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Creating ‘Customers for Life’

 Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the November edition of DSNews, out now. 

This past summer, Home Point Financial, the second-largest wholesale mortgage lender in the country, announced the hiring of Perry Hilzendeger as its President of Servicing. While Hilzendeger was new to Home Point, he was a veteran of the mortgage industry, with more than 30 years’ experience under his belt, much of it spent serving at Wells Fargo. 

Prior to joining Home Point, Hilzendeger worked as Wells’ Head of Retail Operations, where he oversaw nearly 15,000 retail production team members in mortgage and home equity sales, underwriting, fulfillment and support functions. During this period, Fargo was the top overall lender in America, and he served as the company’s Head of Home Lending Servicing, overseeing “nearly 13,000 team members who serviced mortgage loans and home equity products for more than 9 million customers and more than $1.2 trillion in mortgage loans for investors. 

During a recent in-depth conversation, DS News spoke with Hilzendeger about his transition to Home Point, as well as some of the key lessons he has taken away from 2020. Starting a new role at a new company would be challenging enough, but how much more difficult was it in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis that had most of the workforce remote? In the pages ahead, Hilzendeger shares insights into the year’s biggest challenges, from forbearances to borrower communication and education. 

Read on to learn Hilzendeger’s thoughts on his top priorities at Home Point, the benefits of keeping your servicing in-house, and more.  

How should servicers be working to prepare for the end of forbearance plans? What does that “exit strategy” look like?    

It's been a challenging year for us as servicers, and for our customers. The most important thing is that we're prepared to serve the customers, and we are doing so when, where, and how they choose to interact with us. It's critical that we put ourselves in the position where the customers can contact us. We've had the opportunity early in the forbearance process to provide customers the ability to work with us online, as well as through some of our voice-response units and in the traditional manner by contacting the agents. 

We've seen pretty good usage here on the online space. Sixty percent of our customers in the forbearance programming have engaged us online, about 25% through our voice response units, and then 15% have come through the more traditional channels I mentioned, via one of our associates.  

It's important for us to be there and to be preparedto be appropriately staffed and to make sure that we understand the options that are available for the customer, making it easy for them to understand the information and then make an informed choice. That choice is going to vary based on their individual situation, but it's important for us to make sure that we give them all the information and then assist them with that decision and make sure that they're making a decision that is best for them and their family. This situation was created through the COVID environment, primarily speaking, and so we need to realize that each customer situation is unique, spend the time listening to them, and then take the appropriate action in response to what we know, in providing the customer the different alternatives to help them as they move forward to sustain homeownership.  

Home Point both originates and services its own loans in-house. What are the advantages to servicing in-house rather than outsourcing it to a third partyWhat are the challenges involved?    

For us, it is a natural next step in the relationship with the customer. It fits into our focus and priority of creating a customer for life,” programming and working with our brokers and our correspondent lenders as they serve that customer through their origination needs and then transitioning them to us. We want them to have the confidence and to be comfortable in knowing that we'll care for that customer and that we won't sell them and sell that relationship. It creates a long-term opportunity for usand for themto serve that customer with their next needs. From the customer's perspective, broker and lender are really one and the same. They see it as their mortgage company, and creating the opportunity to serve their financial needs through their lifecycle is what they're asking for from us.  

From that perspective, servicing really is a natural next fit. It aligns closely with the Home Point vision of we care and taking care of customers. Some of the challenges can be around understanding the different types of programs, the different types of requirements, what investors expect from us as servicers, and making sure that we're putting the right balance in place in caring for the customer's needs. But also then understanding that we have to care for the investor's needs as well. That can, in many cases, can create a conflict here or there, but we've got to work through those pieces and make sure that we're caring for both sides, still working to keep the customer front and center on that decision.  

As you touched on, many borrowers don’t necessarily understand the division between servicers and lendersHow do you communicate and educate customers about those roles, so they understand why Home Point has chosen to keep it in-house? 

 We absolutely should be very transparent about that action and what type of relationship we have there, so that they understand what's happening with their loan. They understand who originated it, but they also now understand who's servicing in it and who they can contact when they have questions. That full transparency mode is critical to the long-term relationshipestablishing that right up frontwho originated, who is servicing moving forward, and how they can continue to contact us when they have needs or when they have questions. 

 As you're beginning your role as President of Servicing, what are the top three challenges or pain points that you're looking to solve for in the months ahead  

They focus on what I consider to be the two most important constituents in our organization: our customers and our associates. As I think about the areas of emphasis, it really is evolving to meet the customer's needs, particularly as consumers. Within that grouping, obviously our customers have become more and more comfortable with online programming as they make their decisions around their home. For most Americans, this is the largest financial decision that they will ever makeIt's important that they trust that programming and it's important that we continue to provide innovative programming that will assist them.

We need to make sure that, in alignment with that, we are building on and improving the customer experience, ensuring that we're doing what's right for the customer, each and every time, keeping that front and center. For our organization in particular, because of some of the outstanding growth that we've experienced inside of the origination space, we need to prepare our team for growth in the servicing organization, putting them in position to be successful in order to meet our customer needs.  

