In today’s challenging economy, it’s more important than ever for mortgage professionals to make the right decision when deciding on a potential branch partner. The choice will have a long-lasting impact on your business and reputation. There are wide variations among branches and the people who run them, of course.
I have found that the best approach is to look at this like a dating relationship. There are some attractive things about the company that caught your eye in the first place, and that’s enough to begin a dialogue. But the real test comes in those first few encounters. A real comfort level must be established early on, and backed up with proof that this company will meet most or all of your needs. Only then can things be taken to the next level.
This idea of dating implies that it’s a two-way street—and nothing else will do. Here are some things to look for when sizing up a potential branch partner.
Size of company
Every company is a different size, for better or for worse. I’ve worked for both big and small firms. In a small company (say, less than 25 employees total), the atmosphere is typically more tight-knit, and there’s more hands-on involvement from those in charge. That can be good, from a mentoring perspective, or bad, if they’re meddlesome and don’t allow you to simply do your job.
On the flip side, a larger or nationwide company will have access to more resources and business opportunities for mortgage professionals. But company leadership will be more remote, and they may not know about (or care about) your local market. There may also be issues with trying to serve too many branches.
One good thing about a larger company is that there are more people for sharing ideas on how to succeed. You’ll likely learn things you hadn’t thought of before. Find the company that strives to give you the independence you want, while helping you conform to a safe and stable work environment with just the right amount of support.
You should ask if the company is licensed to do business in just one state or in several states. Being open to other states allows you to expand your business, or at the very least, not turn away potential customers. If the company is affiliated with a federal charter bank, that removes some licensing obstacles and can provide the ability to serve customers across the U.S. The past positives of working for companies affiliated with a federal charter bank have been diminished with upcoming implementation of the SAFE Loan Licensing Act, as well as heightened scrutiny from regulators.
The more lenders you have access to, the better. Those who are on their own know that lenders are harder to find, and the pricing isn’t always ideal. Being part of a network helps. If the company has a banking division, you also have more choices. You can close loans with your company directly, or can broker them to wholesale lenders, although the latter option is decreasing over time.
You may also secure access to loans through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA), and USDA Rural Development, as well as reverse mortgages and even commercial and construction loans. Be sure to ask about all the possibilities during the interview process.
If you’re not familiar with working with all these loan types, that’s okay. Good companies can provide training, and in the end, you’ll be able to show your customers you can be a one-stop solution.
Look for support
Part of the benefit of joining a company is the professional support you should receive. Solo practitioners have to do much more than originate loans. They need to manage their finances, information technology needs, accounting, processing, marketing and legal compliance. These headaches can take a lot of time away from focusing on mortgages.
The best companies provide excellent support in these and other areas. Of particular importance these days is compliance. With new laws and changes to laws coming down more frequently, being out of the loop can cost you in terms of money and reputation. Don’t chance it. This is one benefit of larger companies, since they have staff members whose sole job is to think about background checks, staff licensing, file reviews, loan audits and the wording of marketing materials.
Another key area to look at is technology. How committed is the company to the latest and greatest? You’ll want to price loans efficiently and accurately, lock in loans online, and have access to a loan pipeline on your timetable. The most competitive companies make technology a priority. You’ll want to know what, if anything, all these services will cost you personally, as well.
A stable place to work
Everyone knows the mortgage business isn’t exactly stable right now. Companies are coming and going more quickly, while those with the best business reputations are standing their ground. You’ll want a realistic assessment of the company, and this requires pointed questions for your interviewer, as well as due diligence in and around the company.
Your interviewer will probably say the company is doing great! That’s to be expected. The more candid he or she is, the more you can trust the information. While you shouldn’t expect access to sensitive financial information, you should be able to visit a few of their offices and talk with the people who work there. This way you can see what the working atmosphere is like. If they don’t encourage it, that’s a huge red flag.
Even more revealing details can come from business partners, such as title companies or other lenders. Ask your interviewer who these are, but be prepared to make some calls to find out on your own. You can do research to see if they’ve ever been suspended or fined by agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or if they are listed as problematic by the Better Business Bureau.
Expectations on both sides
A tell-tale sign is what they expect from you, personally, during the process. Do they call you immediately after you inquire, and make lots of promises with little substance? Do they only want to talk about your production numbers, and not how you got there? Is there a job offer without an in-person meeting? These could be signs of serious trouble.
The best companies take a more methodical approach, looking at your background, experience (including management roles) as well as your production numbers. The interview process should be a genuine give and take, with each side putting its best foot forward, while being realistic about the potential opportunity.
In the end, look at it this way: You’re not just joining a company, but rather making a career decision. It’s like going from dating to marriage. Initial attraction and interest only go so far. You and your prospective employer need to be completely comfortable with the arrangement, or it won’t work. Remember, you become married to a company’s reputation when you join up.
As in life, there are no guarantees, but if you strive to see the whole picture, you’ll “tie the knot” with more certainty and much less stress.
Joe Ramis is branch recruitment director for Inlanta Mortgage, a mortgage banker since 1993. He can be reached by phone at (262) 513-9853.