Getting to Know ... MBA Chair-Elect Rob M. CouchEric C. PeckMortgage Bankers Association, Rob Couch, New South Federal Savings Bank Over the next few months, The Mortgage Press would like to get to better-know you, the mortgage professional. Through this and future pieces, we hope to shed some light on the movers and shakers of the mortgage industry, from both business and personal perspectives. We want to show that the mortgage industry is not all power meetings and closings, but also an industry filled with interesting individuals who have an interest in more than just interest rates, in this most interesting time to be known as a mortgage professional. In this first installment of "Getting to Know ...," we'd like to introduce you to Rob M. Couch, CMB. Rob is currently Chair-Elect of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, and in his free time, serves as president and chief executive officer of New South Federal Savings Bank, and managing director of Collateral Mortgage Ltd., both of which are based in Birmingham, Ala. As Rob prepares to jump into his role as MBA Chair this October, (as the MBA's 90th Annual Convention and Expo kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 19 in San Diego, to be exact), we thought we'd take this opportunity to speak with him before we are just another long-distance call on his cell phone. We caught up with Rob at New South's headquarters in Birmingham, as he had recently returned to the office from a redeye flight from Omaha. And In the Beginning ... Could Texarkana be the breeding grounds for leadership? Located on the border of Arkansas and Texas, Robs hometown is composed of two cities with the same name, connected only by a state line which runs through the center of the town. On the Texas side of town, a tycoon named Ross Perot began his life; just 20 miles away, in Hope, Ark., former U.S. President Bill Clinton was born. In the beginning, Rob Couch was just another college graduate, looking to take that final leap into the world and pursue a career path. With a bachelors degree in business administration (with a concentration in accounting), and a juris doctorate degree from Washington & Lee University in tow, he headed off to begin work as a judicial clerk. Bouncing around the south, he spent time working in Dallas, Atlanta and New Orleans, serving as a clerk for former Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. and the Honorable John M. Wisdom. After practicing law for a few years, he signed on with one of his clients to become general counsel and chief financial officer of Birmingham, Ala.-based First Commercial Bancshares. Then, when First Commercial was sold in the early 1990s, Rob joined 70-plus year-old Collateral Mortgage Ltd., serving as the companys executive vice president. In an uncommon business twist, New South Federal Savings Bank served as a subsidiary of Collateral Mortgage, and in addition to his EVP role with Collateral, Rob also served as New Souths vice chairman. In 1997, we took Collaterals branch network and servicing operations and folded them into New South, explained Couch. He quickly moved onto his current role as president and CEO of New South, as Collateral began to concentrate more on the commercial side of the mortgage arena, and his successor, Dave Robs, was brought in to serve as Collaterals president and CEO. The State of Affairs As we all linger in the pre-HUD RESPA reform era (slated for the spring), questions loom and doubt lingers as a rash of legislative and regulatory concerns fill the headlines. As the timeline currently dictates, Rob Couch will step in as MBA Chair in late fall, just as the dust begins to settle. Whenever new rules and regulations come out, there is always an adjustment period, noted Couch. But at the end of the day, [the mortgage industry] willas we always haveadjust and survive. The question for me, however, is whether the borrowing public will be better off? A good example of his concern lies in North Carolinas predatory lending law. Shutting out low- to moderate-income customer options by shutting out those mortgage professionals who can serve them is not a solution, but rather the genesis of a new problem. The segments of the borrowing public that we need to penetratethe low- to moderate-income and minority borrowersare the most difficult to serve, added Couch. The fact is, in order to make progress on increasing the homeownership rate, we need to become more creative in terms of how we serve those segments. Hopefully, the recent introduction of the federal predatory lending initiative by Reps. Bob Ney (OH) and Ken Lucas (KY), dubbed the Responsible Lending Act of 2003, will put an end to the state and local regulations that have hit the floors of state legislatures nationwide. Take Georgia, for example. On a seemingly daily basis, more and more national lenders are leaving the Peach State, in an attempt to avoid the legal nuances and intricacies of the recently-enacted Georgia Fair Lending Act. It is the lenders who serve the low- to moderate-income borrowers who are pulling out of states like Georgia, said Couch. The folks who qualify for conventional and conforming loans will continue to be served in fine fashion. In addressing the issue of abusive lending practices, both the MBA and the National Association of Mortgage Brokers contend that consumer education is the key to stamping out the pestilence of predatory lending. As Rob explained, the MBA has a three-pronged initiative: (1) Simplify the mortgage process, (2) enforce existing laws and (3) educate the public on the home buying process. MBA has started a program called Stop Mortgage Fraud, which consists of a brochure printed in both Spanish and English, clearly spelling out a borrowers bill of rights and detailing the 10 signs to look for when