Brandon Nicely

Brandon Nicely

Number of Loans – 132

Mentors: His grandfather 

Favorite Book: “Killing the Sale,” by Todd Duncan

Second-Year Goal: “Generating nine more prospects from each borrower.”

At 23-years old and only a little more than a year removed from college, Brandon Nicely finds it difficult sometimes to conceal his age.  “People often ask me, ‘How old are you? Are you qualified?'” said the Blacksburg, Va. originator.  “I have to work harder to earn their trust.  I enjoy the task of trying to overcome the disadvantage.”
In his rookie year, Nicely proved successful in instilling confidence in his customers, generating nearly $15 million in loans on 132 units.
While a student at Radford University in Radford, Va., Nicely participated in a two-year internship at Atlantic Bay Mortgage.  He answered phones and eventually began processing loans for two of the company’s loan officers.  After receiving a degree in marketing, Nicely went to work at his brother’s new company, Alcova Mortgage.  He continued processing there, but within months advanced to an originator position.   “I had always wanted to go into sales and this was an opportunity I really looked forward to,” he said.  “I enjoyed the processing part of the business and was ready to take a shot at selling loans.”
Nicely, who first worked with Internet leads from his company, “had a little bit of call reluctance when I started,” he said, “but then I began educating myself and developing confidence.  I purchased the Mortgage Coach and Todd Duncan’s Mortgage Mastery and really focused on ways to gain some advantage over the more experienced people.”
To spread the word about his mortgage career, Nicely sent mail pieces and e-mails to family and friends to inform them of the services he could provide.  He also relied on prior connections, such as the one with the CEO of Geico—a friend of his grandfather’s, who helped pass along his mortgage services through word-of-mouth.  “It took a lot of hours and many calls,” said Nicely, who averages a 65-hour workweek, about the beginning of his originating career.  His first loan came as a referral from his father and was cancelled at the last minute by the borrower, who decided it wasn’t in his best interest at the time.

After that frustrating beginning, he began pursuing Realtor business with a software-generated e-mail campaign and with extensive face-to-face time.  “I would stop by at least once a week to say ‘I’m here if you ever need my services,'” said Nicely.  “If you don’t make yourself visible, they tend to forget about you.  I would try to offer them ways to help their business, such as stressing the importance of a pre-qual with their clients.”  Nicely also advertised in the local Homes Search magazine and offered in-office loan program seminars to specific Realtors.  His efforts paid off when an agent called with a rush-loan that he was able to close in seven days.  “She gave me a shot and I was able to win her over with a successful close,” he said.  “She then began referring me to other agents and that was my stepping stone.”

Nicely tried to distinguish himself by being accessible at all times to questions and calls and by emphasizing accuracy on his closing costs.  “I guarantee closing costs to be the same as the good faith estimate, or I pay the difference,” he said.

He also continues to strengthen his Realtor relationships by co-hosting sales speakers to come and speak to his agents and maintaining a continuous e-mail campaign that offers helpful market and product updates.

In addition to Realtor follow-up, Nicely recognizes the importance of making a positive first impression with borrows and maintaining diligent customer contact.  “I always attend my closings with a survey for them to complete and provide a gift booklet,” he said.  “The survey allows for them to provide me feedback on my level of service and the booklet offers them several gift options.  We pre-pay for the gifts and customers are able to make a selection from such things as a corkscrew, toolkits, clocks, and much more.  This way they can actually pick something they want.”   Once the loan is closed, Nicely follows up with e-mails to new homeowners, with pertinent topics like “how to increase the value of your home.”

Almost by default, Nicely has found a way to take advantage of his age—target those in his peer group.  “I find that first-time homebuyers are a little more comfortable with me because chances are they’re closer to my age,” he said. “They are also a lot easier to work with because trust is a huge factor [in this business] and they are looking for someone to walk them all the way through the process.”  To introduce them to the often-intimidating world of mortgages, Nicely prepares homebuying booklets that explain the process from start to finish.  He also sets customers on an e-mail or mail campaign that helps them see the home purchase as it occurs over the course of two to three months.  “My goal is to earn their trust and have them telling their friends how much help I was before they’ve even found a house.”

Nicely credits his processing experience with providing a solid understanding of how loans work.  “I believe every loan officer should process loans for a couple of months,” he said about time spent in the back shop.  “I learned about the various lender guidelines and I was able to build great relationships with attorneys, appraisers, and several other important people in the industry.”   Additionally, processing helped him realize the importance of taking a good application.  “A good application helps the processor and the originator get the loan approved a lot quicker and with much less stress.”

To further his mortgage education, Nicely reads sales and productivity books and downloads speeches from top industry speakers such as Tim Broadhurst, Tim Braheem, and Barry Habib.  He looks forward to using his second year to improve on time blocking and to focus on developing high-trust relationships with top agents, accountants, and financial planners.  “I am more excited now that I have ever been,” said Nicely.  “The sky’s the limit.”

                                                    –Gretchen Lees

Jim Rademann

SuperStar of the Month

Previous Profession: Food sales

Primary Marketing: “I use a quarterly newsletter to aggressively market to customers, agents, builders, and financial planners,” said Rademann. “It covers real estate and rate trends, as well as new loan programs. I typically have a financial planner and real estate agent contribute to it.” He also runs a monthly ad in a small local newspaper. “This ad is resume style and doesn’t focus on rates, but rather is aimed at showing our expertise.” In addition, he sends weekly letters to past customers, and provides closing gifts, such as a bottle of wine or gift basket.

Most Effective Marketing: A letter to past and existing clients. “I send out a small number of pieces each week, specific to the client. I also call clients quarterly to check in with them.”

Niche: Small to mid-size builders. “I initially did some marketing to a few builders and started working with one or two of them and they started to refer me to others. I’ve found that smaller builders that are doing 10 to 20 spec homes a year generally don’t have a CFO and we can provide financial direction, a very valuable service. This is such a sustainable source of business.”

Teamwork: One assistant (who is licensed) focuses on processing and dealing with paperwork and another helps with marketing. “I probably do more upfront work than many other originators. For example, I take the applications and don’t hand off the file until I’ve pulled the credit report and locked the loan. By spending more time initially I eliminate 85 percent of the things that can go wrong.”

