Lenders Look to Women for Face-to-Face Contact

As it shifts into a more customer-driven philosophy, insiders say, the mortgage servicing business model is becoming more woman-friendly than ever.

Federal regulation that mandates a single point of contact during a loan modification, combined with findings showing face-to-face engagement with distressed homeowners is the best foreclosure loss mitigation strategy may bring more women into servicing.

Servicers are now well aware that unless they meet borrowers face-to-face they cannot know for sure who is able and willing to commit to their mortgage in the long-term, says Lance Perry, the loss mitigation director of the National Creditor’s Connection Inc., Lake Forest, Calif. The sooner servicers engage these borrowers in a workout process so those questions are answered, the better for everyone.

Often called “door knockers,” the best-prepared staff for this job can be as different as human beings are, says president of Integrated Mortgage Solutions, Houston, TX., Cheryl Lang, but “women have proven to be more suitable” for the face-to-face customer approach. 

From the perspective of a field services vendor, she says, if in 2012 the market succeeds in renting out significant numbers of the foreclosed properties that are sitting empty across the country, servicers will have to deal with their customers differently.

“You’ll have to do the tough job, not the okay-it’s-close enough job,” she said, because only high quality service can compete in a crowded market where the primary client is a renter not an investor.

Real estate owned rentals require 24/7 tenant emergency assistance and management that will also change the way vendors like IMS do business, she says, because they will have to deal with inhabited REO properties. It will be a huge shift, especially if, as she expects, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac start renting out their REOs en masse.

For now it is unclear how much REO related losses the GSEs are willing to shoulder. “I have mixed emotions about the whole REO rentals,” she admits, because in the end it will transfer the ownership of what belonged to the taxpayers to the large Wall Street investors, or maybe, to the small investors. “There is a lot of sorting out to do.”

And maybe it will also mean more women in the mortgage marketplace. The industry has been a very male oriented, money driven environment, she says, and judging from her decades of experience she finds women take criticism well and are more open to change, so they can add a soft touch to mortgage servicing.

Jennifer Creech, CEO and president of appraisal management services provider InHouse, Inc., Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., who during her 24 years of senior management experience in mortgage lending has managed upward of $5 billion in loans annually agrees. “Women tend to be more empathetic. I think there’s a value to that.”

Creek has mentored many women during her long career as she finds they still are a minority in the mortgage industry with probably only 20% women in leadership positions.

Nonetheless, she said, a lot of women got into the mortgage business including homeownership and financial counseling for instance. Because they had been stay at home mothers it was a career they could break into at an opportune time. She argues however that the market may start to shrink up in one year or two and it will be the survival of the fittest. “And that is not gender-specific.”  

Right now mortgage executives are striving to find and hire quality staff and third party service providers. In her view competition for quality people has become much more intense than even two or three years ago.

“For years I was the only woman in the room,” she recalled. “Women communicate differently and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they need to learn to network like men, focus on our strengths not weaknesses, be able to understand and forgive.” Also, to be truly willing to compete, which she did starting when she earned a tennis scholarship to go to college.“Many women are competing in sports…but not for jobs .”

Most women stumble into the mortgage market “but then they love it,” says Rebecca Walzak, president of the mortgage consulting firm Looking Glass Group, Indianapolis, Indiana has held executive risk management positions in both originations and servicing at major lenders for over 30 years.

She sees the new focus on customer care as more associated with women mangers. “Dodd-Frank, HAMP, are forcing us to be responsive to the customer and that caring attitude is more of a women’s trade.” According to Waltzack even some of the men who have historically managed customer care centric shops have now started to focus on how to maximize the role of women in customer case management and use their ability to connect with the customer, listen to their issues and try to resolve their problems. “It is more naturally a female trait and I think men are starting to realize that.”

That realization will change the focus of many business managers in the future. “We’ll see more women involved in operation risk management,” she said, which also is poised for growth in 2012. “Either way, as far a customers go the mortgage market has to become a softer, nicer industry to be with.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” says Lang, who sees the industry shift into a more customer driven philosophy as a positive step forward. “We have absolutely ignored the customer and it’s about time we caught up to it.”