spotting an unscrupulous lender, explained Couch. The brochure also lists the proper state authorities who regulate the industry so, if a borrower suspects they are being preyed upon, they can report the lender to the appropriate agency. This is just another tool available for the consumer to do the necessary research when shopping for a loan. The brochure can be obtained by calling (800) 348-3931 or by visiting www.stopmortgagefraud.com. Restocking the Pipeline Even as mortgage professionals bask in the glow of this seemingly never-ending refi boom, they must begin bracing for impactlike a wise man once said, All good things must come to an end. That end was supposed to be now, but has yet to occur. Hopefully, Mortgage Brokers and loan officers have not been relying entirely on refis for their business, stated Couch. Hopefully, theyve tended to their referral network during this refi period. We stress to [New South Federals] loan officers that there will be a time of outgoing , not incoming, calls. Its the same blocking and tackling that the mortgage industry has had to rely upon in every cycle. The Paperless Transaction: More Than Just Saving Trees As technology becomes as commonplace to everyday living as breathing, has the mortgage industry reached an apex in the technological arena? Could we survive without cell phones and e-mail? Can we even remember how business was conducted in the pre-Internet era? With the quick evolution and even quicker demise of Internet start-ups earlier this decade, has Americas consumer embraced the online mortgage transaction? Does the public feel comfortable in entering personal data on a Web site and receiving pre-approval/rejection just minutes later? Are the servers secure enough? While certain aspects of an online mortgage process can aid consumers, a majority of Americans still choose Mortgage Brokers as their primary contact when buying or refinancing a home. The virtual flea market that is the Internet allows the consumer to shop, compare, haggle and negotiate, in or out of pajamas, at 3:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m. At the MBA, we have a dream that someone will be able to go online at 11:00 p.m. in the comfort of their own home; apply for a loan with their lender; have the application transmitted electronically and have it underwritten through an automated underwriting system; have the docs created and signed electronically; have the loan boarded onto the servicing system and have the necessary files forwarded onto the recording agency, explained Couch. Throughout the process, there is not a single piece of paperan entirely paperless transaction. However, the technological hurdles in linking together different companies handling different aspects of a mortgage transaction, which in turn, use different programs with different platforms seem to be endless. Its not a simple plug and play process, as different platforms cross with versions 1.0, 2.0 and 5.0 of certain programs, and a virtual war is waged between codecs, as XTML clashes with DOS and Windows XP. To that end, the MBA is looking for standardization, and have made great strides through the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO) to making the paperless transaction a clearer reality. Through the MBAs work with MISMO, we have created standards and currently have a data dictionary with 3,000-plus distinct data points that are defined and mapped, explained Couch. We have it all planned out, so different participants and software vendors can have a standard to point to when buying a front-end system and want to plug it into a SmartDocs system. Rome wasnt built in a day ... nor will the reality of an entirely paperless mortgage process. The Frequent Flyer Miles, the Frequent Rings of the Cell Phone And as that fine October day approachesRob Couch at the podium of the San Diego Convention Center, the gavel of MBA leadership having passed from MBA 2002-2003 Chair John A. Courson in-handhe can be sure that the backing of his family and the staff of New South Federal Savings Bank will strengthen his term as MBA figurehead. My family has been very supportive of my decision to accept this role, noted Couch, adding jokingly, If you talk to them this time next year, however, they may have a different opinion. My two daughters know much more about the mortgage industry than their peers. Theyve heard me practicing my speeches enough time to have easily picked up on it. Besides being away from the family, the position of MBA Chair will require Rob Couch to make a litany of appearances at local MBA meetings and black-tie dinners nationwide. And as the dry cleaning bills rise, the time spent out of the office will accumulate alongside the frequent flyer miles and calls to room service. However, Rob M. Couch has no fear that the strong backbone known as the support staff of New South will conduct business as usual in his absence. I am fortunate enough to have a team in place at New South who will continue to flourish over the next year, even though most of my communication will take place via long-distance phone lines and e-mail, said Couch. One of the things that has helped me is a wireless PC that I carry with me virtually everywhere. When I was returning from Omaha, I checked my e-mail at 10:30 p.m., while I waited for the plane to take off. You couldnt do that just two years ago. And with cellular technology, I can be reached as easily in Birmingham as I could in Omaha. Blessed with a supportive family and an equally supportive staff at New Souths Birmingham officea successful thrift offering everything from personal loans to car loans to mortgage loansRob Couch will lead a decades-old volunteer organization into the uncharted waters of the post-RESPA Rule era and a landmark time in the history of the mortgage industry.