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Building Solid Vendor-Servicer Relationships

(Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of DS News)

No matter what part of the industry you do business in, one thing is clear—building solid relationships is crucial to success. In particular, it is crucial for vendors and servicers to work together, whether to ensure compliance to new regulations or simplify the mortgage process for the homeowner. 

However, understanding the need to work together doesn’t mean the “how” is always easy. This month, DS News sat down with six industry professionals who have worn both the servicer and third-party vendor hat in their careers to hear their perspectives on how to create, build, and maintain effective relationships between servicers and vendors going forward. We are tapping into the knowledge that these experts have gleaned over long careers on both sides of the fence so you can make strengthening industry relationships a resolution that you keep in the new year.

Finding the Right Fit

Selecting the right partner is the first step in building a strong vendor-servicer relationship. While there are many factors at play in this decision, one of the most important for servicers is becoming acquainted with the inner workings of their vendor partners. 

John Vella, CRO for Altisource, says looking back to when he was a servicer (with companies like GMAC Mortgage, Bear Stearns, and Option One), he wishes he would have asked things like, “What is the ownership structure of that vendor, and are they well-capitalized in today’s world? Is the vendor investing in their business because they may have lost business due to the decline in portfolios? Are they continuing to invest in their own technology, people, and resources? What’s the quality of the staff that the vendor has?”

Brian Mingham, CEO for National Real Estate Solutions, also shares in Vella’s sentiment, saying that in a normal market, it is extremely important to know your vendor. Today, Mingham is the CEO of National Real Estate Solutions, a company he founded, but previously he worked for JPMorgan Chase and Countrywide Home Loans.

“I don’t think we ever really looked at that as much as we should’ve in the early 2000s,” Mingham said. “It was always just about getting it done and was that person performing at whatever we said or thought was good. Now it’s very metric-driven, and servicers are always monitoring.”

Cultivating the Relationship

After taking the time to select the right partner, growing a healthy and strong relationship becomes the top priority. Vella says that this means setting up clear expectations from the get-go. 

“That’s all the way from negotiating the contract and the terms of the contract,” he said. “Then comes setting clear goals and objectives, so everyone—right from the beginning of the relationship—clearly understands what the service-level agreements are and what the expectations are.”

Prior to joining MCS Solutions, LLC (where he acts as COO) Chad Mosley was AVP of REO for Countrywide Home Loans. Mosley notes that during his time with Countrywide, he worked fairly independently, while now he has learned the importance of events and opportunities that bring the industry together.

“I think I could have learned more from interacting with my peers in the industry at different servicing shops trying to find out what makes other servicers successful, what their challenges are, and what their best practices are,” Mosely said.

Now, Mosely says that interacting with many different servicers allows for a better, more comprehensive perspective of things.

“Today, I have a lot more interaction with a lot more servicers, so I get to see a lot of different ways of doing things, a lot of perspectives, and different best practices. I wish back when I was a servicer I would have gotten out a little bit more and taken advantage of being able to learn from peers that were with other servicers across the industry,” he said.

Building Trust

Trust is the solid foundation that any relationship rests on. To build that trust in the mortgage industry, proper reporting and transparency between partners is key. Each party should be able to see what the other is doing and “make sure that there are no surprises at the end of the month.”

Mike Lawler, Director of Repairs for Cyprexx Services, LLC, (previously with JPMorgan Chase, Fannie  Mae, and Wachovia among others) agrees that when he looks back at his time as a servicer, he wished he had placed a priority on clarity and the definitions of what the servicers were asking of the vendors.

 “When you enter into the field services you realize that there is not a lot of clarity,” Lawler said. “In fact, there is a lot of contradictions—contradictions among different servicers or contradictions sometimes even within the same firm.”

With any relationship, he says, there will be misunderstandings and broken communication, but it is how you push through these bumps in the road that truly strengthens the relationship.

“A lot of the clients struggle on their staffing levels, and they don’t have the staffing that they might need or what they would desire to do everything that they want to do,” Lawler said. “Servicers, they have the same struggle as far as having the right number of people to do the jobs, so they are doing the best they can, but there might be some mistakes. If there is a mistake, or a misinterpretation, or if more information is needed, it’s okay to pick up the phone and talk to the person at the servicer shop to see if you can get a better answer on the issue, or a better definition.” 

Lawler continued, “I think what a lot of people do is think that the servicers are just making a statement and it can’t be questioned. But I think that it really needs to be a two-way communication, a two-way relationship, and that’s the best way to get things done because everybody needs to benefit from the relationship. Better communication would take care of a lot of that.”

Making the Transition

Though servicers and service providers often have common goals, the switch from working at one to the other isn’t always seamless. Marilyn Sanders, Director of Business Development for Truly Noble Services, Inc., says this was a lesson she learned early when she went from the servicer side to the property preservation side.

“When we first started,” Sanders said, “there was no real training school going from the client to the third-party vendor. As I went to work for the client, everything that I thought I knew isn’t the way I thought it was. You have to take off your client hat when you transition to become a vendor. You now don’t run the show. I used to snap my fingers and say, ‘Make it happen, make it go away, just take care of it.’ I was now a corporate refugee in a vendor world thinking, ‘But I know the rules, I’ve lived them for the last 20 years. So, if I’ve got all this knowledge, why is it not working?’”

Robert Caruso, a long-time industry veteran, now acts as EVP of Sales, Strategy, and Servicing at ServiceLink—a role he took on after servicing in executive positions at Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Unlike other professionals who have made the jump from working at a servicer to working at a vendor, Caruso is in the unique position that ServiceLink acts as a service provider selling origination title, default title, filed servicer work, and other products, but also has a sub-servicing company called LoanCare. 

“Because I’ve used and consumed many of the products that we use here at ServiceLink itself today, I think I have a little better understanding of what the customer or the servicer or lender wants, needs, and expects,” explains Caruso. “That at least allows us to formulate more products and strategies and services to help meet the needs of what their issues and concerns are.”

Though there are clear differences between working at a servicer provider and a servicer, like Caruso and others have found, at the end of the day, all industry professionals are working toward common goals.

“Being the vendor is really no different from being the client, except they are the boss,” sums up Sanders. “You have to juggle what the client wants. You stay within the guidelines of the state. You try to make sure that the contractors show up. You get the job done on time, and then you start over again every single day.”

About Author: Kendall Baer

Kendall Baer is a Baylor University graduate with a degree in news editorial journalism and a minor in marketing. She is fluent in both English and Italian, and studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Apart from her work as a journalist, she has also managed professional associations such as Association of Corporate Counsel, Commercial Real Estate Women, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Project Management Institute for Association Management Consultants in Houston, Texas. Born and raised in Texas, Baer now works as the online editor for DS News.

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