Key Ingredient for Success: “I have a drive to be the very best every single day and I set very specific (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual) goals. I know how many loans I need to do in a week to help reach my yearly target. I’m very motivated.”

Achieving Work/Personal Balance: “This can be very difficult. I try to keep my hours at about 55 per week. I enjoy skiing, golf, and squash. I live by the philosophy of working hard and playing hard. I take two one-week vacations per year, one in winter and one during summer.”

Previous Profession: Credit bureau

Primary Marketing: Distributes quarterly newsletter on trends and market insights to past customers and includes a follow-up response form that recipients mail in to receive free baseball game tickets. “This helps us learn who’s reading the newsletter,” Yahn explained.  She also places ads in local magazines as well. “I’ve learned that you need to make (at least) a one-year commitment to advertising, to build the name recognition.” She hired a public relations professional to help generate newspaper and magazine articles on various milestones. Yahn also held a private showing of Star Wars for past customers, e-mails Mortgage Market Guide to customers/others, and sponsors charity events. “I’ve tried just about everything at one point or another.”

Most Effective Marketing: Her greatest success is based on a “one-on-one approach,” building a loyal referral base and generating new leads through a warm market.  “The best referrals are from those people you’ve done business with in the past. Being visible with them (sending newsletters) is critical. I try not to allow too much time to go by (without some contact), so they don’t forget me.”

Niche: Realtors, builders, and financial consultants. “One thing I learned regarding Realtors, is that every transaction offers a great opportunity to gain new business/contacts through listing agents. I will call to introduce myself, update them about the transaction, and later send marketing material and invite them to lunch. You’d be surprised at the number of listing agents who often don’t know what’s going on (with a loan).”

Teamwork: Lead processor, junior processor, set-up person, and loan officer assistant. “The LO assistant takes applications, structures loans, and helps with marketing and related areas—everything a loan officer would do.” They meet regularly to discuss goals and related issues.  “It’s a continual learning process for all of us. When people make mistakes, they learn from them and become more valuable (to the team.)”

Key Ingredient for Success: Delivery and knowledge. “Clients know that when I say something will happen, it happens. I often get calls from people who were referred to me who say that they heard there will be no surprises and that I’m a straight shooter. This has helped build my business. Also, my knowledge and experience in the business has enriched me and in turn, I can offer value to the people with whom I do business.”

Achieving Work/Personal Balance:  “I’ve had to learn to let go by trusting that those who I’ve trained to share my values will follow through in my absence. I take regular time outs and do everything possible to leave work at the office.”


Lean Forward

Life and business are often defined by unpredictability; in the mortgage business we can add a strong dose of volatility and uncertainty.  Yet, if there had ever been a perfect time to be in the mortgage business and execute a new idea, strategy, or plan, it would have been during the last several years when the mortgage business seemed golden.

Few would deny that over the last half-dozen years or so, the phenomenon of several glorious refinance waves has made the mortgage business pretty darn good.  This was true for the originator or relationship manager, although less true for servicing portfolios and secondary marketing.  Nevertheless, good profits were generally made all around.  If something new was tried there was enough business activity to find the resources to make it work.  There was also enough profitability to disguise or cover up poor execution if things didn’t work exactly as planned.

It may now be in the recesses of our memory, but it wasn’t that long ago that a $600 billion annual mortgage market was terrific.  Today, even with rising rates, there have been no projections that reduce the overall mortgage market to a level lower than nearly three times these historical “good” volumes.  So, while the last several years have been great, there is nothing to indicate that the next several years won’t also be filled with opportunity.

There is certainly more than one way to look at our current conditions.  One view is that there was a perfect “window of opportunity” to grow our businesses, but that was before the market changed.  Interest rates are rising; now must not be the time to take chances.  That’s one view of the current environment, but I don’t buy it.

There is another view.  I remember what a former boss told me in the distant past during the end of one of those periods of high refinance volumes.  That year the company had the biggest origination volume in history, $50 billion, and I recall hearing the words, “any idiot could have done that.”  While inspirational, I didn’t buy that point of view either.

Whether we are in the upside or downside of a business cycle, it takes definitive action to create momentous results.  We must ask ourselves what it will take to move forward now.  No matter which way the economic and interest rate winds blow, doing nothing doesn’t work.  Whether the wind is to our back or in our face, we must learn to lean into it.  Have a forward-leaning plan and execute it, especially when the going gets tough.  In the mortgage business the winds can change quickly and blow in different directions.  If we have wind at our back it can be a great advantage; it can accelerate results.  If there is an economic headwind then we must lean into it harder.

There is enough evidence to suggest that in the current environment, which seems like a headwind, there are companies that will loose momentum.  We can already see it.  Success can be fleeting—miscalculations create opportunities for others.  We must be prepared to take advantage of these circumstances, and we can if we are ready and poised to go after them.

What separates and differentiates companies in these down cycles is clarity of focus and action.  These are the times when we must be sharper in every aspect of our business.  Little things count more when the going gets tough.  If we don’t recognize this subtly, then we squander resources and lessen our ability to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Focus on expenses and processes that are wasting resources unnecessarily.  It is inevitable that during up cycles we throw money at things to get them done.  Why not? Time is of the essence and business is good.  There is plenty of revenue coming in so spending a few extra bucks won’t hurt, right?  Wrong.  We get lulled by prior success and inevitably, as the market tightens, we are slow to change our habits.

Look at every expense and justify that it is the right thing to be doing.  For example, look at such things as cell phone usage.  I am amazed at the variation in cell plans and how much is wasted.  The same applies to travel, entertainment, office supplies, courier, advertising, marketing expenses, and on and on.  We waste a lot more than we realize.   If there is extra space, sublet it.  If leases are coming up for renewal, make an effort to work with your property manager to have your rent reduced.

Take a good look at processes too.  Are there steps or procedures that are no longer necessary?  Can functions be combined in a new way to provide better service to customers and originators?  What are the metrics in the business?  What are the trends in loans handled per processor and closer?  How much revenue is there per employee?  Is it time to reevaluate fees?  We tend to add staff to get the job done during higher volume times, but don’t make the hard decisions to adjust staff size with the best people as volumes and circumstances change.  When the shop is in order and expenses under control, we always feel a lot more comfortable about continuing to lean forward.

