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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.