate about what you do, it is hard to be passionate about helping your customers, continual learning, investing money, or anything else that matters for success.  By contrast, the top 10 percent are men and women consumed by the business and truly dedicated to what they do for a living.  They put their heart and soul into their jobs every day, with sincerity, integrity, and a strong emotional drive for success.

8. Be out there selling.  The elite producer out-produces everyone else because they out-prospect everyone else.  They are true salespeople looking for new and more lending and referral opportunities.  This includes regular sales calls to key referral clients, attending industry events, asking for referrals, community involvement, and more.  To write 300 to 700 loans a year you have to be selling and prospecting constantly.  This consistency of contact keeps their phones ringing with calls and new business opportunities.

7. Provide superior service.  It should be no surprise that top producers in a service-oriented industry are obsessed with great customer service.  Mentioned time and time again, superior service is a common trait of the top 10 percent.  This “wow factor” includes many things, from fully informing the customer up-front to handwritten thank-you cards, attending closings, and continual follow up after the closing.

6. Set specific plans and goals.  Top performers are driven by goals.  They do business “on purpose” with specific tasks in mind every day.  They write and follow annual business plans.  They continually strive to reach the next level of success.  It could be said that top producers go further than others because they are clear on where they are going and they have a plan to get there.

5. Follow-up.  Top producers have the discipline to deliver great follow-up.  They are responsive people who also can be counted on to follow through on actions and promises.  Top performers know that we work in a time-sensitive business and that to serve clients well and capture business, you must act fast and you must follow-up again and again and again.

4. Build a team around you.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to originate huge volumes of business alone.  It takes a lot of people working well together in a team environment.  Top producers have been successful at assembling a team of talented people that support their multi-million dollar sales effort.  Having a strong team means that things get done without undue tension, repetitive work and chaos, or blame and finger pointing.

3. Maintain a solid work ethic.  A key attribute of the top 10 percent is simply an unrelenting work ethic.  These people are fully engaged in their careers and are willing to put in the hours that it takes to be successful.  It would be impossible for a high performer to produce $40 million to $100 million a year without investing the time it takes to get the job done every day.

2. Market yourself relentlessly.  Top performers are great marketers.  They realize that the business does not find you, you find it.  These producers sponsor events, buy promotional items, manage database mining campaigns, and dozens of other business-generating activities.  Continuous marketing is integral to their success.

1. Build clients for life.  Some mortgage loan originators work deal to deal.  Because they must spend so much time prospecting for their next transaction, they have little time left over to do anything else.  Top performers have learned the importance of aligning themselves with customers and clients who can help take them where they want to go.  They understand that the mortgage origination business is a business of relationships—with borrowers and referral partners.  These strong relationships keep a steady stream of business coming in the door month after month and year after year.  Mentioned more often than any other single attribute, the willingness to build clients for life is the #1 distinguishing practice of the top 10 percent.

Of the hundreds of loan originators who are not in the top 10 percent, there are many who aspire to achieve success.  To get there, it makes sense to follow in the footsteps of those who are already there.  Knowing, understanding, and following these 10 common practices will lead dedicated sales professionals to enjoying the riches and rewards of a successful and very profitable mortgage career.

The “Top 10 Percent Difference”

Ten things separate the top 10 percent from everyone else.  These characteristics are consistent among all high performers.  To recap, along with what some of the top 10 percent had to say about what made a difference:

  1. Build clients for life.  “Customer service sets me apart.  Taking time to understand what they actually need.  Do what you say you are going to do and do it better and faster than everyone else.”
  2. Market yourself relentlessly.  “Keep in touch with your referral sources with mail, e-mail, phone calls, lunch, or whatever.  Reach out and touch someone!”
  3. Maintain a solid work ethic.  “I am not afraid to work whenever and for however long.  There is no sign on the front door saying we are closed on Sundays.  I let my client know that if they are working, so am I.”
  4. Build a team around you.  “We think the difference is that we really believe our team has unique and unmatchable value in our marketplace.  We just rebuilt our entire system from the ground up.  Our team is completely networked.  We are a marketing machine.  We are 100 percent game-ready every day.”
  5. Follow-up.  “I am ‘systematized’ in that I have a system and everything to guarantee consistency and follow up.”
  6. Set specific plans and goals.  “The 10 percent difference means that you follow through on your plans.  Plan your business in advance and then make it happen.  You will never get to the level you desire if you do not have a road-map to success.”
  7. Provide superior service.  “Exceed service-level expectations with both the client and the referral source.  Insure that communication is a top priority.”
  8. Be out there selling.  “Arrive at your office early every morning so you can get a leg up on the day so you can spend the majority of your time out looking for new prospects.”
  9. Have a dedication to the job.  “Being committed to working the entire day as efficiently as possible, learning from my mistakes, and continuously growing to be better made the difference for me.”
  10. Become a student of your profession.  “I seek others’ advice and opinions.  I firmly believe that ‘one’ is too small a number for greatness.  I have always had mentors and sought coaching.”

By Jerry Baker

Consumer (dis)Satisfaction Indexing

A new survey suggests that mortgage brokers may need to improve their customer relations.

Lending professionals are fond of saying that making loans is an art, not a science. It’s still pretty true, but decision-making is more of a science now at any time in the past. Mortgage origination – now there’s an aspect of the business that’s more of an art than a science. Origination is all about high-touch, customer-centric activities that are influenced by factors often beyond the originator’s control, particularly if it is an independent originator. Through it all, mortgage brokers have been the consumer’s first choice for more than a decade. Is that extraordinary preeminence threatened after all these years? An independent study indicates that the entire lending business has been alienating consumers, and mortgage brokers receive significantly lower marks than the rest of the industry.

What happened? After almost 20 years of building market share, independent originators are facing a real crisis from the very customers who made them a success. Just as surprising, consumers rate the overall loan process lower than any other financial service, as specified by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. If you like your managed care health insurance program as an example of a customer-friendly process (read in a highly sarcastic tone here), you might be astounded to learn that consumers found it on a par with getting a mortgage. That’s serious.

The study was performed by Claes Fornell International last year and involved what CFI deemed a representative sampling of homebuyers and refinancers, though numbering only 378 people. In the study, respondents gave their recent mortgage experience a 69 out of a possible 100, inferring that almost a full third of the audience was dissatisfied with their transactions.

In comparison to other financial services, retail banking scored 74, five points higher, and life insurance scored 79, a whopping 10 points higher than mortgage lending. Experienced borrowers, already bloodied by previous transactions, apparently had lower expectations than new borrowers, who gave lower ratings to the process.

Most disturbing were the responses from those who used a mortgage broker versus those who did not. As CFI’s press release stated, “Those who used a broker give dramatically lower scores to the process across the board. This poses a serious challenge both the broker community and to those lenders who use brokers as a product delivery channel.” At last reckoning, that was still most of the transactions out there. A “serious challenge to the broker community” may be an understatement; it could represent the leading edge to a trend that could reverse a decade of progress in professional mortgage origination.

The edge given non-brokers to brokers is not an insignificant one. In every category, without exception, brokers were rated lower than their competition.

Based on the results of originators’ efforts over the years, this is beyond surprising – it is shocking. Especially in the areas of personalized service and willingness to refer to others, the results of this study mean either that the current crop of mortgage brokers compares poorly to those of the past, or that the other channels have come a long way in improving their capabilities. We know that over the years, institutional lenders have made their retail channels look more like the independent equivalents; the basic LO position is pretty much interchangeable. In most instances, affiliated loan originators can offer products outside their own employers, whereas in the past they were limited more to their own offerings. Something has changed over time, and the long-held mortgage broker supremacy in the origination sector could be a thing of the past, unless something happens soon.

One of the more ominous implications comes from the statement, “This poses a serious challenge . . . to those lenders who use brokers as a product delivery channel.” What would happen if wholesalers lost faith in the third-party origination model as it relates to mortgage brokers? They could conceivably restrict their business development to institutional lenders’ offices, since those offices often broker out anyway. In the height of the refinance boom, the sheer numbers of loans requiring attention would have taken care of this problem, but the world is changing rapidly. Market size estimates as of this writing still forecast half the volume for next year from the previous years’ levels. If mortgage banks and other institutions have an edge, it may well be in their ability to throw money at marketing, deploying the resources necessary to capture a greater share of a declining segment.

