Jim Bane is one of those entrepreneurial loan originators who constantly monitors and adjusts his marketing program to ensure he is reaching the right customers. He doesn’t take his prior success for granted and, as a result, has steadily increased his annual production to reach the SuperStar level. Last year, Bane closed 575 loans and $72.8 million as an originator for WR Starkey Mortgage in Ft.Worth, Texas. He previously originated for CTX Mortgage and BMC Mortgage.
An example of Bane’s resourcefulness occurred early last year when he realized that many Realtors were forming in-house lender units, a trend which was having a pronounced impact on the Ft. Worth origination market. Bane, 36, knew that he had to expand his approach to reach other prospects. “I had been working with a number of Realtors but I knew that I would have to broaden my base.”
Bane determined that major corporations could be a viable niche and began contacting human resource directors at companies in the Ft. Worth area. “I introduced myself and offered special service to their employees,” he said. “For example, we provide a discount off our normal fees. The HR departments endorse my services and this allows us to add updates on the company Web site and send fliers to employees.” He also provides companies with plastic display holders for his fliers and sends postcard reminders to employees who have purchased or refinanced with him. “I’ve received up to 80 customers from one company,” he stressed. “This has been my biggest marketing success so far.”
Bane suggests that originators who are considering their own corporate program should strive to do a loan for the HR directors, offer employees a special discount, and promote their value-added service on company Web sites.
Bane has developed a number of other ways to reach his customers. For example, 40 percent of his business is still derived from Realtor relationships. He conducts seminars at Realtor offices every few months and participates in Realtor and builder open houses whenever possible.
“I started my Realtor business by just visiting their offices on a regular basis,” he said. “Then, I began to identify the top agents in each office and establish relationships with them. I’ve found that newer agents often follow the example of the more experienced ones, by referring me to their customers.” He currently works with nearly 60 agents at nine different offices.
A major turning point in his career occurred after he’d been originating for several years. “Ft.Worth has a large senior population,” he explained. “When I started originating, I was 25 and some of the key Realtors, as well as prospective borrowers, wondered whether or not I was experienced enough for their older customers, and also if I’d still be around in a year or two. I gradually became established in the market and they no longer considered me the brand new originator. This was a major reason for my production increasing from $18 million in 1996 to $32 million in 1998.”
Bane also developed a solid builder base. “I look for those who build at least 60 to 70 units a year,” he said. One way that he develops new builder clients is by having title companies and other partners help promote him. “We’ll encourage a title company or even a past customer to tell a specific builder about the good service we provide, and that we might do a better job for them than their current lender does.”
He has developed a number of co-op marketing strategies with builders. One of the most popular is placing door hangers on the outside of apartments. The headline reads, “Why pay rent?” and the copy explains how the renter can save money by owning a home. “This is a great technique because you don’t have to secure a mailing list or pay postage,” he said. “We’ve received a few calls from this and others will hold on to the hangers until they’re ready to buy.”
Bane and a key builder share the cost of promotional banners that highlight subdivisions. He also prepares loan scenario sheets for distribution at builder and Realtor open houses. “Even if they don’t buy that particular house, they’ll still have my information for later on,” he noted.
In addition, one of Bane’s major builders provides borrowers with a special incentive for using WR Starkey. The builder’s contract stipulates that it will cover the cost of the home’s title policy if Bane is the originator. “I initially suggested that they include this in the contract. It’s good for us and it makes it easier on the builder because they only have to deal with one firm.”
Unlike some originators, Bane doesn’t feel the need to provide builders with written reports. “I’m talking to most of them on an almost daily basis so I haven’t found it necessary to constantly send written reports,” he noted. “Of course, this helps save time later on.”
Bane also teaches real estate finance classes at Texas Christian University (TCU). “As a result of the contacts I’ve made, we’ve done some loans for professors and a few for former students, as well. Once students graduate, they typically get good jobs and are eventually ready to purchase a home.”
The company’s marketing department assists Bane with his customer follow-up program. This includes mailing thank-you letters and monthly postcards on Valentine’s Day, Spring Break, Christmas, and other occasions. “The customers appreciate receiving them and the cards remind them that we welcome their referrals.” They also have a quarterly newsletter that includes finance information and homeowner tips. “They can then fill out a form on the back of the newsletter to receive more information on a specific topic. This has been very popular.”
