The Dumbing Down of Originator Excellence!

Patricia Sherlock

In a recent conversation, a mortgage coach told me she was asked to coach an experienced originator who was considered high potential for a sales team. When the coach met with the originator, she found out the individual was only producing two units a month and only worked four days a week. It was clear to the mortgage coach that the originator was comfortable being average and that coaching wouldn’t remedy the salesperson’s lack of commitment. She commented, “What is a high potential originator anymore?”

This is a great question because what I see in my selling improvement practice is what was always considered poor performance being redefined as “good” performance. This is bizarro world at its best.

According to industry production stats, 60% of the sales force is producing two to three units a month. From Stratmor to Garrett McAuley, the numbers show the same results: a majority of originators are unprofitable. Even when you look at top-tier originators, they are only producing six to seven units a month. The days of an originator doing 10 units a month which was an industry norm are long gone except for the top 1%. So, what has happened to the standard of excellence in mortgage origination? Are we at a point where management teams are just dumbing down the definition of excellence?

Certainly, there are external factors that have driven the mortgage industry to have too many lenders going after a smaller number of good originators and customers. Long years of refinancing volume along with wide profit margins, profitable service valuations and available capital made the industry attractive to more companies.

One of the consequences of a crowded mortgage industry marketplace is a decrease in the   number of high performing originators. When an average originator can command six-figure incomes, who wouldn’t want to be a mortgage originator? The end result of all this is a candidate pool that is diluted with over-priced sales pretenders.

The lowering of the quality of the sales talent pool is no different than what happens in other industries. Just look at sports teams when they expand their league and add markets. The quality of good players available to be hired is spread over more markets. Eventually pirating from other teams becomes the go-to strategy in hiring players resulting in a costly battle for talent and the beginning of a failure to grow their own.

Inevitability, fewer teams can pay the required compensation to get the top tier players and they are faced with constant team rebuilds that depend on drafting well. Teams that draft well certainly can become successful. But many do not draft well. For most teams, it takes years for the sports team to recover. Just look at what has happened to Cleveland that is finally turning around its football team by drafting a potential star quarterback.

The mortgage lending industry faces similar challenges. Good originators and managers are always hard to recruit and hire; they have many options and suitors. As mortgage firms know too well, there are only so many high-quality candidates. As a result, it is easier to set low definitions of excellence and requirements to making the President’s Club.

In the last 10 years, the financial world has changed dramatically. A stock trade that used to cost $25 to complete and be profitable has been replaced by transactions that only cost $4.95. While no one can forecast what the mortgage business will look like in five years, the long-term direction for any business is clear — there will always be someone who will figure out how to do it cheaper and easier. The question for mortgage executives is to recognize that Zillow and Amazon are not the only threats to the retail financial industry. I would argue that a management’s failure to face the current reality and not take action is the real threat. Maintaining the status-quo is a sure-fire way to go out of business. In this instance, a good start would be to recognize that a two- or three-unit-a-month originator who works part time is not smart investment. A better choice would be to invest in top producers and select sales candidates who have the ability to generate loan demand and develop them.

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