Teamwork, Sales Focus Lead to Mortgage Success

Staff view their jobs as if they're running a small business.

January 22, 2013
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When Sunmark Federal Credit Union’s senior management and board of directors surveyed the local mortgage market, they saw opportunities to boost volume, market share, and off-balance-sheet growth.

That directive fell to Alissa Sykes, mortgage manager for the $375 million asset credit union in Latham, N.Y. She developed a number of strategies to meet those goals, including sales incentives, competitive rates, new products, community partnerships, and sales-oriented staff.

Hiring staff with mortgage skills has been a challenge for many credit unions, she says, and Sunmark Federal is no exception. “We don’t always find candidates that have both a background in mortgages and a sales culture, so we’ve invested in additional training to make sure we fill our open spots with the people who will fit best in the long term.”

One method that helps staff achieve a sales mindset is to view their jobs as if they were running a small business. Sykes tells staff they need to own each loan and “be responsible for all the moving parts. When employees ask for assistance, I ask them, ‘What would you do?’”

Successful mortgage operations are a result of involving all staff and departments, she says. This requires training and teamwork.

One exercise in teamwork involved staff building miniature houses. “About 30 to 40 employees at the branches participated, and the staff became very engaged,” she says. “Branch staff kept their houses on the teller line. This increased awareness for both staff and members, and helped initiate conversations about mortgage products.”

The credit union hired four loan officers in 2007 to join three mortgage processing employees. Providing sales incentives stimulated growth in volume.

From 2005 to 2010, the mortgage department recorded a 560% increase in loan volume, finishing 2010 with $165 million in loans. Forecasts for 2012 call for a 34% increase over 2011 volume.

To meet the increased activity, the department has grown from a staff of four to 25 in five years.

Sunmark Federal has sold mortgages on the secondary market for the last several years, generating substantial fee income and reducing interest-rate risk.

Members occasionally are concerned when they find out another company will service their loans. To mitigate these concerns, “we have an agreement with our mortgage provider to not sell the mortgages again,” says Sykes. “And if a member is adamant about not having their mortgages sold, we will look into retaining it. But they may have to pay more in interest.”

Sunmark has continually expanded its mortgage offerings during the last several years. In 2009, it introduced Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration loans, and in 2011, U.S. Department of Agriculture loans joined the mix.

These products combined account for 34% of Sunmark Federal’s purchase business through mid-August 2012, and at least 16% of all mortgages in 2011.

Streamlining the mortgage process with a paperless system (except for a couple of state regulatory requirements) also has given the credit mortgage program a boost.

“This has saved a significant amount of time for mortgage staff,” Sykes says. “Credit unions may not have the resources that other institutions have. But that just means we have to look for creative solutions to meet the needs of our members and staff.”

Sunmark Federal won an Excellence in Lending Award from the CUNA Lending Council and CUNA Mutual Group for outstanding mortgage lending (more than $250 million in assets).

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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