It can certainly be argued that the sampling size is too small to have validity. Can 378 borrowers out of the millions who obtained loans really represent the actual trend of the marketplace? A.C. Neilsen has used similar demographics for 50 years to chart the trends of television audiences, and there has certainly been a great deal of debate as to whether their findings represent a true picture of the nation’s viewing preferences.

Although it is not readily apparent how the sampling was created, GFI took care to balance purchases and refinances to reflect the first half ’03 market, at 34% and 66%, respectively. Of the 378 borrowers surveyed, 181 worked with a mortgage broker, while 198 worked with a “lender only.” Of those who worked with a “lender only,” 165 had a specific representative (presumably an LO) handling their transaction, while 33 did not. Overall, those who worked with an assigned representative rated their transactions significantly higher than those without, 76/67. So that’s an encouraging sign, supporting our long-held assumptions about the value of high-touch.

What can be done to increase general consumer satisfaction in the loan process, and the success of originators, whether independent or affiliated? According to CFI, three areas are of most interest to borrowers. These included processing time, the convenience of the process and the closing, as well as the energy and expertise of the loan representative. Fix these, and we’re on the way to nipping future problems in the bud.

Processing time should be improving, with all the automation we have at our disposal. It could be said that delays in the process over the last few years were caused by volume, not be inefficient processes. While that might be true, few loan professionals will tell you the process is efficient; just look at all that paper, after all. The process should be more digital—the technology is certainly available, waiting for lenders to put it to use. Closings are prolonged by all the paper, both moving it around and getting it signed, and digital solutions have been in place for years. Perhaps with the refinance boom winding down and lenders begin to worry about things other than loan volume; some of these fixes will be made.

As to the importance of the lender representative, that should be the easiest to fix. As the chart indicates, borrowers are saying, “Tell me accurately, tell me quickly and in language I can understand. Then, keep me informed and answer my questions promptly.” What could be simpler, and harder? Mortgage originators have worked hard to maximize their exposure over the years. But customer satisfaction is now demanding some of those resources. It is no longer enough to drag in the apps just to become complacent about service, knowing there’s another borrower coming in right behind the one you lose. That attitude might have worked over the last year or two, but it is doubtful it will play in the months and years ahead. Back to reality, ladies and gentlemen.

Another area of apparent interest to borrowers arose from the study. “Our analysis suggests consumers may be very receptive to the idea of a guaranteed mortgage package,” according to Roger Park, CFI Senior Consultant. It’s not hard to understand why they would be attractive to consumers, hungry for simplicity in this complicated, transactional space. Of course, HUD has been all over this, but with the departure of Mel Martinez, it is difficult to know how soon RESPA reform can be expected. It is clear, however, that lenders that have run with the GMP concept, such as ABN Amro, have had tremendous success with it. Consumers have spoken, as they will often do, and it’s up to the industry to listen.

The bottom line of this whole surprising development was well articulated in CFI’s announcement regarding the study, in which they pointed out the obvious: “Mortgage lenders will increasingly need to differentiate themselves in these areas to meet with success in the marketplace as the era of ‘how low can you go’ interest rates and huge refinancing volumes draws to a close.” Those who find ways to make the experience simpler and easier to understand, and who stay in close contact with their customers, will become the providers of choice.

Rather like the professional mortgage originators of the previous almost-20 years, come to think about it.

How is Your CSI?
If you don’t have an ongoing program of Customer Satisfaction Indexing, now’s the time to start. You can make it simple by developing a quick questionnaire to send your borrowers using a mail merge from your organizer software. A few critical tips: First, be sure to include postage for the return of the questionnaire; Second, keep it customer-friendly by making it brief and easy to complete – no more than 60 seconds of your customer’s time, unless they elect to add comments.

