To maximize loan officer performance, be the person at the table to help

A few years ago, one of my colleagues started her car and saw her “low tire pressure” light flash on. Unable to add air herself, she trekked to a few gas stations that couldn’t or wouldn’t help her. Finally, one attendant pulled out the stops to rescue her. This gas station became her favorite from then on.

During the current mortgage industry downturn, lenders who want to maintain their competitive advantage need team members like this attendant. To maximize performance, they must reinforce a culture where loan officers take responsibility for being the “people at the table to help” — every time.

This is especially important in a commodity business like ours. Selling mortgage products isn’t the same as convincing a customer to choose a BMW over a Mercedes. A 30-year fixed mortgage is a 30-year fixed mortgage. And through no fault of our own, high interest rates and valuations, and low inventory, are leading to fewer opportunities to sell these purchase products.

But can lenders ignite further growth in these challenging times? Absolutely. My fellow chief executives and I have done so repeatedly and come out stronger for it — during the 2001 recession, the 2008 mortgage meltdown, and the height of COVID-19. There’s a reason why you’ll find the words (adapting Stephen Covey’s well-known quote), “Do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time” underneath my email signature. It’s a culture and mentality I reinforce every time I hit the send button, and it works. 

Growing with the people on the front lines
How does this focus on helpfulness create more effective salespeople and customer representatives? These individuals start to feel accountable to their parent companies and understand how their daily interactions directly impact the bottom line. Instead of pursuing quick, cookie-cutter transactions, they strive to forge a service-oriented partnership with every borrower — educating and guiding them according to their individual needs and timetables. They champion borrowers’ short-term and long-term goals—choosing from a menu of products and services that build sticky relationships and revenues. They’re also sticklers about getting the details right.

Senior executives have heard this song before, but in an industry that regularly sees consolidation and churning, it’s critical to bring it to the forefront again. For example, we’re all competing to build lifetime relationships with the same Gen Zers (born between 1997 and 2012) who are at or approaching home buying age. But they are a jaded group who need guidance. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed for the 2023 Gen Z Homebuyer Report consider lack of knowledge as an obstacle to homebuying, and only 58% (versus 77% of Millennials) trust their loan officers. As they consider homeownership and moving, they and their counterparts in other generations are also likely to be riddled with anxiety. Respondents to a recent U.S. News & World Report New Homeowner Survey say they find moving more stressful than having a baby or planning a wedding.

What will ratchet up their stress even more? Never meeting their loan officer, thinking that person doesn’t care, or feeling forced into the wrong products for their situation. Conversely, who will give them the confidence to purchase? Loan officers who touch base periodically (including the weekends) to see if they can answer any questions, educate them about DTIs and other technicalities, and reassure them. If these loan officers don’t reach out, others will poach these prospective borrowers online.

Ownership improves performance
Through her advisory and training engagements, my friend Casey Cunningham, founder and CEO of XINNIX, demonstrates that when loan officers assume ownership of a common corporate mission, their company’s performance improves. In my mind, there is no greater mission than helping borrowers realize their dreams. That’s what we do, and when loan officers are excited by that, and driven to support these borrowers at every major event in their lives, the revenues flow. But that also means being prepared with a flexible suite of products—and technologies to offer them efficiently and profitably — at every stage.

Purchase mortgages and refinancing are not enough. Student loans, third-party homeowners insurance, tax appeal services, personal loans, microloans, second mortgages, HELOCs … great loan officers keep borrowers “sticky” by being there with the right products at their point of need. They also proactively educate realtors, builders, and others about these products to advance referral opportunities — which multiply when borrowers rave about their service.

In our industry, the hallmark of great service also includes fastidious attention to every detail. Those loan officers who truly differentiate their companies submit pristine mortgage applications without any holes that could derail or delay a closing. They’re team players who understand that the ripple effects of inattention or neglect matter to the secondary market, too—presenting problems when securitizing or selling the servicing rights to a loan.
 
Indeed, the loan officers who sit at the table, ready to help — bolstered by diverse services, technology, an obsession with detail, and a long-term investment in every borrower’s dreams — are growth-oriented CEOs’ closest allies.


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