While the company does some broadcast and newspaper advertising, Bane’s own ads appear in local high school sports programs and calendars, as well as the TCU campus directory. “It’s great for visibility and gives something back to the community.”
Bane added that his Web site is one of his most effective marketing tools. “Approximately 25 percent of our customers apply online. This gives them the opportunity to apply at their convenience, 24 hours a day.”
He recently initiated a program that benefits both community organizations and customers. Bane makes a $200 donation to the local Down Syndrome Partnership in the name of each purchase and refinance customer, and he’s planning to do the same a local church. “As the father of a Down Syndrome child, I know how important it is to provide this support and it also is very gratifying for our customers,” he stressed.
Bane currently has a five-person team to help handle his expanding pipeline: Julie Matney, Nancy Booth, and Tracie Calhoun, processors; and Brett Bowden and Brenda Best, assistants. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “At first I was afraid to get assistants involved in my business; I was worried that I might lose control of the client relationships. But I realized there was no way I could take 60 calls a day and do 50 loans a month without the support of others. Of course, I learned the valuable role that assistants play.”
One of his assistants is primarily responsible for taking loan applications, delivering documents, and coordinating the underwriting process, while the other one locks-in the loans and oversees niche loan products. Bane takes approximately 40 percent of his applications, with an assistant handling the remainder. “I’ll oversee all of them and I know the details on each customer.”
While the company pays for their salaries, Bane provides production-based bonuses. “The team has an incentive,” he said. “Their overall pay is tied to my volume, so they obviously are interested in helping to ensure that we’re as productive as possible.”
They rely on a pipeline chart to track their loans in process but don’t have any other unusual techniques to maintain an orderly system. “By the time we meet with customers, we’ve already completed a basic information sheet listing social security, salary, and other details. Then one of the processors pulls their credit report and imports the data to their application. We typically provide a pre-approval within 30 minutes and advise the Realtor and customer to let us know when they’ve found a property.”
Bane is adamant about promptly returning phone calls as a basic time-saving strategy. “I don’t go home at night until there is a check mark next to the name of everyone who has called,” he said. “This ensures that I won’t have to be playing catch-up the following day.”
During his 12 years as an originator, Bane has observed the varied characteristics of other origination SuperStars. For instance, he believes that most top producers are always looking for new ways to grow their business. “Some originators just want to ‘get by’ and make a comfortable living,” he said. “However, many others are more competitive; they’re always looking for ideas to do more than the other originators in their market. I’m continually trying to add a builder or Realtor to my base and constantly raise the bar on my yearly production goals.”
He insists that top producers also provide “raving fan” customer service. “I believe that successful originators always try to be a little better than the originator across the street,” he said. “I make sure that my team—including assistants, appraiser, and title company—is a bit more detailed and harder working than others. Customers realize this; they compare your performance with that of their previous originator.”
In addition, he concurs with most other top producers who emphasize the importance of having a support team. “You can’t do this volume without people you can trust,” he said. “You need help to reach the higher numbers.”
Bane also pointed out that working for a supportive company is also critical. “I attribute much of my success to the overall support I receive from WR Starkey Mortgage. The president (William Starkey) ensures that we have the necessary assistance to be successful and he is always accessible. In addition, we benefit from a variety of marketing and management resources.”
Bane looks forward to significantly expanding his production during the next few years, including the addition of more corporate and builder business. “About four years ago, I was told that an originator couldn’t do $60 million a year in the Ft. Worth market. I’ve done that and we’re now going for $100 million. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Jim Bane knows the importance of providing all customers with excellent service, regardless of their loan amount. For example, he recently had an opportunity to assist a couple who work as a housekeeper and gardener for a wealthy Ft. Worth family. The borrowers were nervous and required special handholding for their $70,000 loan. Bane helped make it a comfortable process for the first-time borrowers and this obviously made an impression. Soon after closing, their employer called to thank Bane for his extra efforts on their behalf. “They told me how much they appreciated the fact that I had taken care of the couple and emphasized that whenever their family members or friends need a loan, they will refer them to me.”