If you get some surprising answers, consider getting more detail from the borrower with a follow-up phone call. You may have a problem with someone’s attitude within your organization that surfaces using CSI. If you do, research the matter carefully and take appropriate action. Be generous with your thanks to customers for taking the time, and consider a premium, such as a discount on a future service, as an incentive to respond.
Your mailing can be as detailed as you like, or as simple as this:

At XYZ Mortgage, your satisfaction is our greatest concern. You can help us to serve you better by taking a moment to give us your feedback on your recent transaction. Please rate us from 1 (low) to 10 (high) by circling your choice on each item and return it in the enclosed stamped envelope. Thanks for your time!

Friendly, helpful attitude: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Answered all my questions: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Returned my calls quickly: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
My Loan Rep was easy to reach: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Kept me informed of my loan’s status: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Made sure I understood the process: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Was convenient to deal with: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Gave me the best possible rate and fees: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Were knowledgeable and professional: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Overall satisfaction with my transaction: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Any other comments for us?

If you would like to recommend our services to a neighbor, acquaintance or family member, please let us know how to reach them!

Once you have the customer feedback in hand, take the necessary steps to correct any real or perceived negative opinions. In addition to calling unhappy customers, you may need to enhance your overall customer service program and expand your marketing efforts to help tell your positive story.

–James Hennessy

Power Statements Enhance Credibility

The role of a production manager or branch manager is not to simply maintain the status quo, but to be proactive in driving the behavior necessary for success in a changed market. If your loan originators are still approaching 2017 with 2016 attitudes and habits, you have a problem. Purchase loans are now the name of the game and direct calling responsibilities are once again paramount. Therefore, from a manager’s point of view, the following questions are worthy of serious consideration:

  1.  What changes in behavior will my production team have to make to succeed in a different market?
  2.  Are all of my loan officers prepared to recognize and take advantage of each sales opportunity?
  3.  Do they have a prepared and rehearsed statement with which they are comfortable?
  4.  Will their personal statement help to differentiate them from the masses?

The prepared statement to which I refer is not a regurgitated company mission statement. Those are usually not stated with the enthusiasm and conviction necessary to sway or impress anyone. I am talking about a planned and rehearsed power statement that will create interest and a greater opportunity to develop working relationships. Your job as a manager is to be sure your team members have prepared a personal power statement. Because everyone is different and has a different approach both in language and personality, a power statement cannot be dictated from on high and be the same for everyone. It must be a disciplined and rehearsed statement that grabs the recipient. The enthusiasm and conviction required will only occur if it is created on an individual basis. Make sure this topic appears on your next sales meeting agenda.

By way of example, can you imagine the following conversation between a loan originator and Realtor, neither of who know each other, nor each other’s job?

Realtor: “Hi, my name is Mary what is your name?”
LO: “Pleased to meet you Mary, my name is Dan………..
Realtor: “And Dan, what do you do?””
LO: “I do loans”

Although Dan’s response may be true, the manner in which he responded is hardly going to entice or encourage Mary to probe further. In a world where first impressions are critical, and where observing the motto “Observe what the masses do and do the opposite” is mandatory, Dan’s response places him with the multitudes that never set themselves apart. When presented an opening to succinctly state what you do, you must be prepared to jump through the window of opportunity, not simply slam it and break the glass in the process.

The odds are good that some day you will attend a Broker or Realtor luncheon. Often the sponsoring entity will pull one or two lender business cards out of a punchbowl and allow those chosen to deliver a two-minute commercial to the meeting attendees. This is a window of opportunity. You can choose to be prepared ahead of time, and rehearse what you will say or you can do what most originators do and wing it. The latter approach will not set you apart; in fact you will become lost in a sea of lenders who don’t get it. No opportunity should ever be lost to make a marketing point or strengthen the perception your customer base has of your abilities and professionalism.

As a manager your loan officers should have a prepared statement that is concise, compelling, and memorable. Within the world of marketing this is called an “elevator statement,” whereby you can tell me what you do and the value propositions for why I should work with you or use your product in the amount of time it takes you to complete a short elevator ride. If it takes longer, your statement is too long.

