Credit unions facing a lack of available and affordable mortgage loan professionals should not look for the staffing challenge to ease anytime soon, according to housing finance executives and consultants.
Although the executives and consultants disagreed slightly in their understanding of the problem’s history, all agreed that its roots rest in the housing finance meltdown of 2007 and the subsequent housing sale slump that has not yet brought back a trained and flexible labor pool in all parts of the country.
“Can we be brutally honest here,” said Joseph Parsons, a founder of PFS Funding, a California mortgage brokerage, “for a time in some parts of the country, all you had to have to get into the mortgage lending business was an ability to fog a mirror. But things aren’t that way anymore, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also means the industry’s barriers to entry have risen.”
Parsons explained that more extensive state licensing requirements combined with federal licensing regulations have meant that many younger people are dissuaded from making the investment necessary to obtain a mortgage originators license. In addition, the additional technical requirements in originating and processing mortgage loans have become, essentially, their own barriers to entry into the industry.
Greg Cook, a senior mortgage broker, also in California, who specializes in first-time home buyers and Veteran Administration loans agreed but noted that the 2007 meltdown not only chased individuals out of the housing finance industry, it also tore down the industry’s training structures that were already somewhat weak.
“The lack of trained professionals in the mortgage industry is basically economic,” Cook wrote in response to a reporter’s query. “Most mortgage companies rely on their branch managers to train. However, those managers are compensated primarily based on personal loan production. Care to guess which gets most of their attention? When business plunged in 2007 structured training programs were among the first casualties. As a result, training today is more firefighting than fire prevention,” he wrote. “Mortgage companies treat training as an event. Hire the loan officer, put them through a fast-track training process and throw them out there.[But] training is an ongoing process.”
Tracy Ashfield, founder of Ashfield & Associates, a housing finance consultancy that works with credit unions, emphasized she didn’t have any data about why there are relatively few mortgage professionals in some parts of the U.S., but she said that she had observed that many loan officers had left the business in 2007. She also agreed with Parsons that the changes in requirements had become discouraging in and of themselves.
“In the boom days lending was easy, and it didn’t take the level of knowledge it does now,” Ashfield wrote in an email. “Many spent a couple of years in the business during the hay day but really don’t have the knowledge needed today. The tough jobs to fill are in management, underwriting and the areas that require technical knowhow.”
So what is a credit union starting a training program in housing finance to do?
Parsons suggested that if the numbers of professionals with loan origination licenses and experience in mortgage lending are down, credit unions might look for people who work or worked recently in closely related fields and who are already familiar with the mortgage lending process.
Professionals who have worked as underwriters, processors or real estate professionals are familiar with the process of qualifying housing finance borrowers and processing housing finance loans applications. Realtors are likewise often familiar with the sales and research priorities behind selling home finance loans, Parsons added.
Cook suggested credit unions analyze their market carefully and train staff first in the sorts of housing finance lending the credit union is most likely to need.
“The first step in setting up a training program would be to define the niche markets they target,” Cook wrote. “The mortgage market has become very fragmented and the ready-fire-aim approach isn’t effective. For example, in high-cost areas like Orange County Calif., Bay Area, New York or Washington, FHA loans would not be in high demand, but conventional, high-balance and jumbo loans would. In the outlying areas FHA loans and other first-time home buyer programs would be in more demand.”
He also stressed that training needs to include all elements of what can be a very complicated position.
“The training has to be a combination of product knowledge and sales and marketing,” he added. “Ongoing training on program guidelines and changes is crucial but unless there is business development training as well, the originators won’t get the chance to use their product knowledge.”
Pat Sherlock, president of QFS Sales Solutions, a Philadelphia-based consultancy that works with financial institutions, including credit union, to improve their housing finance programs agreed. She noted that the ability to sell a mortgage loan would rise in importance as, gradually, credit unions moved away from making most of their loans through refinances and toward competing with banks for first-time buyer’s business.
Ashfield said credit unions should be sure to remember industry resources, such as those offered by the American Credit Union Mortgage Association or the Mortgage Bankers Association, a group which includes some credit unions as members.
“There is no silver bullet when it comes to training. But I strongly recommend using a variety of sources and using resources like ACUMA. Folks often tell me they absorb more about the business in two or three days at an ACUMA event than through other means. Credit unions need to invest in outside training sources. I know budgets are tight, but there are good outside resources. Also, have realistic expectations. Even an experienced consumer lender will need a good year to become proficient dealing with real estate loans,” she added.