All of this is, of course, easier said than done.  Most business people have trouble doing two somewhat opposite and different actions at the same time.  They watch and control expenses but fail to focus sufficiently on growing the business and investing in key areas wisely.  Doing both at the same time is critical.  It can be hard, but we must keep focused on finding ways to expand what we are doing and also find new opportunities.  They are always there, even more so when the market tightens.

When we think we have found those opportunities we must be clear in our expectations.  So many times managers jump at opportunities without thinking through what it will take to make it work. Understanding what it takes and setting clear expectations up-front is the beginning.  Monitoring progress and holding managers and the team accountable each month for what is expected is part of good results management.

When things don’t work, with the best of plans and people, don’t be afraid to either revamp the plan or start over.  Even if it was the best idea you thought you ever had, let the numbers speak for themselves.  It never pays to throw good money after bad.  Redeploy your resources and human talents and energies toward another opportunity.

Don’t stop leaning forward.

Creating Your Own Web Site

Ten years ago, building and hosting a Web site would have been a difficult and expensive undertaking.  However, with more competition among Web-hosting entities and with software programs that create Web sites, it has become easy and affordable.  Managing your own Web site would not only save you a lot of money, but the best part is having total control.  When you decide to add or change something, you can just make the change yourself.

To get started, you need to obtain a domain name.  This is a name that people enter in their browser and it will point to your Web site.  It will be unique to the entire Internet and you own the right to use it exclusively. For many years, a company called Network Solutions had a monopoly on registering and protecting domain names.  Today, there are hundreds of companies that provide this service for a fraction of the original cost.

The first step is to find out if the domain name is available. The sites mentioned above have a field where you can enter a name to see if it is already registered.  If you want and it is not available, you can try, or  You can also back order a name in case the current owner decides not to renew it.

Next, you need a place to put your Web site where in can be accessed.  This would be a host computer, called a server, with Internet access.  In theory you could handle this part yourself, but it would not be practical.  For a few dollars a month you can get a basic package that includes minimal server space and e-mail.  The domain sites mentioned above also have Web-hosting packages and site building “wizards,” which walk you through the process.  It is simply a matter of comparing the costs with the features.  One thing I would check out in advance is the quality and accessibility of their 24/7 support.  My personal favorite is, for this reason.  While there is no absolute advantage to registering your domain name and hosting your Web site with the same company, it is convenient.  Brinkster has a package that includes the Web hosting and one domain for $7.95 a month.

Now that we have a name and a place to put our Web site, we need to build one.  An easy way is to use a Web building wizard.  Hosting companies typically include a method that lets you select a template and fill in the blanks with text and pictures.  You don’t have to build anything and you don’t have to know anything about how Web sites work.  The downside to this is lack of flexibility.  Also, you will have a cookie cutter image.  This might be something to start with, but eventually you will want to build your own custom site.  The good news is that software companies have made this incredibly easy.

Front Page by Microsoft and Dreamweaver by Macromedia are two “what you see is what you get” Web creation programs.  With either of these, you can build a Web site from scratch without any knowledge of HTML (hypertext markup language).  HTML is the code that drives a Web site.  You can see what the code looks like by right clicking on a Web page and select “view source.”  Here is a short example:  <meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>.  Assuming that you don’t have time to learn a new language, then you can let the software programs deal with this.  They build the code for you with an object driven interface.  It is a lot like using a publishing program where you use the mouse to draw a text box or a picture box on the screen.  The HTML is generated as you go.  The programs also handle the task of creating links that take you to other pages or to load pictures or open an e-mail account.  They let you preview your work in your Web browser, so you can see exactly how your site will look on the Internet. When you setup the program, running a wizard saves the Internet address of your Web host and remembers where your saved files are in your computer.  So, when you are ready to “publish” or upload the creation to your Web hosting site, it is a simple matter of clicking on a couple buttons and the software will link to your hosting site and send your selected pages to the Internet.

Something that I really like about the Macromedia product is that they have other tools that integrate with Dreamweaver. Flash is a tool for creating animation files that can be added to your site.  Balancing bandwidth and content is an ongoing issue with a Web site.  You want to put a lot of cool stuff in it, but put in too much and it will take forever to load. Fireworks is a graphics creation and optimization tool.  You can load a .jpg and then trim the file size down to a minimum, without losing quality.  An easy way to find out if Dreamweaver is for you is to go to and download the free 30 day trial.  The licensed version is only $399.

Your Web site may not immediately rival the professionally designed sites that you can buy or rent for thousands of dollars.  It probably won’t have embedded calculators or interactive graphics, but it can have a lot of useful tools, including information about your loan programs and interest rates. You could include a page with links to affiliates, including sites of your Realtors.  Another idea would be to add a showcase of homes in your area.  You could list homes by address and sales price, with thumbnail pictures of the property.   When the user clicks on the little picture, it would trigger loading a bigger picture.  You could also upload pdfs (portable document file) of printed open house fliers to a storage folder in your hosting site.  This saves screen-loading time, but when the user clicks on the link to the pdf they can view and print it with Adobe Reader.  Your Real Estate agents would love the additional exposure and it would also show your loan programs associated with the listing.  You can also use your site to promote FSBO listings.

The key to all of this is to be able to manage your own site.  Whether you use a site-building wizard or software program, the money you save is a plus, but control is another key advantage.  If you have to go to a third party every time you want to add a listing promo or a link to an affiliate site, it becomes impractical.  But if you can make the changes in your own computer and immediately publish the addition to your Web site, there is no limit to what you can do.  Once you get the hang of it, you will probably think of many ways to enhance your visibility and productivity.  And, I think that you will find that it is a lot of fun.

Personal Brochures Set You Apart

Starting a serious marketing campaign with a personal brochure allows you to introduce yourself in a professional, memorable way.  Real estate agents have utilized this for years as a way to relate on a personal level with potential clients.  Consumers need to feel connected and secure with the person they will be entrusting one of the biggest purchases of their lives to.  As you develop visibility and sincerity with a personal brochure, you give people the chance to get to know you and then understand how you will be able to help them with their financing needs.  You are now one step closer to becoming their trusted advisor.