If your loan originators were to be called in a random drawing during the next Realtor function you attend, what would they do? The reactions cover a wide spectrum. In my experience having attended hundreds of such meetings all over America, I have seen it all. Most are unprepared, some are so nervous you could hardly hear them. Then, there’s terminal TMI (too much information). Some are too short, others too long. Too many “ums” and “uhs.” For some, the color rises in their face from about their chest up. By the time they get to the podium you can visibly see their neck turn from flesh pink to red. Today’s originator must be a professional, in all senses of the word. That includes being comfortable in either one on one or group settings with a prepared “power statement”.

A power statement makes your product or service outstanding, understandable, credible (incredible), and buyable. It’s a memorable (nontraditional) statement that describes what you do and how you do it in terms of the customer and his/her perceived use or need for what you are selling. The objective is to persuade and motivate the prospect (borrower, originator, or Realtor) to think and act. It builds credibility.

If you took these power statement characteristics and began to formulate your own, you could start practicing today. The key characteristic is to make your power statement memorable. You cannot allow your statement to sound like everyone else. It must also include the value proposition of how the customer will benefit. The customer is always inquiring with either, “What is in it for me?” or “how will I benefit by using this person as a lender for my borrowers?” Your power statement must answer these questions.

Here are five steps to developing your personal power statement:

  1. Write out a preliminary prototype.
  2. Try it out on customers for a week and identify the portions you wish to fine tune.
  3. Practice your statement until it is absolutely routine and does not sound staid or like you are reading it. The more conversational in tone you can be, the greater the attention and acceptance.
  4. Find one thing you can hang your hat on that is not what everyone else says.
  5. Do not be afraid to constantly change and fine-tune your power statement.

Assume you are addressing a Realtor’s weekly sales meeting and have been given an opportunity to say a few words to those in attendance. Given the fact that weekly meeting agendas are usually filled with more issues than time allows, you may be scheduled for no more than three minutes on some occasions. Do not spend your entire allotted time on your products, pricing, or reputation. That is what 95 percent of everyone else does. Remember this quote—”Observe What The Masses Do and Do The Opposite.”

For example, if you were addressing a Realtor, you might consider the following: “Your long-term success as a Realtor is dependent upon your continued referral business. _______________’s (your company name) commitment and my personal commitment to you is to absolutely make sure your borrower is so pleased with their entire transaction that they will not only return to you for their real estate needs, but continue to refer their friends and family to you as well. I don’t make this commitment lightly because my success is your success.”

Of course, that is just one example. Encourage your loan officers to begin working on their power statements today. In a changing market like we are currently experiencing, their sales skills will be tested. Make sure your production team’s personal power statement passes the test.

By Bill Evans

When the Fires Come

Avoiding your own business disasters.
“Preparation is the key to all things — except spontaneity.”
– John Edgerly

Most people in Southern California remember where they were when the recent fires came. San Diegans remember seeing the smoke shroud their city and many saw the flames with their own eyes, as hundreds of homes within the city limits were lost. It was the great Firestorm of ’03, and for thousands of people in the (once) Golden State, it was a cataclysmic, life-changing event. For 22 others, it was an event that ended their lives. For all of us, it was an example of courage and bravery that was betrayed by poor planning and shortsighted preparation.

As business people, we are challenged every day to manage within a set of circumstances we cannot control. If we could control all aspects of our business lives, it would be perpetually easy, which it certainly is not. So preparation is a constant in our lives, and as the old saying goes, “Fortune favors the prepared.” What must we do to anticipate the business wildfires that threaten our economic futures, and how can we assure the necessary assets are available to fight them when they come?

In firefighting, as in military operations, assets are key. But being the United States of America, bureaucracy can and does rear its ugly head, getting in the way of deploying the assets needed to achieve an objective. Mortgage originators are no strangers to roadblocks raised by bureaucracies; virtually every lending regulation we deal with today began life as a bureaucratic knee-jerk to a perceived problem. Ideally, we would plan and prepare to deal with roadblocks in order to avoid disaster. In the case of California’s Firestorm of ’03, there were unfortunate bureaucratic snafus that proved costly for many families.

