Seeing A Different Opportunity

Overcome the challenges of transitioning between lending sectors

Erica Drzewiecki
Desmond Smith
Desmond Smith, chief growth officer, UWM

Entering the wholesale sector at UWM was “eye-opening” for this industry veteran.

“When you’ve been around a long time you have your belief system,” Smith says. “My belief was always, retail’s better, nobody should go to a broker … most of that was things you heard pre-crisis days.”

There is a general consensus among retail mortgage lenders that the wholesale jump does not offer a support net.

“That’s absolutely not true,” Smith argues, pointing to UWM’s technology, marketing and success track classes. “Wholesale is a much better place for an LO who is committed to this as a profession. That’s why you’re seeing the wholesale channel continue to grow.”

Sometimes the “right” way one has learned and mastered isn’t the way one’s new boss likes it. Other times, a specific type of lender’s general principles and best practices are deeply different from those of another type.

“Most of it is misconceptions,” Smith says of navigating this. “If you’ve been doing something a long time, you believe that is the only way to do it. Be open, do your research,” he encourages. “Don’t go off of what you heard or what you believe from 10 years ago. Things have greatly changed. If you’ve only ever done one thing that’s going to be what you know, but the reality is a lot of times that the facts are different.”

View From The Top

In an interview with NMP’s ‘The Interest’ anchor Katie Jensen following the Broker Brawl at Originator Connect 2023, NEXA Mortgage CEO Mike Kortas briefly touched upon helping LOs transition from retail to wholesale.

“There are a lot of unexpected challenges,” Kortas said. “When somebody comes over from retail they’re going to need 90 to 120 days to get their broker legs under them. They’re coming from one login; now they have 200 logins. That’s 200 ways to submit a loan.”

Desmond Smith, chief growth officer, UWM

At one time among the top 1% of LOs nationwide, Kortas surrendered his own portfolio to build NEXA. “Ninety-nine percent of broker-owners are their company’s top producers. I don’t originate against my LOs anymore,” he said. “That was a painful day to give up that income, but I decided to build the best mortgage brokerage and not be the best loan officer.”

Support for retail-seasoned LOs getting their feet wet in the wholesale space is “huge,” Kortas added. “You have an FHA loan and I have 70-some lenders who do it, so who do you choose? They’re like deer in headlights.”

A Recruiter’s Perspective

Tony Caico began his mortgage career in 1997 with IndyMac Bank,where he rose to the management level before building and managing teams at the Royal Bank of Canada and Citigroup. After serving as an executive recruiter for Corporate Management Advisors for a few years, Caico founded the Affinity Five Search Group in 2017. Recruiting for banks and non banks, he’s had a first row seat to changes in leadership across the mortgage industry.

Tony Caico
Tony Caico, owner/founder, Affinity Five Search Group

“There’s been a lot of movement I’ve seen over the last 26 years. I think the mortgage business offers a lot of opportunities for people to transition to different sectors. I like to fashion myself as a career shepherd for people going though these things because I’ve gone through them,” Caico says. “Not only do the opportunities change — in many cases people’s skill sets change. Fortunately, the mortgage business affords a lot of that transition as long as your timing is right and you are willing to learn different things.”

Over the last six months Caico has switched gears himself, to accommodate the changing landscape of the financial sector. When the road is impassable, find another route.

“I was primarily doing mortgage executive work in the space but as margins shrunk a lot of those requests to fill jobs faded for me,” he explains. “So I transitioned back into production recruiting just to keep doing deals.”

When Caico receives a job description from a company, he looks to match candidates’ experience with the responsibilities it entails.

“Usually when you become a subject matter expert in one thing you want to stay in that realm. In the case of top executives, a lot of their skills are transferable,” he says. “I’ve seen successful executives go from mortgage lending to vendor to title to offshore support of the mortgage business.”

While salespeople can move around fairly easily, those in loan manufacturing tend to stay put.

“I’ve always found it best to stay in the lane of expertise from a loan manufacturing perspective because then you become an expert,” Caico says. “One could start as a processor and move into being a junior underwriter, then transition to an underwriter. There’s always a career path.”

Tony Caico, owner/founder, Affinity Five Search Group

Strong communication skills are vital to any career movement in any industry. Ask the right questions and be open to the answers that come.

“If you’re a mortgage career person and you know the business, in the end it’s mostly about putting consumers in a home,” Caico says. “I think our business offers a lot of flexibility.”

He knows as well as any longtime mortgage pro that markets are cyclical. What goes up will indeed, come down.

“The mortgage business always expands and contracts,” he says. “It will always come back; there’s always going to be jobs in the mortgage business, hang in there.”

Many of those who have lost their positions in recent times were executives and operations folks, according to Caico, who encourages those coming from the operations end to hone in on their sales skills, and for executives to consider their capacity to offer consulting services.


Forcing a new recruit to perform dangerous or humiliating tasks is not limited to Greek life on college campuses. In fact, 39% of employed Americans say they have suffered abusive conduct at work, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Complaints aren’t easy to collect when the market is challenging and jobs are at stake. However, there have been some well-publicized cases.

More than two dozen employees of United Wholesale Mortgage made allegations of bullying and harassment earlier this year. A report alleged drug use, discrimination, and unwanted sexual behavior at the company, which denied the claims.

Duration of employment was not cited as a factor in this case.

Two former UWM employees are suing the company, alleging retaliation, sexual harassment, and other violations. The National Labor Relations Board is handling the case.

“Most are amenable to people transitioning,” Caico says of mortgage companies. “I have not seen any hazing, but there are different levels of morality in people. I think if people stay true to themselves and their values they’re not going to have any issues. Most people are welcoming if they believe your skill set is valuable to the company.”

Learning Is Part Of The Curve

Most of the medium to large companies offer training programs and professional development to employees.

NEXA puts its recruits through an academy program. Those that move forward go on to take three separate onboarding classes. E Mortgage Capital has a mandatory eight-hour session for all of its new LOs. UWM dedicates the first week to training and cultural immersion.

“What we’ve been trying to ensure is that folks know there are so many resources out there for them,” Smith says. “We have folks here who are ready and willing and able to help them join a mortgage brokerage or start their own.”

Jargon and practices vary among each type of lending sector, and the acronyms are extensive in this industry.

“There’s a lot of intricacies to the mortgage business so there are learning curves regarding each individual position,” Caico says. “Depending on the skill set you have, there are some really great training programs out there.”

Going from selling reverse to first mortgages has its trials, while entering the Non-QM space from conventional retail offers its own set of challenges.

“If you did reverse mortgages and then become a mortgage broker who is going to do traditional first mortgages, the reality is you’re still working with consumers, so that ability to converse and build relationships and get referrals is the same,” Smith points out. “It’s just your options are different. Being an independent mortgage broker versus being in a captive retail environment you have so many more options to help that consumer.”

Sometimes one has the choice of which channel to enter, other times it’s where the jobs are.

“The key is to do your own research and then make your own decisions. Don’t go off of what you may believe or what you thought you knew.”

Erica Drzewiecki
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine November 2023 issue.
Published on
Nov 02, 2023
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