Don Hobbs, chairman and cofounder of Hobbs/Herder Advertising, a company that has designed over 35,000 personal brochures for individuals and companies in the real estate profession, spoke with me regarding what makes a personal brochure successful.  He stated that, most importantly, the personal brochure should be the cornerstone piece of a successful marketing campaign that will open the door to greater success.  A well-developed brochure can eliminate or lower sales resistance as it helps with the beginning of a relationship based on a personal or emotional connection.

Consider the details of putting a personal brochure together.  First, I highly recommend you have professional help with the copywriting, graphic design, and printing.   While utilizing a desktop publishing program and printing the brochures on the office copier may save money, you will not look as professional and appealing to clients, which defeats the original purpose of having a personal brochure.

The cover of the brochure should be attractive and interesting;  attention-grabbing in a way that calls to be picked up and read.  Focus on things that reflect your personality and the niche you are trying to reach.  You can’t be all things to all people—decide who you are going to target and speak to them throughout the brochure.

Once you have the prospect to the point of reading your brochure, the content will be what convinces them to use your services.  As you decide to put together a personal brochure, remember to create “you” on paper. “Why I would like this person” needs to jump from the page.

A photo of you inside the brochure is essential for people to feel a connection.  Definitely do not use a glamour shot or a digital photo your secretary took.  Most photographers offer what is called an “executive photo,” which will portray you in a professional manner or “personality” shot.  If you haven’t had a photo within the last three to five years, it is probably a good time for a new one.  You want to make sure people recognize you when they see you in person!

Your personal biography and photos should be 60 to 70 percent of the content.  This is about you and should be written in a story format as if someone else were speaking to your potential clients.  As the story unfolds, remember to address things you have in common and accentuate the potential benefits to the reader.  Telling a story will present you as something other than a machine-like, one-dimensional salesperson.  Your brochure can make an immediate and lasting emotional impact—people feel a need to connect with those they do business with.  If they didn’t, Internet loan companies would be the only ones doing business today.

Listing company strengths can also add to the depth of your brochure.  If you work for the number-one company in town, state it.  If your company has been serving local clients for 20 years, state it.  People realize the importance of a solid company behind an originator and will want to know that you are supported by a flourishing company.

Personally, I like a few testimonials on the back page.  This is the final statement, and using third-party comments on your abilities will strengthen the other messages of the brochure.  Try to use statements that reinforce your personal philosophy or statements from a high-profile person that your readers might recognize.  For example, if you are targeting teachers and have helped the local school district superintendent with his mortgage, that name and comment will add strength to your brochure.  Well-voiced   testimonials can link together everything else said in a brochure.

During my years as an originator, I consistently used the tag line, “The Highest Compliment I Can Receive is a Referral from a Friend.”  This truly stated my business philosophy of working on referrals and becoming a friend to each client.  A tag line does not have to be loan-related, as long as it connects back to you as a person.  For example, one professional displayed herself as a gardener and used the slogan “Nurturing Great Results.”  Be creative and find a short sentence that portrays you as a trusted resource.  In a personal brochure, the tag line is best placed on the front cover and then below the testimonials on the back, reinforcing your position as their mortgage lender.

Remember that the best business connections are personal.  Stay away from bragging and boasting statements throughout your brochure.  Rather than boast of your degrees, designations, and impressive closing numbers, state your business philosophy in a way that allows to readers come to understand your desire to help them.  You want to relate with potential clients, not impress them.

Getting it Read
Now that your brochure is put together, printed, and ready to go, how do you get it in the right hands?  This step is crucial; since you have spent quite a bit of time and money developing this marketing tool, you need a plan to distribute them for the highest rate of return.  You basically have two avenues of distribution.  The first is potential referral partners, such as Realtors, financial planners, CPAs, attorneys, and builders. The second are possible borrowers.

In distributing brochures, the success rate of it being read and kept for any length of time goes up dramatically if the recipient has met you or knows of you prior to receiving the brochure.  I term this “warm marketing,” (versus cold marketing where they have no prior knowledge of you).  A few ways you can make sure your marketing is warm is to have some type of introduction before mailing or handing out the brochure.  With referral partners, this can be done by a phone call introduction, or you may have met them through some type of networking.  With potential borrowers, you might have talked to them on the phone or in your office.  Do not give out your brochure when first introduced, as this can be interpreted as pushy.

Once you have a chance to be introduced to a potential referral partner, follow up a few days later with your brochure and a note stating you enjoyed meeting them.  The same goes for borrowers; after your first contact with them, mail a letter along with your brochure, thanking them for their time.  By meeting or contacting them first, you have hopefully sparked their curiosity to know more about you.

Reaping the Rewards
Now for the crucial element—contact after the brochure has been received.  This is the step most originators don’t take, thus leaving their brochure and first impression to be thrown in the trash.  You have invested time and money in this marketing tool, so make sure you receive the most out of it.  A day or two after you know your brochure has been received, follow up with a phone call if it was a potential borrower.  Ask if you can be of any further assistance and if they are ready to make an application yet.  If you have given your brochure to a potential referral partner, follow up with a visit to their office or an invitation for lunch to discuss how you can help their business.

We are in a highly professional business and must continually seek to find new referral partners and clients.  By utilizing a personal brochure, you are giving people a chance to warm up to you and hopefully feel comfortable about calling you and requesting your services.  This is a tremendous tool to set you apart from your competitors and help create an image of being a professional and a trusted advisor.  A personal brochure will draw more people to you and help you to create an incredible referral-based business—a fantastic goal of any marketing strategy.

Wholesale Lending RoundTable

In this RoundTable, three wholesale lender reps discuss the foundations of successful relationships.

Steven R. Rosko is a senior wholesale account executive at Bank of America, Brea, Calif.

John Naclerio is regional branch manager at American Mortgage Network, Newhaven, Conn.

Debbie Grimm is branch manager at First Magnus, Overland Park, Kan.

What is the key to a mutually beneficial wholesale lender rep/broker relationship?

Rosko: The key areas for productive and long-term relationships are effective communication, product knowledge, consistency, and sincerity. There are many pieces involved in creating a business relationship beneficial to both parties, but these four points are really important to me. I have found a group of brokers, some of whom have been in business for 15 or more years, and its their stability and wide-reaching knowledge that has helped cultivate a long-term business relationship.