Southern California is a center for military activity matched by few others in the world. Part of that presence includes hundreds of aircraft, many of which are easily rigged for dropping water or chemicals on fires. When offered the immediate services of a number of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, the California Department of Forestry declined the assistance, even as their own assets were being overwhelmed. All of their aircraft were distributed throughout the state, leaving virtually none to combat the fire that would become the largest in California’s history. So why in the world would they prohibit the use of military aircraft flown by world’s best aviators? In two words, bureaucratic procedure. Their procedure required that all pilots and aircraft must first be certified by the CDF before being allowed to serve in firefighting efforts – a rule clearly aimed at civilian pilots and general aviation aircraft. But these weren’t traffic ‘copters waiting for orders on the flightlines, these were Navy and Marine Corps fliers, trained to combat fires on their own bases. Nope, the bureaucracy said, as homes burned and people died, they don’t count until we qualify them.

In emergencies, you can only be so prepared; surprises and contingencies arise which turn predictable circumstances into emergencies. Still, as Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Preparation can keep an emergency from becoming a disaster. Had someone made the discovery that military assets needed to be certified before being deployed to fight fires, Southern California’s disaster might have been lessened substantially.

The fires will come to our industry, and in fact have already begun. Coming off the largest mortgage market in history, those left unprepared will have few alternatives to evacuating the business and finding refuge in another line of work. The time to prepare began months ago, but the low rates have bought a certain amount of time for late planners. Where does your company fit into this all-important timeline, and what form should your preparations be taking?

Change your personal paradigm. Even in a business as fast moving as mortgage origination, people can get set in their ways. There were many types of loans originated prior to the refinance boom, and there will be many originated when it is a fond memory. Consider new ones, rather than continuing to hunt for refi customers. Become familiar with home equity credit lines, subprime firsts and seconds, and the old standbys, FHA and VA. The good news: there are plenty of wholesalers ready and willing to help you make the transition to entirely new loan offerings. The subprime world, for example, tends to be countercyclical in nature, fairly immune to market swings. Subprime lenders expect minimal impact from the end of the refinance boom, since their loan products meet borrower needs that can actually escalate in slowing markets. Another growing market segment is the “Alt A” world, which caters to borrowers who have good credit, but are non-conforming in different ways. Above all, be open to changes in your personal paradigms and resist the temptation to avoid change.

Maximize your database. When was the last time you made good use of the database of borrowers you have developed over the last three years? If it was merely to form a mailing list for refinance solicitations, it’s time to do something different. If you’ve been harvesting information about your borrowers and their individual situations, use the information to create a new approach, like predicting their changing loan needs. A child nearing college age often means a need for tuition money, and possibly an interest in a smaller home as the parents become empty-nested. Kids approaching driving age generally presage a need for additional cars in the driveway, a good time to be recommending an HEL. You have the information, and there are dozens of ways to use it to your and your borrower’s advantage.

Invest wisely. As volume decreases, the natural reaction is to ratchet spending down to a bare minimum. But as you do so, don’t neglect the necessary areas of training and marketing. When the fires come, your competitors will tend to cease any kind of investing in their future, which leaves them vulnerable to growing stale and becoming unknown. Invest wisely, but invest in the future of your company by making certain your field representatives are the most professional and educated ones out there. Look into seminars for your field people; they are generally very reasonable and can result in dozens of new ideas to inspire and motivate loan originators. Invest in getting the maximum visibility for your company at a time when others are letting their name recognition dwindle. Do not ignore your advertising and marketing efforts in the name of economy, but rather become more creative in the ways you allocate your resources. You will stand out more, because others are disappearing into the woodwork.

Be demanding of your wholesale sources. Who offers processes that can help you do more with less? Which among your lenders has innovative programs or has a record of being open to ideas coming in from their field originators? The best ideas seldom begin in the home office; the smarter lenders realize this, and therefore may be eager to explore new loan programs to meet emerging needs (McDonald’s greatest success, the Big Mac, was suggested from the field, not the home office). These are the lenders with which you probably want to become allied. Along the same lines, some of them may offer co-marketing programs for niche markets and specialized products; your wholesale reps may regard them as “unadvertised specials” that you won’t hear about until you ask.

