HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE MILLENNIALS
Updated: Dec 24, 2018
DEVELOPING YOUR FUTURE STATE
In the land of fancy McMansions and luxury high-rise buildings, mortgage banking is a bit like the 1959 split level home - still puts a roof over our heads but has lost its mid-century luster. Our processes are tried and true but dated. We busily move paper from point A to point B and seldom stop to ask ourselves why or if the paper needs to move at all. We work on legacy technologies and machinery that aren’t inherently equipped to handle the barrage of newer tools like document web portals, artificial intelligence, data scraping and voice recognition.
Sadly, many continue to staff using traditional, antiquated job descriptions that reference musty old practices. Do you really need someone to “collect documents from the borrower”? Are today’s processors actually reviewing loan files to verify that the application data is complete and meets guidelines? Does any mortgage employee actually still prepare and mail approval and denial letters? Are closers really “typing bank packages”? Do you still fax – using a machine?!
According to National Mortgage News, in 2015 the average age of a mortgage loan originator was 54 years old. The generation that carried this industry through the age of suburban sprawl is aging and the technology and processes that carried them through are retiring along with them. With all of the negative press and suffocating regulations, what person in their right mind would choose to become a loan officer in this day and age? Who will take their place?
What does it mean to “process”, to “underwrite”, to “sell”? What is the profile of the employee you should be hiring now? If you have historically relied upon Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JP to be your staffing and training departments, it’s time to rethink your model. Modern mortgage banking compels the hiring of people who understand harnessing the newest technologies to enhance the borrower experience.
A happy borrower is one who closes within an anticipated time frame. Mortgage successes are measured in turn times – how long does it take from application to closing. Humans add more friction to an already abrasive and invasive process. Every hand that touches the loan adds days to the process. Techno mortgages are inherently more expedient but are perceived as too complex. Educating borrowers on new technology and promoting its employ is a critical skillset. The successful employee turns the seemingly complex to simple.
The next gen mortgage company needs a solid plan to replace retiring Boomer employees with technically inclined Millennial staff dedicated to communication and problem solving. A comprehensive and holistic Millennial hiring and retention plan is key to ensuring your company is not doomed to irrelevance. Be warned, Millennials are not Boomers…not by a longshot. Their career, compensation and life goals are diametrically opposed to many of ours.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking…self-absorbed, greedy, lazy, wasteful, idealists…those darned Millennials. According to a Pew study, Millennials even feel this way about themselves. How will we ever incorporate them into the everyday workplace? Do we even want to? My answer is a resounding, YES! And the sooner the better. As positions become available, resist the temptation to follow standard operating procedure – hiring what someone else let go of. Instead, consider a Millennial. You won’t be sorry.
Our company began the transition in 2013. New management embraced the need for systems and process improvement. A less than stellar loan origination system deployment highlighted the core challenge facing the company: our employees were not ready for mechanical changes.
Management sat down to map out a 5 year plan that would allow us to move from a manually processed, paper laden reactive organization to an innovative one. First, we would stabilize all departments and once a level of comfort set in we would move to become proactive and ultimately innovative.
First up, implementing a new loan origination system, a paperless loan process AND TRID regulatory requirements simultaneously. Insane for sure! Our very first undertaking was to move our most able employees out of production and onto a project team to shepherd the rest of the organization through these changes. This contradicted the historic practice of promoting the most proficient to supervisor or manager – whereby they continued to do all the work while also attempting to manage staff and vendors. A disastrous combination. Sound familiar?
Next came the first hurdle. Who would we hire to replace these star employees on the production line? Would we go out to market to pilfer from others who were also operating with timeworn processes? No. We made a conscious decision to reject industry practice and instead marketed to recent college graduates from a well-regarded local university. This would not be without its pitfalls.
When it comes to technology, there is no generation better equipped to steward the mortgage industry than Millennials. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2025 Millennials, the hyper-connected, tech savvy generation will overtake the majority representation of the workforce and by 2030 will make up 75% of the workforce.
The generation born between 1981 and 1997 is the most educated generation (61% have attended college vs 42% for Boomers). According to the Pew Research Center, they are plugged in to one another 24 hours, 7 days a week. While Boomers shrink from technology as a solution, Millennials are drawn to it. Boomers may adapt to technology. Millennials are digital natives – technology is woven into the fabric of the beings. Who better to build a better mortgage mousetrap?
