Competing better for mortgage talent.
"We have seen a very strong turnaround from last year to this year," said Alissa Sykes, assistant vice president for consumer and mortgage lending at the $401 million Sunmark Federal Credit Union in Latham, N.Y. "Last year we couldn't hire any of the strongest candidates, but this year loan originators are interviewing us to work here."
Sykes attributed the rise in the credit union's profile among loan originators to a number of different factors, including shifts in the market and in perceptions of how loan originators are paid.
"We have never been able to compete head-to-head on basis points," Sykes said, referring to the practice of paying loan originators a percentage of a loan's face value as a commission for their work.
"We always paid a lower number of basis points but we would also offer benefits, too" she said. "We pay 80% of their health insurance and we have a 401K where we match up to 6%, so it's a very attractive package. But that means that we might offer 40 basis point commission where down the street they might offer 90 or 95 basis point commission so we couldn't compete on just that"
Sykes couldn't necessarily give a reason why loan originators consistently tended to look only at the basis points in a compensation package, except that the emphasis on basis points has always seemed to have been part of the sales culture.
"Heavy sales people, strong sales people have just always tended to look at that first," she said.
But that has begun to change, Sykes said. Now, as the flood of refinances has fallen off and lenders are making far fewer purchase money loans, the credit union has begun to attract loan originators who are interested in its stability and reputation.
"They mention how they like that the credit union has been there and they know it will be there," Sykes said. "They are looking at their own firms which might not be there or might not be in the business later this year and they like that we are so stable. They also like it everyone knows our name."
Her Albany-area credit union has a six-county community charter and booked 2,192 real estate loans in 2013, worth roughly $245 million, according to Sunmark's call report, and it currently has seven full time loan officers.
Matthew Gerber, vice president for mortgage sales at the $1.4 billion Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, Wis., also attributed the stability in the credit union's lending workforce force to Royal's offering benefits as well as a reputation for closing loans on time.
"We have very low turnover in an industry which is known for a lot of turnover," Gerber said. "Some of that is due to Royal being well known in some of its markets and some it is because our loan originators know that we close a high percentage of our loans on time, and that means a lot to loan officers"
Royal also offers a benefits package that includes both health insurance and a 401K retirement plan. The credit union has 17 mortgage sales reps who work with commission and an additional two have been hired, Gerber said, and it has three mortgage sales reps who are on salary only.
Royal booked roughly $668 million in just under 7,375 real estate loans in 2013, with roughly 60% of the mortgage loans refinances, Gerber said.
Tim Mislansky, senior vice president and chief lending officer at the $2.7 billion Wright-Patt Credit Union in Fairborn, Ohio, and president of its wholly owned CUSO, myCUmortgage LLC, said he is not surprised to hear that credit unions have begun to attract more loan professionals, but added that he is currently working hard to help credit unions understand the need to hire dedicated mortgage loan officers.
Mislansky observed that the industry move from the relatively abundant supply of refinance loans to the tighter supply of purchase loans has meant loan officers have started to think more about lender reputation, stability and ability to close loans. But he also noted that many credit unions have not understood that they need to hire.
"There are still too many credit unions that have mortgage loan officers who also handle auto loans and credit card loans and other types of consumer lending," Mislansky said. "They don't understand yet that a purchase money mortgage program really needs dedicated loan officers"
Mislansky explained that purchase mortgage loans generally require more attention to detail with members as well as more outreach and networking with local Realtors. "When is a mortgage officer supposed to do that if he or she is also taking auto loan applications or credit card applications," he asked?
He also pointed out that many credit unions underestimate the amount of time purchase money loans take when compared to refinances and how much higher the stakes are for these loans.
Refinance loan closing deadlines are convenience, but can often be changed, he explained. Relatively few people have an interest in a refinanced loan, the borrower and the loan officer. But a purchase money loan includes the borrowers and loan officer along with the sellers and the Realtor, Mislansky pointed out.
He said dedicated loan officers are also more efficient actors in the mortgage process. MyCU-mortgage has concluded research that shows credit union with dedicated mortgage loan officers see 46% of their mortgage applications make it through to closing whereas those without such officers see only 30% of their applications complete the process, Mislansky reported.
But once credit unions decide to hire dedicated loan officers, Mislansky said the current market has begun to favor them. Not only are credit unions' stability and benefits packages likely to attract more and stronger loan officers, their position in the local market will as well.
"I think there is a real benefit in credit unions having their mortgage decisions and underwriting done locally, by men and women who live in the community," Mislansky said. Instead of sending a mortgage application off to a distant center or headquarters for a decision, a credit union can look at the application and determine how to manage it, he pointed out.
"It's a bit like the discussion many had on Qualified Mortgages," Mislansky said. "Someone might not qualify for a QM so that mortgage couldn't be sold to Fannie and Freddie and there isn't yet a secondary market for non-QM loans. But where another lender might not go forward with the application, a local credit union might say, 'You know, that's a 20-year member and we know he or she is good for the loan' so they might go forward with the loan and put it on their own books"
And then the loan officer in that circumstance will have just managed to close a loan that he or she would not have been able to close somewhere else.
* Credit unions becoming more popular with mortgage loan professionals.
* Stability, brand strength, attract loan officers as industry becomes less stable.
* Credit unions need to hire more dedicated mortgage staff, executive says.