I worked on the retail side of lending many years ago, and I remember how frustrating it was when a lender didn’t return calls, didn’t know their own products, or wasn’t efficient with their loans. It makes you feel like they simply don’t care about you or your customers. I have been able to draw on that experience—every one of my brokers knows that I will “go to the mat” for them. I’ll make their problems my problems and internalize those issues until I get them resolved.

Naclerio: Mutual respect is one of the most important aspects of doing business with brokers. As wholesalers, we have to understand that the brokers have to solicit business, and that there is a customer at the end of every transaction. We know that our performance reflects directly on the broker, and effects their relationship with the consumer.

On the other side, brokers have to understand that we run a business as well. There has to be a fair balance, where we understand each other’s business, and I think that’s something that is often missing. Ultimately, the consumer is the most important part of the equation. If we can provide good service to the borrower via the broker, the broker closes more loans and they come back to us in the future. Everyone wins.

Grimm: A rep should be able to identify a broker who is a good fit for them and a broker must see the value in establishing a relationship with the lender. For me, a good fit is a broker who appreciates a consistent price, sees the benefits of our technology, and values a true partnership with their lender.

Additionally, a good wholesale rep should be able to educate brokers not only on program guidelines, but also to help them identify which borrowers the programs are designed for and how to effectively sell the programs to their clients. If they can do that, the rep should be able to help the broker develop new business, which can add significantly to the relationship. When a broker is not being communicated with on a regular basis, it puts both parties at a disadvantage and opens the door for problems. Within our constantly changing industry, communication is a major key to a successful relationship.

A rep must also be able to deliver bad news to the broker as soon as they are made aware of the problem. A rep who procrastinates on delivering bad news will leave the broker with limited time to find a solution and potentially cost them the loan.

How do you go beyond the basics of offering the best product and price to add value to your broker relationship?

Rosko: Our top producers all use electronic marketing, not just to the broker, but also to the individual originators. Outside of traditional gifts and presentations, another way of going beyond the basics, when geographically possible, is to have a face-to-face meeting with my and my brokers’ entire teams. Involvement with the staff is one of the most important aspect to forming strong relationships, and being able to put a face with a name is crucial. I organize events where both of our teams can meet—processors to processors, assistants to assistants—and bring lunch in to the office for a casual meeting. I always have lunch brought in because it cuts down on travel time, usually for both sides, and because I want the broker’s team to see and get a better understanding of our work environment and our challenges. It strengthens our relationships across the board—it works like a charm.

Naclerio: One of our best programs is product training on a national level with Web-X, a phone meeting that features a particular product. For example, we started a “Pay Select” program recently; I marketed the phone meeting to all my brokers through e-mail, the Web site, and in person, and invited them to call the 800-number to participate. The  host speaker usually kicks off the meeting with some marketing tips, and then educates the brokers about the product. Afterward, the brokers have the opportunity to ask questions and get additional information. For our “cream of the crop” brokers, we also offer a yearly “broker round table.” We bring in the best brokers from each market and they meet with our senior management to discuss their business and goals.

We also offer perks online, such as a training program where brokers can learn about products, and then get quizzed to test their new knowledge. The site also features marketing materials that brokers can customize and use to promote special programs.

Grimm: With the changing market (interest rate environment) I can’t rely on simply providing the basics. Lenders must show our brokers that we are interested in helping them grow their business. Each quarter I offer seminars (through my company) that are designed to help my brokers fine-tune their skills in getting and keeping clients. This kind of service is more important to our brokers than taking the gamble for an extra .25 with another lender.

I  also provide “lunch and learn” group presentations with brokers and loan officers, covering a variety of topics such as how to save time by accessing our Web site, automated underwriting systems training, product/program training, first-time homebuyer seminars, and how new loan officers can best add value to their business. I also coordinate “meet the underwriter” sessions, where brokers can bring files in for an underwriter to review in person. Earning business from brokers is a team effort and it helps strengthen the relationship if the brokers are able to spend time with a few of the operations employees who work so hard to create a positive experience for their borrowers.

What is your policy on “converting” a broker’s borrower to eventually become the lender’s client?

Rosko: As a wholesale rep, my customer is the broker. Period. I respect the relationship between a broker and their borrowers, and I don’t market to the customer. I feel that it would be a violation of the covenant I have with my brokers. That said, the bank has a separate retention program (outside of my department) and they do, of course, try to preserve the lending relationship with borrowers. I know that many of the broker’s customers will be long-term borrowers, and I let the brokers know that I appreciate repeat business from them, but I wouldn’t approach a broker’s customer on my own.

Naclerio: No, I don’t try to reach the borrower, and I think the fact that we don’t market to the broker’s customer give us a competitive advantage. The wholesaler’s customer is the broker, and there’s no reason to infringe on that. I know my brokers appreciate our stance on this.

Grimm: I never market to my brokers’ clients. That policy is part of my company’s “broker-for-life” program. I’m aware that not all of our competitors share the same philosophy, however, nearly 65 percent of all loan originations are handled by brokers and the last thing we want to do is disrupt that origination source. I want my brokers to be my customers for life, and if I succeed at that, then the borrower will automatically be my customer for life.  My broker is my client and I will do everything in my power to help the broker retain their customer.

What are your biggest concerns or “pet peeves” when it comes to brokers?

Rosko: My biggest pet peeve is when I go into a broker’s office and I find that they are getting approvals from multiple lenders and withdrawing loans for small profit margins, rather than closing the transaction and moving ahead. These brokers are spread too thin, opening their door for every gimmick lender and companies they’ve never worked with, and their funding ratios will usually prove unacceptable for us.

I prefer to work with accounts that have selected five major lenders and concentrate on building business with them. They’re more knowledgeable about the guidelines and processing requirements of those main lenders. Most importantly, their approval and pull-through ratios are much higher.

Naclerio: One of the biggest problems I’ve seen is not respecting the importance of rate locks. If rates go down even after the rate lock, brokers (whether driven by the customer’s needs or not) usually want the lower rate. But if the rates go up, they don’t want to pay the increase. Another concern is with the few brokers who aren’t looking out for the best interests of their client. That includes submitting poorly packaged loans on a regular basis. It wastes my time when I have to wade through the forms, it adds expense, and in the end, the borrower suffers.