Reexamine your business model. You may find doing business as usual is an unattractive response to the changing market, even after you’ve installed a new set of product offerings. Sometimes smaller is better, and sometimes it is not. So then is net branching right for you? It might make sense to explore the possibilities of joining a larger company with greater resources and capabilities, such as more sophisticated systems, marketing and processing assistance. Many net branch companies can make it possible for you to downsize your staffing requirements without sacrificing service quality – and even improve on your current capabilities while enabling you to save on payroll. Or perhaps you might look into obtaining a warehouse line to gain “lender status,” adding to your income potential. This option will make your life more complicated, as having a warehouse line brings with it an entirely new set of business requirements and procedures. But it also offers the potential to grow your business if you are in a market that is underserved or offers niche growth, one waiting for a specialized entrant. Examples include ethnic neighborhoods or other similar affinity situations where you can offer differentiated services and products.

When the fires come in the literal sense, most of us can only imagine the magnitude of fearful anticipation a family might experience as they abandon their home to the forces of nature. Or the stress of not knowing for days at a time whether their home survived. Or returning to a neighborhood and finding nothing but ash and the cinders of lost memories built over lifetimes.

During the great firestorm of 2003, the fortunate had time to prepare and load their cars with photo albums, important documents, irreplaceable keepsakes, and family treasures. Others, owing either to the speed at which the fires moved or to the lack of preparation for broadcasting evacuation warnings, had no time to gather heirlooms and critical items – and escaped with the clothes on their backs. Next time, it will be different, because of the lessons learned. Building codes will be modified as neighborhoods are resurrected, procedures among the bureaucracies will be reevaluated, and hopefully fewer families will lose everything.

In our business, the threats looming with the sweeping changes ahead will be met more effectively if lessons are learned about preparing for a catastrophe before it strikes. To do otherwise courts disaster and leaves your company’s future to a hostile fate, when the fires come.

By James Hennessy

Creating and Valuing Diversity in the Workplace

Over 30 percent of the population identifies itself as non-Caucasian. This number will increase to almost 50 percent by the year 2050 and will have a large impact on both your workforce and your clients. It’s critical that managers and others are in tune with diversity issues.

It is important to have a clear definition of what diversity is and what it is not. Traditionally, diversity has meant one’s race, gender, ethnicity, and age. Today, a more inclusive view considers religion, educational level, personality style, marital status, and socioeconomic background. Blended, all of these elements define the total person and influence their decision-making and communication methods. To “value” diversity is to consider, appreciate, and even celebrate these differences among people.

Valuing diversity is not to be confused with affirmative action, which refers to regulations and related programs designed to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

When planning any new initiative, a leader must evaluate return on investment. Valuing diversity in your organization is not only a positive influence in the workplace; it also makes good business sense.

One of the fastest growing segments in the mortgage industry is emerging markets. In this decade, the Census Bureau projects non-Caucasians will account for almost 80 percent of the total population increase. Companies are dedicating valuable resources to tap into this growing segment of the population. It is critical that companies have a workforce that is representative of their clients. This includes staff members who can understand not only their clients’ language but their cultural norms as well.
Most people agree that a company’s greatest resource is its people. One way to become an employer of choice is to develop and maintain a proactive diversity program, including hiring employees of different races, genders, and age groups. Talent acquisition is easier and employee turnover rates are lower when people feel valued and appreciated. This is a powerful tool during job fairs or college recruiting.

Another reason to promote diversity in the workplace is the inclusion of different perspectives when tackling business challenges. Through their experiences, people develop their own lens, so to speak. Viewing differences as an asset instead of a liability can foster creativity and help ensure all viewpoints are taken into consideration. This increases the likelihood that the best solution will be developed.

Companies can take several proactive steps to facilitate a successful diversity program rollout. A program with executive commitment and grass roots support is more likely to succeed than one without these components. It is also critical to obtain the support of senior managers. Employees must believe there is a true commitment from management via employee meetings, articles in company publications, and other strategies. Otherwise, the program could become or be seen as a “flavor-of-the-month” initiative.

