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.

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