Grimm: One pet peeve is when I go above and beyond, meeting and exceeding expectations on a loan, only to find out that the broker has sent the same loan to other lenders. There are often legitimate reasons that a broker has to submit a single loan to more then one lender, but sometimes I run up against a broker who appears to do this for all the wrong reasons. My goal is to offer the highest level of service at the best possible price, and it can be disheartening when a broker works against me.

Another big concern is brokers who don’t deliver on their locks. It’s funny that a lock committment is the only “one-sided” contract in America. The lender is obligated to honor the contract but the broker isn’t.

What are your suggestions for enhancing the relationship between wholesale lender reps and brokers?

Rosko: Wholesale lender reps can’t rest on their laurels—we have to stay in the field and make our presence known. We also have to be good about swift problem resolution, letting our brokers know that we understand their concerns and will do everything in our power to fund their loan and meet their borrowers’ needs.

As far as what brokers can do, I know I’m spoiled with my own customers, but like I said, focusing on five to 10 primary lenders is key. Just maintain the volume with those select companies—that’s the basis of a wholesale/broker relationship.

Naclerio: Form a partnership based on mutual respect. Our job is to please the consumer; when I understand the broker’s business and how I can help them make more money, we get more business, they look good to the borrower, and the customers are happy. That’s the bottom line.

Additionally, I’d recommend that brokers use the tools and technology available to them.  For example, they can lock loans online, getting approvals faster and impressing the customer, therefore creating a basis for referrals. Brokers also need to let us know what they need to help their business grow. It helps when they keep us informed about our competition and tell us what we need to be doing to ensure that we’re their preferred lender.

Grimm: Brokers should seek out a lender that is dynamic and consistent at the same time. My brokers have come to rely on my consistency in terms of both price and operational support, while also appreciating our ability to adjust our model based on the feedback they provide us with.

Lenders must listen to what our brokers are saying and understand what their needs are. We need to learn who they are and how they run their business before we can begin the process of helping one another become more successful.

Once the relationship is established, we need feedback. Feedback is a critical component of our mutual success. I can only benefit by listening to what my brokers have to tell me. Brokers should also let their rep know when someone in operations does an outstanding job. There’s nothing better than being able to let the operations staff know how much of a difference they’re making.  It also makes them that much more receptive to staying late the next time the broker needs a favor.

At the same time, lender reps must communicate with their brokers, set realistic expectations, and deliver on those expectations. Reps must also deliver honest answers, which may not always be what the broker wants to hear. Honesty is key for the broker as well. It doesn’t do anyone any good if a broker only gives enough information to get the answer they want, only to hit a roadblock down the road.

The Case for Electronic Signing

The U.S. Congress and the various States enabled electronic signatures in the mid 1990’s, which in technology terms is just a little bit short of forever.  Electronic signatures can replace traditional handwritten signatures on financial, legal, medical, and other business documents.  Properly created electronic signatures assure each party of:

  • Integrity—The data/document isn’t changed between the sender and receiver.
  • Authenticity—The document really came from the signer.
  •  Non-Repudiation—The document sender cannot support any claim they did not send it or that the content was altered.
  • Acceptance—Signing establishes the signer’s agreement with the document.

So why aren’t you using this powerful production enhancement tool already?

Some Important Considerations
For electronic signatures to be accepted globally, a secure technology standard was established utilizing a proven cryptographic system. This system uses a private key, known only to the signer, to create the electronic signature, and a public key, available to all intended receivers, to verify the digital signature.

One property of any signing is its uniqueness to that event.  A signature may create legal consequences and multiple signatures may create multiple obligations, such as by signing two checks for $500 each, you create a total obligation of $1,000.  However, in two identically worded documents where “A” agrees to lend and “B” agrees borrow on a mortgage for a property, then there will most likely be a single contract even if multiple signed copies exist.  This operational decision heavily depends on the contents of the signed document.

It may be critical to distinguish between originals and any copies, to prevent the copies from being taken for distinct obligations. Successful digital signature technologies must include a capability to distinguish between an original and its copies whenever that distinction is significant.

The centuries-old means of documenting transactions and creating signatures are changing. Documents are often still written on paper, sometimes just to satisfy the legal need for a recognized form. In many instances, much of the information exchanged to effect a transaction never takes paper form. Appraisals in Adobe PDF format are a common example, with a number of lenders now requiring this format instead of traditional paper appraisals.  Computer-based information can be utilized differently than its paper counterpart. Only human eyes can efficiently read paper documents, but computers can read digital information and take designed actions based on the contents.  With such changes can come speed and efficiency, but there are also opportunities for fraud and deception.

What About the Notary Function?
A notary’s journal is a series of numbered, sequential records of each act of that notary. Much more than just a list of recorded event dates, the numbered sequential order of each entry adds integrity since a new entry cannot be “slipped in” between two previous ones. The way a notary book is bound ensures that pages cannot be inserted or removed without visible evidence of such tampering.

Such standard features of paper-based notary technology must survive for an e-notarization system to be accepted for use in a given jurisdiction. If electronic records can be modified at all, then the system has no integrity. When choosing an e-notary system, make sure that each entry is numbered according to the time of its entry and that entries or pages cannot be inserted or deleted.

Notary regulations vary between jurisdictions.  An electronic notary system must be customizable enough to meet the demands of differing jurisdictions.  For example, California requires a fingerprint on some types of notarized documents, where Oregon might view fingerprint collection as an invasion of privacy.  A notary system that requires a fingerprint will not satisfy users in both states, and a system that does not may cause some California records to be incomplete. Therefore, electronic notary technology must allow the responsible party to custom-tailor the notary application as required for each jurisdiction.

Most states require that the notary observe the signer making their signature, which will require some sort of valid physical presence at the signing.  This is done so the notary can observe for competence, coercion, or any other outside influences that could affect the validity of the signature. As if that were not enough, the U.S. exists in a world market.  To that end, the American Bar Association has established a Cybernotary Subcommittee to address creating a universal standard for electronic signature acceptance.  The subcommittee has “focused its efforts on defining the scope of electronic notarial practice, setting qualification criteria, and working with individuals and organizations to ensure acceptance of CyberNotarial acts in the U.S. and abroad.”

Other Uses
But aren’t there other, perhaps simpler, uses?  What about using electronic signatures on origination packages, or to sign initial and updated disclosure forms or agreements?  Can that be done?  Well, you get a definite “maybe.”

