MORTGAGE TEAMS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL.
For more than 20 years, National Mortgage News’ annual Top Producers list has ranked 400 of the nation’s top mortgage originators according to loan volume. These elite loan officers and brokers close a staggering number of loans each year, with members of the top quartile each originating more than $90 million annually.
As part of its Top Producers coverage, National Mortgage News asks loan officers and brokers to share the techniques and best practices that enable their success. While the responses offer helpful guidance for aspiring top producers, generating exceptional loan volume takes much more than an LO’s individual effort. Top producers are supported by teams of dedicated assistants, processors and underwriters. In fact, when National Mortgage News asked top producers to rate the factors most important to their career satisfaction, they ranked the abilities of their support staff and underwriting departments above all other factors, including base salary and whether they have an ownership stake in their company.
So we wanted to know: what makes a superstar loan team?
STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
We engaged an independent market research firm to conduct in-depth interviews with dozens of top-performing loan teams. Our sample included depositories, nonbanks and mortgage brokerage firms from across the nation. To get the full scoop, we spoke with not just loan officers, but a range of production team members as well as operations managers and asked them for the secrets to their success.
Here’s what we learned about top-producing teams.
1. THEY MANAGE TIME WISELY.
High-producing loan teams, by definition, do more deals than their peers. That means that any given month, top loan officers bring in more leads — and top processors and underwriters handle more loan files — than their lower-performing counterparts.
Time management is a key enabler of this hyperproductivity. To spend more time actively selling, loan officers must take other tasks off their plates. Fulfillment personnel, in turn, must work with extreme focus and efficiency.
Here are some tactics that our research participants, all top producers within their organizations, use to better manage their time:
- Prioritization: They invest the lion’s share of their time on the tasks that will produce the most immediate results (the 80/20 principle).
- Delegation: They are comfortable delegating tasks that can be more efficiently completed by others.
- Automation: They lead their peers in adopting tools and technologies that automate the most tedious and error-prone parts of mortgage origination, processing, underwriting and closing, allowing them to focus on what they do best.
- Organization: They like order and structure (some even call themselves “OCD”).
I keep a very organized calendar and set myself follow-up reminders. I also use automation tools to cut my review times down. For me, managing time doesn’t mean multitasking. When I’m speaking with clients, I give them 100% of my focus. Inattention can lead to errors that waste everybody’s time.”
— Kaylee L., Producing Loan Officer Assistant
2. THEY ACT AS EDUCATORS.
For mortgage professionals who churn through dozens of loans every month, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that home loans are one of the most significant financial decisions a consumer can make — and one that most know very little about. This phenomenon, called familiarity blindness, occurs in many professions. When experts mistakenly assume their customers understand a complex process, misunderstandings are the inevitable result.
Unfortunately, misunderstandings in mortgage origination have a tendency to drive up loan production costs, delay closings and increase loan attrition. Even when loans do close on time, frustrations along the way can leave a bad taste in borrowers’ mouths and negatively impact the likelihood of repeat or referral business.
To combat familiarity blindness, members of top loan teams often think of themselves as teachers who have a responsibility to educate borrowers and colleagues. While several of our research participants worked as coaches or educators in the past, even those with no background in education said they benefit from approaching the mortgage transaction with a teacher’s mentality. They identified three specific reasons the extra effort pays off:
- They get more leads. Educating the public is a great strategy for building a personal brand and earning more business.
- They close more deals. Taking the time to educate borrowers along the way eliminates misunderstandings and fosters trust, which helps teams see more loans to the finish line.
- They make their teams better. When top performers share their knowledge and best practices with other team members, they help the entire office work more efficiently.
I used to be a teacher, so I really enjoy showing others how to work smarter, not harder. When I ask borrowers to try something new that will streamline the loan process, I get very little pushback compared to my teammates.”
— Dana V., Mortgage Loan Consultant
3. THEY EMBRACE CHANGE.
According to National Mortgage News, 83% of top-performing loan officers think digital mortgage technology is important to their operations’ growth. Nearly all the top performers we spoke with agreed, describing themselves as early and enthusiastic adopters of processes and technologies that automate and streamline the most tedious and error-prone parts of the mortgage transaction.
Naturally, this made us wonder: why do top loan teams accept change more readily than their peers? As it turns out, high-performing loan teams have no special immunity to the discomfort that accompanies change. On the contrary, the mortgage professionals we spoke with described going through the same growing pains we all experience when altering an established routine.
What top loan teams do have, however, is a laser-like focus on results. They are constantly looking for ways to “perfect the process” and want to be among the first to experience the benefits of tools that claim to convert more leads, reduce friction in the mortgage process or compress origination timelines. These technologies can give loan teams a competitive edge by enabling them to handle more loans without adding personnel.
While change management approaches vary from one organization to the next, a few tactics surfaced repeatedly in our conversations with top performers:
- Set performance goals around the adoption of new processes and technologies
- Measure results frequently and report progress companywide
- Hold team members accountableHold team members accountable with real consequences for success and failure
From automated asset verification to electronic signatures, we are on the cutting edge of technology. Every time I turn around, we’re implementing a new technology to make the process more streamlined for our borrowers and less of a hassle for us.”
— Jash C., Associate VP of Mortgage Lending
4. THEY’RE CREATIVE.
It’s often said that no two loan teams work the same way, but top-producing loan teams bring even more creativity than usual to the origination process.
Evidence suggests that top-performer creativity may be the product of both nature and nurture. Innate qualities like inquisitiveness and problem-solving affinity appear with great frequency among top performers. However, top performers also enjoy a great deal of career mobility — so some of their creativity may stem from exposure to a variety of business models and approaches to lending.
Our interview subjects shared many examples of how they apply creativity to their advantage. Consider the following ideas:
- Marketing: Could your approach to prospecting use a dose of innovation? Follow top performers on social media for daily inspiration.
- Structuring Loans: Devise brainstorming scenarios that challenge your team to structure a winning deal for borrowers who don’t seem to qualify at first blush.
- Workflow: Experiment with different ways of optimizing your workflow. Does moving a step earlier in the process create efficiencies downstream? Is there a step you could move from your borrower’s plate to your own, or vice versa?
- Technology Adoption: If you’re having trouble getting borrowers or colleagues to use digital mortgage technology, try mixing up your pitch. Do people respond better when you ask permission, or when you tell them this is the way it’s done?
We just do things a little differently here from other mortgage companies.”
— Samantha D., Production Partner
5. THEY CHEERLEAD.
Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Celebrating accomplishments early and often helps top performers keep their teams motivated and reinforces internal initiatives, especially among those who need to “see it to believe it.” Here are some ideas for creating meaningful celebrations that will fuel your team’s success:
- Be specific. A good success story follows this basic formula: “Way to go, [individual or group]. Because of your [action], [result].”
- Spread the news. Share success stories with as wide an audience as possible and appropriate. Consider sending out a companywide email, posting on social media or simply setting aside a few minutes at the beginning of each team meeting to recognize a job well done.
- Make it personal. Ask your team members how they’d like to be recognized for a job well done.
Sharing success stories is probably the biggest thing that works for motivating team members. You can push an initiative all day long, but without actual, real-life stories and examples, people won’t pick it up.”
— Brandt A., Processor/Loan Officer Assistant 8