Mortgage Banking’s Hot Hand Fallacy

Recently, I saw the Academy Award-nominated film The Big Short which was based on Michael Lewis’s book about the build-up of the housing and credit bubble that caused the mortgage industry’s collapse in the mid-2000s. This was a terrific movie that took on a difficult and complex topic. The film doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of the industry and reflects what has been discussed in the media over the subsequent years. Much of the dialogue centers on why smart people remained clueless about securitization’s having so many bad loans in them and how all the interested parties looked the other way. The movie asserts that all parties involved were guilty from lenders to regulators.

In hindsight, the industry’s collapse is easy to predict and certainly reinforces that when a false premise becomes part of the majority thought process, all rational bets are off. Back then, the industry’s false premise was that mortgage delinquency would never reach over 8% — an incredible number that had not been seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. As we all know, the 8% percentage number was surpassed and foreclosures soared and took down many of the well-known lenders such as Countrywide Lending and Lehman Bros.

The explanation given in the movie for so many people believing this false premise was defined as the “Hot Hand Fallacy” — the assumption that a person who has experienced success with a random event has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts. The concept has been applied to gambling and sports. However, a 2015 examination of the original papers by Joshua Miller and Adam Sanjurjo found flaws in the methodology and showed that, in fact, the “hot hand fallacy” may not exist. It may be attributable to a misapplication of statistical techniques. So, what does this have to do with mortgage lending today?

A few weeks ago, I discussed why conventional wisdom isn’t smart anymore and received many emails regarding how difficult it is to change when what worked in the past reinforces that it should work well again. The problem is that conditions are never exactly same and changing conditions demand that lenders must adjust accordingly.

Here are just a few industry assumptions that worked for years but are not a match in today’s marketplace:


• Buying branches is the best way to grow a sales force. Just look at Rob Chrisman’s daily blog.

• Producing managers are good coaches.

• Originators’ W-2s will predict whether they will be successful at the next company.

Have you or your managers operated under these industry myths? If so, it’s time to take a closer look at these sales strategies and make the necessary changes to move forward.