Communicate diversity program goals to employees frequently. Obtaining early input provides employees with a sense of buy-in and strengthens their commitment to the success of the program. Clearly establish the benefits of the program to the employees, as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

Here is a partial list of what some companies are doing to promote their diversity efforts:

  • Ensure that senior management actively supports and champions the diversity cause.
  • Create a vision or strategy statement discussing the company’s diversity goals. Cascade this information down to all levels of the organization and post to the corporate Web site.
  • Ensure all written policies and employee handbooks include the diversity strategy.
  • Develop a comprehensive diversity training curriculum for managers, supervisors, and employees.
  • Build a mentoring program to provide people with the tools for advancement within the company.
  • Utilize focus groups or employee surveys to obtain feedback on how well the diversity program is performing.
  • Create employee networks to represent different groups within the company. This enables various groups to elevate any concerns and support the company’s efforts.

Promoting and valuing diversity is not just the right thing to do. It is a way to differentiate your organization from the competition. By attracting and retaining the best people for your company, you ensure the long-term success of your business.

Recognizing Your Team

With the overwhelming loan volume that we’ve been experiencing and the potential strain on office morale, there is a tremendous need to attend to our assistants, processors, underwriters, and operations staff. We should all be trying to compensate the staff for their extra time and effort in this busy market. I have heard stories from people at several companies about their overwhelmed back offices. This includes their processors bringing loans home nightly, tempers raging, and underwriters and closers working well into the night and weekends. It’s all management can do to maintain the situation before the support staff burns out. As loan originators, we can make a difference. These people make us look good and help us get through the tough times. Do something nice for your staff. Recognize that you are the one reaping the bulk of the financial rewards.

I recently saw how stressed my assistants had become from the day-to-day grind in their work and personal lives. We are experiencing the same hectic work environment as everyone else with volume-related issues and it was beginning to take a toll. It was apparent that I needed to do something to show that I cared, that I knew what they were going through.
I created what I thought would be a great experience for my team. At 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, I called a quick office meeting. I told them to grab their jackets and purses, go downstairs to the building’s entrance, and prepare for a “field trip.”

Awaiting them downstairs was a black-stretch limousine. Their driver took out an envelope and read them a letter I had prepared in advance. The letter explained that they had gone above and beyond all expectations and that I wanted them to take a little time off for themselves. The driver then gave them each an envelope containing two things—a personalized note expressing my gratitude for continuing to make our office and my business a success, and cash. He took them to the designer outlet mall to shop and have lunch. They were told that I had one stipulation—they could only spend the money on themselves. Meanwhile, I would cover the phones while they were away.

Shortly after they left, I received a call from the limo with three excited women. They were ecstatic. This was completely unexpected and needless to say, well deserved. But it wasn’t the money or the limo ride that made the real difference. It was simply the fact that someone took the time to recognize their hard work and dedication.

My loan manager, Pam Mahoney, said, “Words can’t describe how great this was! To be told you have to leave your job on company time to go shopping and have lunch was the second greatest thing that ever happened to me, (the first was marrying my husband). I honestly feel that I am being recognized for my efforts!”

Joanne Flaherty said, “I truly feel appreciated. It was such a nice gesture. It was time away from the office in one of the busiest markets in history and Mike is taking time away from his job by answering the phones and taking messages for us while we are out having fun.”

“This was just incredible,” said Dawn Pirrotta, coordinator of client services. “It came out of nowhere and I still can’t believe it. We had a blast seeing each other out of the office environment, and now feel that we truly make a difference and are being rewarded for it.”

You should have seen them when they came back from their trip. They walked back into the office with lots of shopping bags. And from what they told me it was truly an adventure. They had many stories about what they did, where they shopped, and how the limo drove through the Burger King drive-thru.

The assistants got out of the office together. They had such a fun time bonding in a non-work related environment and realized that they were important to the day-to-day success of this office. But what I think made the most difference is that they knew they were appreciated and that they were given this “field trip” during working hours. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the best use of my time as a loan officer to cover the phones, copy, and fax for several hours, but it was definitely good for them and, in the long run, for me as well.

This brings home the reality that most of the office staff in mortgage companies are probably overworked to some extent. Recognizing your team doesn’t have to include a limo ride or shopping trip. You just need to find the best way to show them that they are appreciated and that what they do every day makes a difference.

By Michael Dunsky