At Huntington's mortgage unit, interactivity starts within

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Like many regional banking companies, Huntington Bancshares casts itself as a community bank, albeit one with more than $100 billion in assets.

One of the cornerstone attributes of that community bank approach, says Dan Shanahan, head of mortgage retail and direct sales, is the high level of person-to-person interactivity that the Columbus, Ohio-headquartered bank strives to achieve both with customers and internally among its mortgage loan officers.

In customer relations, Shanahan said that the company emphasizes mortgage loan officers' responsibility to sponsor seminars and otherwise educate and interact with borrowers, Realtors and other participants in the housing market. A similar, people-focused internal approach takes three forms: Education, accountability and leadership participation.

Education occurs via training courses, but just as importantly through face-to-face interaction with peers and management.

"We want them to be ready and available to meet any customer need, so we give MLOs weekly, monthly and quarterly opportunities to learn from the best of the best among their ranks," said Shanahan, who started as a loan officer at Huntington in 1998 and has held his current position since 2013.

Sharing ideas and best practice are emphasized using the top of the sales pool to motivate others. "If you're holding back in regard to sharing your secret sauce, you're complicit in all our failures," Shanahan said. "Our team, including management, buys into that idea."

The idea sharing often starts with Shanahan asking his leadership team about recent successes and who is doing something that should be shared. They interview the MLO to understand what he or she is doing, validate it, and then share insights, perhaps in an MLO-wide conference call or in sales meetings in local markets. When possible, a video is made to illustrate the mortgage loan officer's talent.

"We believe we all win together, not in siloed sales teams," Shanahan said.

New product information may be delivered via Skype calls and sometimes in person, and MLOs successful in selling a specific products may join management on road trips to discuss their best practices across sales meetings. "It's neat to tell counterparts how you're achieving something," Shanahan said.

On the accountability front, management sends out templates to MLOs for drawing up business plans that source future business and are reviewed in six months by sales and regional managers.

"It's important for leadership to check in with them on those business plans and help guide them, either to change something if it's not working or push them to execute on it," Shanahan said, adding, "People actually enjoy it … that you're actually watching."

At times, a plan may be too bold, and the MLO may be asked to slim it down. Shanahan said mortgage banking is about pursuing the "basics" and doing so consistently. That means accomplishing a certain number of outside sales calls each week, understanding the loan officer's pipeline of leads "inside and out," and focusing not just on Realtors for leads but other sources specific to particular housing market.

"And MLOs must first and foremost take care of the internal customer — the banking office," he said. "That's extremely important."

Huntington's mortgage-banking leadership develops a strategic sales plan that typically incorporates ideas from MLOs' business plans and defines management's support.

"Our leadership is very participatory in sales calls and the sales culture. We have a strategic sales plan we share with the sales force, and we implement it with them," Shanahan said.

He added that it is a requirement for his leadership team to check in on Realtors and other outside sources, as well as "internal customers" such as branch colleagues to ask how MLOs are doing. If the answer is less than good, management will try to find a solution. "We're very active in the market compared to [other bankers] who may sit at their desks and look at reports."

Part of leadership’s support, he added, is actually joining the "calling culture," at times showing less-experienced MLOs how it's done, and sometimes simply observing and congratulating them for a successful call.

"You need to point it out, and leadership needs to be there for the good and bad, and guide the MLOs," he said.

Want to learn more about digital mortgages?

When asked to describe other forms of MLO support, Shanahan noted a group that provides digital and hardcopy sales support such as flyers, as well as a CRM-type system to help lenders track pre-approved borrowers still searching for homes to buy.

The heads of most mortgage lenders emphasize the importance of automating the mortgage-application process, giving MLOs more time to provide advisory services. Shahanan, instead, only discussed technology when asked about it, and freely acknowledged that Huntington has no intention to be an early adopter. For example, he said, the bank is in the process of implementing an automated loan application system, but it is being "very thoughtful" in how it is proceeding.

"It's not going to replace the need to educate borrowers and Realtors, and the need for leadership to be involved," he said, adding, "I still believe breaking bread and handshakes works 10 times better."

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