The re-design would be rewarding and challenging. We would need to significantly invest in the assessment, on-boarding and training of these employees. A six step plan was developed to keep our new-hire processes humming.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY THE ATTRIBUTES YOUR COMPANY NEEDS
The first step in creating an HR plan is to consider the qualities your company needs from an employee in the age of Fintech mortgages. Rather than focusing on the skills of the employees you have now, identify the talents needed to forge ahead. At our company, employees needs to do two things well:
· Communicate with borrowers
· Manage the technology
In essence they must manage the technology that services the customer. Millennials do expect something in return for their expertise and so you must also identify the corporate attributes that attract these candidates. Does your company offer what Millennials expect?
Millennials expect work/life balance. They are effective workers but will be out the door at 5, like to travel and seek social purpose. How then can they ever replace the workaholic generation that invented the 50 hour work week? Entice Millennials with a knock-out job description that appeals to their unyielding thirst for knowledge and provide benefits that allow for flex time, job sharing and community involvement. Which brings us to Step two.
STEP TWO: DEVELOP A CAPTIVATING JOB DESCRIPTION
If your job description still includes: determining documentation needs, collecting documents, reviewing credit reports, sending documents to borrowers and other third parties, typing closing packages etc. it is unlikely that you will attract a Millennial. These clerical sounding functions do not inspire the Millennial and it’s not that these things aren’t happening within the scope of employment, it’s just that, in a mortgage company moving toward Fintech competency, they are no longer the primary functions. What do modern loan processors do?
Contemporary processors harness the technology tools available to provide superior customer service. They analyze fraud and compliance reports and refer to DU and LP to provide the list of items (give or take a few). A good loan application engine will provide the borrower with a list of items needed before a processor even touches the loan file. Fax and mail have been replaced by electronic loan portals and document bundles that go out with the touch of a button. If business rules are properly drafted, system loan alerts warn the processor when something is wrong with the loan file so the need to hunt for defects is drastically reduced.
The processor is no longer the detective gathering information and dissecting it before submitting it to the underwriter. The systems do much of that for them. Instead, they must understand the concepts of credit and risk and know what to do and where to go when alerted to defects within the loan file. This job requires analytic and problem solving skills and the ability to work in a team oriented environment; a navigator primarily responsible for knowing and communicating the borrower’s position at all times by harnessing available technologies. Effectively lay out these challenges and opportunities in a job description and the Millennial will be enticed. Millennials look for growth opportunities so be sure to incorporate career opportunities available to those who excel in the entry level positions.
STEP THREE: REPAVE YOUR CAREER PATHS
Once upon a time a processor could hope to graduate to an underwriter or loan officer. Many never moved up at all – spending twenty to thirty years processing mortgages the same way they did when they began. Millennials entering the workforce have more experience than the Boomer generation did and they will continue to seek out new challenges once they are on the job. Unlike Boomers, they are not looking to spend thirty years on this job or any job. New opportunities entice them and if they don’t find them in your shop, they will go elsewhere. And so they should. In today’s techno mortgage world of constant improvement, processors can and should become your data analysts, system administrators, project coordinators, data quality specialists, programmers and developers. New hires bring a fresh set of eyes to old processes – turnover is good for everyone. When we bring in a potential candidate we review our career pathing and tell them that we expect them to move up or out in two years. Our candor is always very well received because our candidates are assured of a robust training plan that will give them the skills to graduate to greater opportunities both within the organization and beyond.
STEP FOUR: CRAFT A COMPREHENSIVE ON-BOARDING PLAN
All employees are entitled to a universal understanding about the industry they work in and the company that employs them. Despite doses of university micro and macroeconomics, the only thing a recent college graduate knows about mortgages is that their parents have one. They understand little about the workings of the credit market and its impact on the broader economy. Moreover, notwithstanding their technical acumen, they can’t work an Outlook calendar and don’t like to talk on the telephone.
