Laura Fellman is senior vice president of operations for
Churchill Mortgage, a full-service and financially sound
leader in the mortgage industry. The company provides conventional, FHA, VA and USDA residential mortgages across
44 states. For more information about Churchill Mortgage,
visit churchillmortgage.com or follow the company
on Twitter @ChurchillMtg and Facebook at
facebook.com/churchillmortgage. Reach Fellman at
Operations Keeps the Ball Rolling
Strong processors are critical to a healthy referral and repeat-business pipeline
By Laura Fellman
Ask a group of CEOs who the most valuable mployees are in their mortgage offices and, more than likely, most will say it’s the mortgage originators, which makes perfect sense. Originators are highly trained sales professionals and are, typically, the first and last individuals
to interact with any given borrower — at least within
a single transaction.
What about repeat customers who come back
because of the way their initial loan was processed,
however? When referral and repeat business comes
into a lender’s office, many times it’s the operations
team that played a significant role in cultivating that
relationship. They are the ones who make the dream
of homeownership that Realtors and originators sell to
borrowers a reality.
Originators in the best companies benefit from the
support of a great operations department made up of
people who are trained to make good on the promises
made to borrowers. Together, the originators and
operations team arguably are most responsible for
sustained growth in any lending enterprise.
Compared to other business sectors, the mortgage
industry is fairly straightforward. Lenders are in the
business of financing homes and providing families
with a pathway toward homeownership — fulfilling
the “American Dream.”
Real estate agents and mortgage originators have
made a living selling this idea to borrowers, and bor-
rowers have bought into the dream. They understand
the value of owning a home and the long-term ben-
efits that provides, but they need originators and
lenders to help make it happen. The originator is the
gateway to the financing that will make a new home
achievable. The level of integration and cooperation
between the mortgage originator and the operations
staff, however, is often the deciding factor in achieving
success for the borrowers.
From the operations team’s perspective, mortgage
originators and underwriters are customers. The operations team is tasked with ensuring that those working to fulfill the promise of the loan application have
what they need to deliver excellent service and keep
the loan moving smoothly toward the closing table.
Lenders and originators should embrace this approach.
As a loan file moves through the process, the operations team should treat each person they interact
with as a customer. This humanizes the process. It’s no
longer just about a loan file, a stack of paper or a specific transaction. It’s about a relationship.
The power of commitment
In today’s market, there is pressure on companies to
automate systems and processes, to remove as many
human touches as possible, and to keep the focus on
speed of delivery and maximizing profits. It’s a transactional approach to lending. While it works well for
some organizations, the benefits tend to come at
the cost of a good borrower experience. This is not a
recipe that leads to repeat or referral business.
A lender’s approach to its business is often revealed
within its explanation of services (EOS). Every operations team has an EOS, which describes what they
believe, why they believe it, what they are tasked with
accomplishing and what they stand for.
A closing department, for example, may adopt a
goal that calls for every mortgage to close on time,
without exception. The department’s EOS will go into
granular detail about why and how this goal matters.
As a result, the operations staff has a very clear understanding of what is expected of them and how they
serve the mission of the company.
The operations department also may view its activities as being a key driver of referrals for the company,
a belief that also should be reflected in its EOS. This
vision also should be shared with originators to give
them the confidence and trust to seek out new or
That referral business will only materialize, however,
if borrowers go through the origination process and
come out the other side feeling that they have had
an exceptional, positive experience. When originators
know that their borrowers are not being treated
as “one-off” transactions by the operations team,
they have the confidence to form more productive,
So what can lenders and mortgage originators do to
ensure that their operations department is supporting repeat business and referrals? First, leverage the
power of the EOS. It’s an effective tool that a department can use to concretely define its role and impact
within the company.
Second, everyone working at the company must
understand the customers they serve, whether that is
an internal or external customer, or both. Companies
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