Superstar of the Month – Preet Kalirai

M.O.M.— How did you get started?
Kalirai—I began as a teller at Security Pacific Bank right after high school. I was there (which became Bank of America) for 9 ½ years, eventually working as assistant manager, underwriter and loan officer. I was recruited by my mentor Sean Safholm to Countrywide.

M.O.M.—What was your initial marketing activity as an originator?
Kalirai—I was working at a small branch and started calling on existing clients. I introduced myself and explained the types of services and products we offered. Of course, some of them needed attention—a refinance or other loan. Once I got an initial customer, the referrals came. I’ve never really made cold calls.

M.O.M.How did you get started with CalPERS?
Kalirai—CalPERS is a financing program designed for members of the California Public Employees Retirement System. CalPERS (offers special interest rate and closing cost advantages. I got involved about four years ago when I got a call from a state employee. I currently handle CalPERS-based loans in California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Nevada and Hawaii. This accounts for about 20 percent of my total production.

M.O.M.—How did you market to these clients?
Kalirai—It started with referrals, with one state employee referring another to me. CalPERS has a number of loan officers throughout the state, but they rely on a few of us more than others. Once you close a certain number of loans with them, they put you into their lead program, whereby they will send you leads that come in when state employees call for more information. I’m also listed on the CalPERS Web site, which leads to a number of calls.

I have a billboard in downtown Sacramento, the site of many state government buildings. The billboard has my picture and the CalPERS logo, along with contact information. I’ve had good success with that. In addition, a couple of times a year I send my customer/contact list a flier that highlights the benefits of a CalPERS loan.

Much of the CalPERS business is now referral-based, as one employee tells another about the program. CalPERS monitors the lead to conversion rate very closely, so it’s important that I close as many of these loans as possible.

M.O.M.—What do you recommend to orginators in other markets?
Kalirai—I believe that many markets have something resembling CalPERS. You need to evaluate your state and local programs and get to know the guidelines. Introduce yourself to the contacts and explain why your expertise and customer service approach will benefit employees. Once you get a loan or two from a state or county employee, you should begin seeing a steady stream of referrals. Of course, you can also advertise this specialty on your Web site, fliers and other marketing materials.

M.O.M.—What other marketing have you done?
Kalirai—I’ve had a small ad in Sacramento Magazine, which is aimed at businesses in the area. I actually got more calls from past customers telling me they saw it and asking for help with a loan, than from businesses.

M.O.M.—How do you stay in touch with past customers?
Kalirai—I send something to them almost every month. This includes, thank-you notes, holiday cards, seasonal cards, and tax season postcards. These are simple mailers, but help to ensure that my customers don’t forget me.

M.O.M.—How often do you ask for referrals?
Kalirai—I ask for referrals every time I speak to a customer or other contact. Even during the application process, when I’m explaining the various deadlines and other information, I will say “Please share my name and number with anyone you know who might need my assistance.” This works better than mailing postcards or newsletters.

M.O.M.—Do you have a specific niche market?
Kalirai—In addition to state employees, we also assist Spanish speaking and Indian customers. I speak Punjabi and Hindi and one of my assistants speaks Spanish. Just having one of us use their language makes them more comfortable, even though most of them speak English as well. We also offer the 1003 in Spanish.

M.O.M.—How does your Web site benefit your success?
Kalirai—My Web site notes that I specialize in CalPERS loans. It has links that give my clients the opportunity to fill out an application and fax or e-mail it to us. My site also breaks down a few financing options for our clients. They seem to appreciate the Web site because it gives them a more hands-on approach to the loan transaction. I always inform clients that they can visit my Web site and read more about the process.

M.O.M.—What is key to customer service?
Kalirai—My perspective is that it’s always what’s best for the customer. We strive to have the best customer service experience possible throughout the whole loan process. For those people who do visit the office, we have a very friendly atmosphere so clients feel comfortable. On the phone, we always thank customers for taking the time to talk with us or to gather their documents.

Throughout the process my team is in contact with customers to inform them of their loan status. That way we don’t have clients calling to ask about the status. They always have a good understanding of what’s going on and when they’re going to close.

M.O.M.—Who is on your support team?
Kalirai—I couldn’t do this without them. My two assistants are Craig Clegg and Kameka Grant. They are my right and left hands; responsible for a variety of different areas.

M.O.M.—What process do you have to handle the volume?
Kalirai—It’s fairly simple, but effective. After I first talk to the client, I pass the introductory information to one of my assistants and they complete the application. (I’ll take about 80 percent of the apps.) They pull the credit report and complete the 1003 and give that to me so that I can review it and the loan recommendation with our customer. Then I’ll give it back to one of them to complete the file for submission to our underwriter.

M.O.M.—What do you consider a key characteristic of superstar originators?
Kalirai—You have to take extra steps to impress your customers. I like to make every person feel special. When a client calls me, I still stop what I’m doing and take the application on the spot. I don’t transfer them to assistants or act like I am too busy to talk with them. If I’m driving, I will even pull my car over and take an application on the side of the road. Whatever it takes.

M.O.M.—How do you balance work with your personal life?
Kalirai—During the last few years it was difficult to have a balance. However, lately I have been scheduling more time for my family and personal life. I take more vacations and make sure to spend time watching my children’s activities. Balance is good.