Credit unions in some parts of the country are facing a severe drop in the availability of housing finance professionals and have begun to train and promote from within to meet their mortgage lending needs, according to credit union executives and consultants.
“The fact is, [mortgage lending] has become a more highly specialized field and the people who are knowledgeable about it and have the right skills are often too highly priced for credit unions to get,” explained Alissa Sykes, director of mortgage lending at the $374 million, 45,000-member Sunmark Federal Credit Union in Latham, N.Y.
Sunmark has a strong housing finance program that Sykes explained has gone from booking $5 million in housing finance loans in 2006 to booking more than $220 million in 2012 with additional growth expected this year.
But even with all that success and staff (housing finance takes up 25 of the credit union’s 175 employees), Sykes said the credit union recently decided to begin relying on training in-house talent for its new staff because hiring from outside the credit union has become simply too expensive.
“These days a person with the sorts of skills that are going to attract us can almost write their own ticket, and that is usually too expensive for us,” Sykes said, “but often a larger bank with greater resources are able to meet their pay requirements.”
Tracy Ashfield, president of the Ashfield and Associates consultancy in Madison, Wis., said she largely agreed with Sykes that staffing can be a challenge, but observed that the phenomenon was not uniform across the country.
“I would call this a primarily regional challenge,” Ashfield said. “Some parts of the country are almost seeing a drought in skilled mortgage staff while others areas are nowhere near as bad.”
She recalled the circumstance of a credit union client that she declined to name that faces a similar problem. As a leading financial institution in its community, the credit union wanted to further expand its housing finance program but had discovered that doing so from outside would be very expensive.
Professionals who had the sorts of skills the credit union wanted were not as inclined to move into the community or make a relatively long commute, Ashfield explained. The credit union had opted instead to train and promote from within.
Robert McKay, CEO of the 166,000-member, $1.7 billion BCU in suburban Chicago also agreed that finding or training staff to have the right skills would be one of the biggest hurdles all credit unions which offer housing finance loans will face whenever the current wave of refinancing subsides.
Baxter booked $454 million in fixed rate housing finance loans in 2012, according to NCUA records.
“We really have been nursing along on the refi boom and that is going to come to an end eventually,” McKay observed. “Then we will face a test of whether we can continue the pace on purchase loans and not just refinances.”
To make that shift, credit unions will need a supply of trained housing finance staff in place, McKay said, adding that it’s unclear that many have yet begun the necessary training or hiring.