Millennials are learners who expect a quality onboarding process. We developed a plan to acculturate newly hired employees and provide them the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviors to become effective contributors to our organization. Our on-boarding process is a 90 day blend of job shadowing, hands-on and classroom training with one to two formal check-in points ensure the employee is effectively acclimating. Their training schedules are posted in their cubicles before they ever arrive.
First, we acquaint them with the mortgage industry itself, how it began, where it went and why we are where we are. More traditional course offerings, Compliance, Origination, Servicing and Secondary Market follow. Most sessions are taught by senior management who are best positioned to effectively communicate corporate culture and lay the groundwork for success. Training concludes with a session focused on the company itself, its mission, core values, and strategic vision and most importantly, how it makes money. Our investment in Millennial training is an investment in our company’s knowledge capital and we expect that these employees will pay it forward in accordance with our core values.
STEP FIVE: EDUCATE, CHALLENGE AND MENTOR
Having laid the foundation with a solid on-boarding plan we continue to feed the machine because mortgage workplace education is an on-going process and Millennials are thirsty for knowledge. Plopping an employee in a swivel seat and never looking back may have worked for the Boomer generation but it won’t cut the Millennial mustard.
One of the first things I tell the employees I mentor is, “a job isn’t only about what you give to it, but what it gives to you. It’s time to move on when a job stops contributing to your satisfaction bucket. Make sure to get the skills you need to move on to something better.”
As life-long learners, Millennials should be coached to take on next level challenges. Training, project work and mentor relationships will foster a Millennial friendly work environment. These are the three key components to keeping the Millennial engaged:
Training: Identify internal and external resources to engage and delight the new hires. We regularly harness seasoned staff to deliver practical and theoretical subject matter on mortgage related topics including regulatory compliance, affordable housing and mortgage calculations. We will also engage outside facilitators, such as Dale Carnegie, to provide tried and true sales and communication training. This is an investment in our employees and the company.
Project work: It might seem counterintuitive to pull an employee from processing a loan to gathering data or analyzing a spreadsheet, Millennials have the capacity to manage both and the exposure to areas outside of the daily wheelhouse expands the level of engagement. The Millennial presents with a fresh set of eyes and may propose novel solutions to old problems. They absorb new information quickly and are eager to share it with their colleagues. The trainee happily becomes the trainer. Introducing project work allows managers to assess the capacity of the employee to move beyond their current position. It is a win-win for all.
Mentoring: Make mentoring a strategic business initiative. While we obsess over the Millennial wizard of technology, it’s the Boomer who knows where all the bodies are buried within your organization. They have the soft skills that keep the customers satisfied: relationship-building, communication, judgement and reliability. Each generation has something significant to offer the other. Bidirectional mentoring eased the deployment of our newest loan origination system. During the ramp up period, our operational structure shifted to a team environment that intentionally mixed the generations. When it came time to go live, there was a level of trust amongst the team which then began to problem solve internally before seeking resources outside of the team itself. Our newest employees were not afraid to harness the system, learn its intricacies and share the knowledge with their Boomer partner. An extra plus, the teams managed themselves.
STEP SIX: HONOR THE BOOMER
Finally, we cannot let the Millennials eclipse our mortgage vets. We may never see the likes of this workaholic generation again. Sure, robots, artificial intelligence and other rapidly changing technology have closed the skills gap and could render the workhorse obsolete. Thankfully, Boomers have paid their dues but they are not finished yet.
Cross generational relationships, partnering the neophyte with the veteran, transformed our organization. One such duo, a seasoned mortgage loan officer and a recent grad mortgage operations coordinator, work together to provide borrowers with an optimal experience. The apprentice takes the lead when it comes to navigating the loan origination software and other tools like Excel. The vet teaches the novice the art of mortgages and how to communicate with borrowers. Only the Boomer understands locking in a rising rate environment…the Millennial couldn’t possibly know!
In our organization the Boomers are Master Jedis, powerful, loveable, and wise - always willing to share their knowledge with the neophytes. There is still work to be done and knowledge to transfer. As always, Boomers are ready to do it. Much like the Millennial, consider enticing the Boomer to stick around. Options like phased-in retirement and flex time should keep the Boomer engaged long enough to produce the greatest masterpiece yet – the well-rounded Millennial! Behold!
Debra A. Leone, Principal
Mountain View Advisors, LLC