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The key to closing more commercial loans

Apr 25, 2007

Getting to know ... Ramaj L. Balley, senior vice president, First Magnus Financial CorporationMortgagepress.comkey elements of success, motivation, training, customer relationships, broker-centric philosophy Ramaj L. Balley is senior vice president of First Magnus Financial Corporation's Southeast Division. He was born in Brawley, Calif. One of eight children, he was the first member of his family to earn a college degree. Balley graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BSBA in finance. Upon graduation, he joined General Dynamics. Prior to joining First Magnus Financial Corporation in 1999, he served as a branch manager with Countrywide Financial Corporation. Balley's background includes more than 14 years in mortgage banking, holding various management positions. He participated in creating Southeast Region of First Magnus Financial Corporation. Balley is an active member in the Lake Travis Youth Association as a Youth Sports Executive member and coach. He is treasurer of the Lake Travis Educational Foundation, is a Lake Travis Youth Soccer Association Soccer Commissioner, is a teacher at St. Michael's Sunday School and sits on the Lake Travis Middle School Advisory Board. Balley has three children - Jacob, Kaylin and Nick - with his wife, Meredith, with whom he will soon celebrate 20 years of marriage. The Mortgage Press: First Magnus Financial Corporation is one of the largest privately-held mortgage bankers in the United States, has branch offices across the nation and ranks among the top lenders in the country. What do you see as the key elements of First Magnus' success? Ramaj L. Balley: First and foremost, the most integral ingredient to our success is our people. We have a group of highly motivated mortgage banking professionals who love the company they work for and the environment they work in. This is a direct result of the First Magnus leadership team pushing the power to the people in each particular market, allowing decisions to be made at the frontline. This includes giving our regional managers the ability to properly staff their branch operations so that we can consistently provide the best service levels in the industry. This is part of our deliberate act of putting our clients at the "top of the org chart." TMP: Aside from being a privately held company, what distinguishes First Magnus from its competitors? RB: First Magnus is different than its competitors because we provide the ideal mortgage solution, balancing a broad product offering with an innovative technology platform that is intuitive and broker friendly. In addition, First Magnus provides a family-like environment and culture where professional development and employee retention is a priority, especially considering the industry's reputation for high turnover. This is clearly one of our keys to success. At First Magnus, we look for mortgage professionals who are looking for their last job, not their next one. This approach has led to more consistency in branch staffing and, consequently, more consistent execution in the branch. We realize our broker clients prefer dealing with familiar faces. We also understand the need for our broker clients to set expectations for their referral sources. This requires consistent execution on our part. Consistency in staff equals consistency in execution. TMP: Can you tell us about how First Magnus trains its staff? Is training mandatory for all employees? RB: We view our employees as our number one asset. Reinvesting in the growth and development of our staff is one of our core values. This investment begins with training. We offer specialized training for every position in our office: From account executives, regional sales managers and regional managers, to underwriters and closers. We also offer leadership training to any employee who leads a team. This training focuses on leadership strategies, conflict resolution, time management, human resources, business communications and motivational strategies. TMP: How does First Magnus manage its customer relationships? Does the company have specific policies in place regarding customer relationship management (i.e., Argent's "no voicemail" policy)? RB: We take a team approach to managing our client relationships. Our account executives are the hardest working in the industry. They are responsible for providing product, pricing and technological expertise, which empowers our brokers to utilize our mortgage solution platform, allowing our broker clients to function as much on their own as possible. The account executive is a powerful resource, providing vast product knowledge to loan scenarios, allowing for proper placement in programs that ensure approvals once the loan is submitted to underwriting. Now, here is the difference-maker that lends itself to the team approach. The account manager position in the branch is really a partnership between the account executive, account manager and the client. The account manager handles the internal functions that surround the loan file. The account manager provides file status, pricing and product information, and expedition of the loan files through the pipeline all the way to funding. Essentially, the account manager is the inside liaison and is crucial to providing communication to our broker clients. Additionally, we allow brokers access to our underwriting staff to drill down on underwriting scenarios or to discuss specifics for a loan that is in the underwriting process. Finally, we expect every member of the branch team to adhere to exceptional customer service standards. TMP: Would you say that First Magnus has a broker-centric philosophy? Can you be specific about how First Magnus operates in a broker-centric fashion? RB: "Broker-centric" means serving our client, the mortgage broker. Because we rely so heavily on the service component of our business, by virtue of this focus, our branch production centers are adequately staffed to serve our broker clients. We often will operate below the industry standard in terms of the branch operations staff headcount in relation to volume, but as a privately held corporation, we are at liberty to make this business decision, which allows us to continue to provide consistently better service. A publicly traded company will oftentimes have to reduce headcount to ensure a reasonable return to shareholders. This can lead to a short-term outlook that is counter to the needs of our broker clients. We are not bound to these requirements; therefore, we can afford to weather a storm and keep our people on staff, knowing that seasonal ebbs and flows often provide for volume levels that justify headcount.
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