Some electronic signature systems require physical presence and a signing pad or tool for the customer to use.  Other systems are web based and require only that the signer have Internet access to review and sign any documents (See sidebar for resources).  Your intended use of such systems will help you decide the best approach for your company.

Utilization is still minor within our industry, perhaps due to the concerns and potential problems that still need further review.  As the eMortgage reality comes closer and closer, you may not want to just wait around.

The average mortgage customer is a generation younger than those of us providing mortgage lending and making process decisions.  Customers will naturally gravitate to those suppliers that make the process the easiest to use and understand.

Electronic Signature Resources

AlphaTrust Corporation

American Bar Assn

Angel Infinity, Inc.

DocuSign, Inc

Interlink Electronics, Inc

Topaz Systems

Valyd, Inc


Credit to Bruce Forge

Marketing Portfolio

CountryWide-box1When Jon Byler wanted to feed his Realtor business, he knew that the way to a Realtor’s heart is often through their stomachs. Byler, branch manager of Countrywide Home Loans in Santa Cruz, Calif., provides goodie-filled Realtor Survival Kits to his real estate contacts. While he uses them primarily during open houses, he has also used them at office meetings and other events.   “Morning tour boxes consist of a bagel, cream cheese, jelly, juice, utensils, aspirin, hand wipes, and promotional Countrywide information. The afternoon lunch box is slightly different. I hand make sandwiches, add cookies, chips, and bottled water, plus all of the utility items listed above,” he explains. “Walking into an open house bearing gifts, you have something that is very different than the rest of the marketing crowd,” he says.  Byler cleverly fills the boxes with more food than the Realtors could eat at one time, so the boxes end up going back to their offices. He also includes a card at the bottom of the box inviting them to call for a “free refill.” Byler adds, “When they call to take me up on the offer, that’s when the real marketing begins.” The boxes are printed by Bullseye Boxes at a cost of $200.00 per 100, and Byler spends $10 to $15 to fill them.

recipiecardLooking for the recipe for success? Try just a recipe itself—for Mexican teacakes, sweet and savory chicken, or any other dish that is sure to spice up your clients’ lives.  Andrew Cardina, an originator with First Horizon Home Loans, Lancaster, Pa., sends these monthly recipe cards to all B2B contacts, closed loan customers, and new prospects who have been pre-approved.  The cards offer a comprehensive, creative recipe each month, and credit the individual who sent in the recipe at the bottom.  “These are tangible pieces that can be given to friends or acquaintances if they are looking for a mortgage,” says Cardina.  Cardina subscribes to the cards through his company and is responsible for the $.44 each payment.  Included on the back is Cardina’s picture, accompanied by a friendly reminder of his home financing services, and complete contact information.  Besides being a cost-effective means of keeping his name in front of customers and referring partners, “the piece itself is functional,” says Cardina.  “Since it is a recipe card, customers get other use from it than just the mortgage contact information.”

cellmate2Hold the phone! Shawn Portmann’s unique “Cellmate” will really give the competition a hang-up. The Cellmate is a thin grip pad that “magically” holds a cell phone in place on a car dashboard. “My clients love it,” Portmann says. “They always want more.” Portmann’s name, company, and phone number are conspicuously, yet unobtrusively printed along the bottom. “It keeps my name in front of them at all times. Repetition and consistency is the name of the game.” The idea of placing your name on an everyday item isn’t new, but unlike pens or key chains, this marketing piece grabs the client’s attention because it’s something out of the ordinary—something they probably don’t already own. In the past, Portmann, a loan officer with CityBank Mortgage, Puyallup, Wash., has also sent out such novel marketing items as water bottles, lunch boxes, and Frisbees. He distributes about 1,000 Cellmates per year to customers and 200 to Realtors as part of a larger thank-you package after closing a deal. The Cellmates cost approximately $3.00 a piece, with an initial set-up fee of $45.00.

Renting-FlyerWhile many originators strive to capture the renter’s market, few may create a way to stand out from the crowd.  Michael Gambatese, an originator with Pillar Financial LLC, Palatine, Ill. (a suburb of Chicago), used a catchy, distinct slogan to print on his renter fliers:  “Renting is Hazardous to Your Wealth!”  The text makes a bold statement below a photo of the Chicago skyline, since most of these fliers target high-rise condo renters in the downtown area.  Gambatese prints these fliers in a co-marketing effort (shared costs) with one of his Realtors, and they are mailed to renters paying at least $1,000/month.  The lower half of the flier displays the options to buy for people paying anywhere from $1,000 to 1,750/month. The dollar figures are annotated with details of the loan program used to calculate the numbers.  Gambatese sends out about 200 fliers on a bi-annual basis and says that he just came up with the idea “when thinking of creative ways to target renters.”  The flier is also incorporated with a first-time homebuyer seminar given with the Realtor.  Fliers are generated in-house using PowerPoint, and then printed at Kinko’s on nice stock paper.  The cost is approximately $500, including postage.  “It has been successful because it’s different,” says Gambatese.  “And because this market is saturated with renters paying ridiculous amounts per month in rent.”

Keeping Your Team of Champions Together

Practice “internal recruiting” to retain your best people

Think the recruiting process ends when you hire a new employee? Think again. It continues long after day one on the job. In fact, my personal view of recruiting is that of a relationship—it begins when you first meet a potential hire, but continues when he or she becomes your loan originator (LO) or employee. Just because a person works for your company does not mean the recruiting process has ended. A planned, deliberate retention strategy will help keep your staff happy throughout their tenure. Especially in our business of mortgage originating, it can be a challenge to find and keep good employees. Yet quality people are what drive the business, make or break the transaction, and most importantly, keep your customers coming back for more. 

At my company, we see very little turnover. In fact, less than five percent of our staff has left to work for another mortgage company. I attribute this loyalty to our “high-touch” environment—being responsive to needs, and providing recognition, rewards, and a great workplace. It’s a methodology we use not only with our partners (utilizing strong and effective database management), but also internally with our employees. High-touch equals loyal people; they know that we care about them, and it shows in our retention rate.


