Two credit unions with assets of less than $300 million have found that smaller size need not preclude them from having strong mortgage programs.
The credit unions, headquartered in Ohio, are clients of myCUmortgage, a mortgage origination CUSO owned by the $1.9 billion Wright-Patt Credit Union, headquartered in Fairborn, Ohio. MyCUmortgage has recognized each of them for their mortgage accomplishments.
The CUSO recognized the $243 million DESCO Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Portsmouth for being the best mortgage originator for credit unions of its asset class and for "exhibiting the most collaborative approach to working with myCUmortgage." It recognized the $31 million PEF Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Highland Heights, as the most improved mortgage originator for credit unions of its asset class.
It was DESCO's fourth year winning recognition for leading credit unions in its asset class in mortgage origination, a fact which Tim Muffley, mortgage lending manager for DESCO attributed at least in part to credit union CEO Lee Powell.
"Our CEO Lee Powell has had this vision that he wanted our mortgages to be the front door of our credit union," Muffley said. This in effect means that DESCO downplayed the more frequent model that often has people establish relationships with the credit union first through a savings or checking account and adopted a model where more people become members because of the CU's mortgage offerings and then get introduced to other DESCO products and services through cross selling. "We believe that a mortgage is an anchoring relationship," Muffley said.
The credit union started life in 1963 as the employee credit union for a now defunct steel mill. In the intervening years, the credit union adopted a community charter and added communities through mergers in nearby communities in Kentucky and West Virginia.
Through the end of October, Muffley said the CU had originated roughly $46 million in new mortgage loans.
The impact of the sustained mortgage effort year over year has been to make the credit union synonymous with mortgage lending in the community, Muffley explained. "It's in all our advertising, in our spots on the radio, emphasizing people to come in and see us about getting a better mortgage loan," Muffley said. "It's something of our signature."
But even with as high a mortgage profile as the credit union has, Muffley said he still comes across people new to the communities the CU serves who don't know that DESCO offers mortgages or that a CU would make mortgage loans. But Muffley also said this was much better than four years ago when he first came to the CU after having been a mortgage originator for community and regional banks.
"Back then, our mortgage program was like our best kept secret," Muffley said. "I was always running into people who didn't know we offered mortgages."
Muffley said the credit union's mortgage program really began to take off after it hired myCUmortgage, both because of the efficiency the CUSO brought to the mortgage process but also because it provided access to the secondary-mortgage market and allowed DESCO to start selling loans. Prior to myCUmortgage, DESCO had limited its mortgage lending to mortgages it would hold on its books, effectively limiting it to mostly 15-year term loans.
In addition, drawing on his previous experience with mortgage origination for banks, Muffley went about helping the credit union adopt some of the same tactics such as seeking out and cultivating relationships with local Realtors, an effort that includes making sure that loan applications are processed in a timely way and making sure that someone from the CU attends real estate firms' sales meetings.
He said that this year's low interest rates had tilted the credit union's mortgage business into more refinances but said that the credit union had begun seeing more of its members seeking purchase money loans for some of the bank-owned or distressed units in the area.
Muffley is optimistic about the continuing growth in the CUs mortgage market, noting that the housing markets in its three local communities have not experienced the wild swings in value that have beset other housing markets and have kept the credit union from having to foreclose on even one property.
The $31 million PEF Federal Credit Union saw its mortgage program take off thanks to a word of mouth campaign among the credit union's members, according to PEF CEO Russ Fisher. Fisher recounted how the credit union worked hard to cut its mortgage interest rates as much as possible and then watched how its members went home to their neighborhoods and told their neighbors about them.
"Soon, we had people coming in saying that their neighbors or their friends or their coworkers had gotten a great mortgage deal from us and asking if we can give them one, too, Fisher said. "That's what largely fueled our growth."
Fisher indicated that his only regret was that the CU had not started earlier. "For a time after we switched to a community charter, we were still the best kept secret in our community of eastern Cuyahoga County," Fisher said. "We expect that to keep on changing," he added.