It will come in the form of making sure that we have appropriate resources as far as the number of people, as well as ensuring that they're trained and developed in an inappropriate manner to ensure that we're addressing our customer's needs. Those are the big focuses, but it really centers back to both ensuring that we are caring for the customer and the associate.  

You've been working in the mortgage industry for three decades now, which is no small feat. What are some of the key lessons that you've taken away from your career thus far?  

Well, if you had asked me the top three lessons, my answer would have been people, people, and people. It's important that we bring people together as an organization, that they have a vision, that we are aligned on that vision, and that everyone is executing towards that. That, to me, is the foundation of success for any operation, any organization, any companyensuring that they have the right people, they have them in the right place, and that they're prepared appropriately for what's expected of them.  

I also would say that it's important for us to take time to listen to our customers and our associates. They'll share with us what we need to know about how to improve our organization. We just need to make sure, as leaders, that we're taking the time and creating the forums, that they can provide that feedback to us, and that we can take the appropriate actions in alignment with that. 

Our business evolves as rapidly and with as much variability as any other industry. I think that's something that we've all maybe grown into. In the early portions of my career, it was probably considered a little bit more static an industry, but we too have learned that customers and consumers are demanding more from us. We must challenge the status quo and keep the focus on those two most important folks that we're serving in our organization: our customers and our team members.   

That's what has resonated for me over the last 30 years, and the interesting thing is that those things were all present in some of the very much early days of my career, and they are still very much the standard for which we need to stay focused on here and into the future.   

What are some of the keys to both anticipating and meeting a homeowner's needs 

Staying connected and involved is being more than just an organization that provides loan documents and statements. We've got to create the opportunity that will give customers the ability to obtain and then sustain homeownership. It's what brings value for the customer, our community, and, quite frankly, our country. Creating those forums through our channelswhether it be online or through our associates directly. Even as we think about hearing from industry advocates, and we hear from regulators, and we hear from the legislative bodies around what's important and what we should be taking greater care in. Whave to observe all those different stakeholders as we serve our customers going forward.  

Also, one of the big things here is taking a personal approach to serving customers and creating that relationship to assist them. good example of that is, most recently in some of the programming that we've made available in our forbearance options and contacting those customers in various ways, certainly through traditional mailings, but also through online communications, as well as direct outreach to make sure that customers understand what their options are and are making informed choices. That is critical as you think about long-term relationships. We're going to get through this situation, just as we have in the past. Those that create those forums, if you will, to collect that information, to listen to the customers and the associates, are going to be the ones that'll navigate it most successfully.    

Were there any mentorship relationships that have impacted you in your career? 

I was very fortunate in my career, especially early on, to have leaders that cared for me, helped me find direction within my career, and challenged me to think about things outside of my comfort zone. One of the things that really stood out for me in a couple of the relationships that I still hold very close in value, is taking the time to catch people doing things right. Ensuring that you are recognizing folks for caring for the customers, for ensuring that we're doing things right, for caring for the company, for caring for one another. 

I was fortunate that I had two mentors who focused on that aspect of leading and making sure that they went out of their way to catch people doing the right thing and reinforcing thatnot just with the individual, but then recognizing that broadly in the organization to ensure everyone understood what was expected and that you're going to be grateful for that type of action and activity.   

What does that commitment look like, beyond just recognizing positive action in the moment is? Is there something that you put into place as far as policy or programs?  

That's something also within the Home Point organization that we're working on. There are certainly programs that you can do from a compensation recognition perspective, and clearly many of our associates are tied to the overall performance of the operation. However, what I've found throughout the years is that it really is the small things that matter. Things as simple as a handwritten note, thanking them for what they've done, or, when we get back to our offices, thanking somebody on the way out for something they did, for how they cared for a customer, for how they worked with another associate in the operation. Those are really the difference-makers.  

As an example, I was on the job less than 90 days back in the very early 1990s. I still have the very first handwritten note from a leader. In my first 90 days, I had experienced some success, particularly in how I was caring for customers. He took the time to write me a short note thanking me for that and reinforcing that that was one of the keys to long-term success. I still have that note today, and it's something that I've been focused on passing along throughout my career. 

That type of activity is a real difference-maker for leaders in our industry and, for that matter, more broadly. It resonates well, even in today's society of online digital and automation; a handwritten note still goes a long way.  

After a 30-year career in mortgage, what advice would you give to those who are just beginning theirs   

I would encourage them to be open to opportunities beyond what they know and what they're comfortable with. Our industry has so much to offer. There's a broad array of activities. There's a broad array of businesses. There's a broad array of departments where you can work. In many cases, it's easy to get comfortable, especially when you've been successful in a certain area. I believe that the more we can challenge ourselves to get out of that comfort zone, the better. Understand that the journey is not necessarily a ladder, but more closely aligned with lattice, if you will. You move around and ultimately upas you broaden your experiences in the industry and learn from others.  

 You don't always have to recreate the wheel. There are others who have that experience that you can rely on. The other thing that I would remind people about today is to enjoy the experience and take the time to celebrate successes while also looking for ways to improve. Those two things can be one and the same; they don't have to be separate from each other. You can recognize that things have gone extremely well and still challenge yourself to look at ways to create improvement throughout the entire journey.  

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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