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Five Star Virtual Conference Explores Industry Pandemic Response

FSC2020_Logo_300x200This year’s Five Star Virtual Conference looked rather different from its predecessors as an all-virtual presentation.

Ed Delgado, Chairman Emeritus of Five Star Global, opened the event by acknowledging the economic tumult and public health concerns of the ongoing pandemic, referring to the “uncharted territory” that the industry has entered while praising the indefatigable spirit of mortgage professionals to push ahead during the crisis.

“As a collective body, we are an industry that is the heart and soul of America,” Delgado said. “We make home possible, and we stand at the ready to protect and defend that dream each and every day, for this industry was built to overcome challenges.”

Addressing challenges was the dominant theme in the conference’s first day, with several speakers comparing today’s difficulties with the obstacles that arose in the last great economic crisis in 2008. Kurt Johnson, Chief Credit Officer at Mr. Cooper, recalled the loose Housing Bubble-era underwriting standards and praised the Dodd-Frank Act for helping to stabilize the housing market.

Steve Bailey, Senior Managing Director and Chief Mortgage Operations Officer at PennyMac Financial Services, observed that the industry benefited from “lots and lots of lessons learned” since 2008, although new challenges including a greater understanding by borrowers of the concept of forbearance after “some history of people thinking that was about forgiveness, which everybody knows that is not.”

Suzy Lindblom, COO at Planet Home Lending, identified the millennial demographic as a challenge, calling on mortgage professionals to “help them understand homeownership and how to get into homeownership.” She also cautioned the conference audience that millennials have different communication traits and expectations from previous generations.

“They were born with iPads in their hands, so they do a lot of upfront research,” she said. “They've already gone on Realtor.com and Zillow.com. They want the convenience of being able to do the research. They don't want an authority to come in and help them—they want a partner and the ability to do everything online.”

Laura Escobar, President of Eagle Home Mortgage, envisioned removing the complexity that often burdens loan origination by using technology to create “world's simplest path to homeownership” for all stakeholders.

“We've been focusing on removing the friction from the homebuying process for years now,” she said. “Automation bots, digital mortgages, e-closings, data versus documentation. The homebuyers of tomorrow grew up with mobile banking, mobile check deposits, mobile everything. They expect the same level of digitization and automation from their mortgage providers.”

Of course, the pandemic is still with us, and yesterday’s normalcy has not elbowed the new normal aside. Michael Keaton, Chief Servicing Officer at Shellpoint Mortgage Servicing, praised the servicing side of the industry for being able to quickly migrate from the traditional call center operation to today’s remote-work constellations.

“Not only are we remote, but some of our remote associates are people we have never met in person,” he remarked, noting this was a change from the traditional servicing set-up “where there really is a teamwork element to it, where folks rely on each other and lean over the cubicle wall when they need a little bit of help. There's also the camaraderie that comes from working in close-knit teams, particularly when you're a company like Shellpoint where a very small percentage of our folks pre-COVID were working from home—maybe 10%, probably close to 5%.”

Stanley Middleman, CEO of Freedom Mortgage, recalled how his company transitioned from “a Thursday when we were working in our office and business was as usual [to a] Tuesday the following week [when] we woke up and 98% of our population is working from home.” He believed the nimbleness of mortgage companies to take on this abrupt shift is the year’s most important story.

“The big takeaway was that not only could we survive and succeed and do our jobs, but we could actually thrive,” he said. “Out of all this, we've become boundless in our opportunity. We've been breaking record after record every month in originations, and all the while we were supporting over 100,000 requests for forbearance, generating huge volumes of originations and hiring 1,000 and 1,200 people a month through each of the last three or four months. The lessons learned here are multifaceted.”

Terry Smith, CEO of Rushmore Loan Management Services, went even further in praising the industry’s ability to meet and overcome pandemic-era challenges.

“We were able to turn the switch off from being in the office on one day and five days later we were up and running,” he said of the industry’s remote workforce. “I think we've done a great job. All of our employees are really the frontline heroes of the industry.”

You can see all our Five Star Virtual Conference coverage by clicking here.

About Author: Phil Hall

Phil Hall is a former United Nations-based reporter for Fairchild Broadcast News, the author of nine books, the host of the award-winning SoundCloud podcast "The Online Movie Show," co-host of the award-winning WAPJ-FM talk show "Nutmeg Chatter" and a writer with credits in The New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired, The Hill's Congress Blog and Profit Confidential. His real estate finance writing has been published in the ABA Banking Journal, Secondary Marketing Executive, Servicing Management, MortgageOrb, Progress in Lending, National Mortgage Professional, Mortgage Professional America, Canadian Mortgage Professional, Mortgage Professional News, Mortgage Broker News and HousingWire.
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