So how can you excel at retaining your most valuable assets – a good team of loan originators? It starts with the hiring process. Whether you have a staff of recruiters or utilize an outside firm for your searches, it’s important to look for seasoned loan originators with a solid book of business. Typically, these candidates come from banks, retail mortgage banking firms, or brokerages. Then, start a relationship. It’s really no different than building a friendship – opening a dialogue to find out if there’s a mutual fit. In my experience, the success here lies in a values match.  That is, does this person have similar values and goals that match our company philosophy? Can he or she ultimately add value to the business, and in turn, will our company add value to his or her life? 

In regards to predicting if a candidate will be successful in his/her role at UPM there are several types of testing that can be administered.
1. DISC testing is a way of testing a candidate’s outward behavior style.  This type of test can help us predict outward behavioral style.

2. Another type of testing is practical testing.  If we are considering a candidate for a processing role at UPM we will ask them to review a loan file.  Our processing manager will remove some required documentation from that loan file and ask the candidate to evaluate the income of the borrowers and create a list of documentation that will be required for this file to be approved.

3. A third type of testing is internal.  We ask our hiring manager to create a “must have” list.  This list is the qualities or requirements the candidate must possess or meet in order to be hired at UPM.  If the candidate does not meet one or more of the criteria, they will no longer be considered for the position.

Internal Recruiting

Once a values match is affirmed and trust is established, the relationship begins. At this point, we transition to what I call “internal recruiting.”   This is where the high-touch element really comes into play. If an organization is not making a concerted effort on some level to retain its loan originators and employees, it probably has a high turnover rate to match.  We believe not only in fostering a positive work environment, but also in promoting established programs to reward our top producers. Examples of the former include:

  • Full-service branches—processing, underwriting, docs and funding in one place
  • On-staff IT (Information Technology) group
  • Commissions paid every Friday
  • Scenario desk—hugely popular with our originators, this “internal service” allows originators to write scenario e-mails and receive a response (within 24 hours) outlining all of the loan options (prime and subprime).  The LO can e-mail all of the “facts” of the loan (income, assets, credit score, LTV, loan amount, value, doc type, and so on) to the scenario desk; the scenario desk can then use our technology to scan our entire product menu and matrix for programs that will accommodate the required scenario.
  • Subprime subsidiary to help the originators close every type of loan with the best efficiency
  • Personal, individualized coaching and development.

We recommend that our LO’s use a three step process in regards to coaching and training.

1. Todd Duncan.  We believe that Todd Duncan is the best teacher of high trust selling and add value/client for life tools in the mortgage business.  His teachings, events, and book will assist any loan originator in achieving their goals and dreams.

2. Building Champions.  We believe Building Champions is the best one-on-one mortgage coaching company in the industry.  Building Champions uses the tools taught by Todd Duncan and breaks them down one-by-one to ensure the LO masters each tool.

3. Productive Learning & Leisure.  PL&L is a company that specializes in self-awareness.  Becoming more self-aware is key to effective communication and high-trust selling.

  • Regularly scheduled department meetings where issues can be discussed and resolved
  • No micro-management.  We hire experienced, knowledgeable LOs with a client-for-life business plan. These types of LOs do not need to be micro-managed.  For the most part they prefer we allow them to do what they do best within our framework.  We have a V.P. of Sales and owners with an open door policy.  We are available and willing to help in any way we can.
  • New and well-maintained office equipment
  • Healthy and respectful working environment
  • Owners who employ an open-door policy, and who are hands-on in actively leading the company every day

In addition to good pay and traditional benefits, these factors do make a difference in loan originator and other employee retention. A staff that is empowered to do their job in a positive environment with the proper resources and tools will produce better results. In our business, it is all about performance.

Reward programs and personal touches from the top-down are additional ways to keep your employees happy and loyal. Examples of these well-received benefits include:

  • Top producers “club”—includes annual dinner, summer vacation with guests and awards.
  • Quarterly Top LO lunches/top LO Saturday-night dinners.  It is important for us to spend time with our top LOs outside of the office setting.  We prefer to hire people we like and therefore we want to spend social time together.  Our top people have become friends and extended family members.  In addition to enjoying the social time together, we often solicit their opinions on company policies and direction.
  • Retreats/trips
  • In-office massage.  We invite a masseuse to the office and he/she provides our LOs and staff with shoulder and neck massages.  Depending on the number of people in the branch, their visit could last a couple of hours or all day.
  • In-N-Out Burger truck on-site, ice cream socials
· Annual happy hour and dinner, family barbeque and picnics
· Handwritten birthday and anniversary cards from company president
  • Managers “random acts of kindness” to staff (gift certificates, thank-you notes, lunches)
  • Various employee assistance—additional training (within and outside of departments), and salary or commission advances

While some of these examples are more common than others, it’s the “outside of the box” incentives that often are most popular. These and similar gestures of appreciation will go a long way toward keeping your employees satisfied. A contented staff not only tends to stay put, they also improve your reputation on the inside and outside.

Another critical factor in the workplace is balanced life planning.  Happiness breeds success, and without balance, it’s difficult to be happy. One way we take control of time at work is to practice time blocking. For example, one might use mornings to make calls and afternoon to return them, or designate Mondays for current and potential borrowers, and Tuesdays for referral-partner outreach. This is just one way to support being proactive rather than reactive with time in the office.


Every employee wants and needs to know how they are doing.  Providing feedback should be a regular function of every manager’s day.  At UPM we have two formal reviews each year.  One is a performance review and one is a compensation review.  They are performed on or about the anniversary date of the employee’s employment.  The two reviews are performed separately.  The main purpose of the performance reviews is to praise and redirect.  Every employee must be praised on what they are doing well and redirected in areas where they can improve.

In addition to the annual reviews it is important to reward employees who go the extra mile to achieve excellence.  We reward this type of behavior with weekend trips, concert tickets, tickets to theatre and sporting events, gift certificates for movies, department stores and restaurants and with handwritten notes expressing our gratitude for the job they do.

Employees are an investment. And it’s much less expensive to retain current loan originators and employees than to train and indoctrinate new people. When you’ve assembled a team of champions, it just makes good sense to do what it takes to keep them together. In addition, if an LO or employee with desire and commitment is struggling with production, I believe in channeling him or her to coaching in order to help that person improve. With a focus on internal recruiting, you can improve employee loyalty and longevity, boast a low turnover rate, and reap the rewards of high producers who enjoy working for your company.