New MBA chief's hardest job? Not screwing things up
The biggest challenge facing the Mortgage Bankers Association's new president and CEO isn't the housing market constraints and rising interest rates that have put a damper on loan volume, nor is it navigating the evolving regulatory and political landscape in Washington.
Rather, the most daunting task facing Robert Broeksmit will be keeping the MBA running smoothly and ensuring its membership stays engaged following the departure of current CEO David Stevens.
Stevens, who is widely revered for leading the MBA through one of its most tumultuous eras on record, will be a tough act to follow. But in doing so, Broeksmit is inheriting an organization on the upswing.
That's why Broeksmit doesn't expect to make radical changes to the organization's direction, though MBA members may notice a difference in style.
"I will come in with a fresh set of eyes and ears and listen to the concerns of our members and respond accordingly," Broeksmit told National Mortgage News. Still, "I am coming into the MBA when it is as strong as it's ever been, and not coming in anticipating that there are substantive immediate changes that need to be made."
In looking for its next CEO, the MBA's first prerequisite was someone with deep industry knowledge and experience, said former MBA chairman Bill Cosgrove, who served on the executive search committee.
"We saw with the leadership of Dave Stevens where that really made a difference," Cosgrove said. "And today the issues are so deep, the waters are deep and having the deep industry knowledge we felt was very, very important and Bob obviously checks that box in a big way."
Broeksmit's experience includes 14 years heading up B.F. Saul Mortgage Co., which was part of Chevy Chase Bank.
While Broeksmit doesn't have the same level of experience in government as Stevens, who served as Federal Housing Administration commissioner in the Obama administration, his work as chairman of the Residential Board of Governors and on the organization's board of directors provided him with an understanding of Washington policy issues.
"Bob is a strong leader with decades of experience and service to our industry," said Quicken Loans Vice Chairman Bill Emerson. "His expertise will prove important as the MBA heads into a very critical time for housing and lending policy."
Still, navigating the halls of Congress can be tough and even bills with bipartisan support like the recent regulatory reform legislation can be difficult to pass.
The current polarization in Washington is not conducive to lots of legislation, Broeksmit said. However, "since the MBA's issues are housing-related and the efficient financing of commercial and multifamily housing, as well as the residential mortgage market, the issues that we care about can garner bipartisan support. I'm under no illusions about the ease of legislating in this environment, but I am also optimistic."
Broeksmit, who will be 54 years old in July, resides in Maryland and is a registered Republican, according to state voter records. He has personally made nearly $30,000 in political contributions to the MBA since 2002, according to public data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Since 2004, he has also donated nearly $6,750 to Democrats and $1,400 to Republicans, including a contribution to Ohio Gov. John Kasich's presidential campaign.
"He has tremendous shoes to fill with the departure of Dave Stevens, who has led the MBA successfully for the past seven years, but I know Bob is up for the challenge," said Emerson, a former MBA chairman.
The MBA is financially stronger and in an overall more stable position than when many of the group's previous leaders started their tenures. That gives Broeksmit, who will join the MBA in August ahead of Stevens' departure in late September, a distinct advantage over many of his predecessors.
Under Stevens, the MBA's revenue grew nearly 50%, to $67.7 million, from 2012 to 2016, according to federal tax records compiled by nonprofit watchdog GuideStar. Political contributions to the MBA also soared.
But when Stevens took the reins from John Courson, the situation was far bleaker. The mortgage industry was inundated with unprecedented defaults and foreclosures, and credit was extremely tight for new originations.
The MBA had suffered a string of multimillion annual losses and had to lay off staff. What's more, the group was still reeling from its decision to sell its headquarters building at a $30 million loss. The move drew harsh criticism and ridicule over the perceived hypocrisy of the MBA holding itself to a lower standard than homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.
Courson's predecessor, Jonathan Kempner, had overseen the purchase of the $100 million building even as membership and revenue were already on the decline. Kempner's tenure began in 2001 — a time of rampant industry consolidation and unrest concerning Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — taking over for Paul Reid, who received a $1.27 million buyout to step down before the end of his contract term.
Mid America Mortgage President Jeff Bode, who once considered himself among Stevens' harshest critics, now credits him for turning the organization around.
Stevens guided the industry through the aftermath of the financial crisis, "and kept everything together where we could finance the housing of America and make a great housing recovery," Bode said.
During Stevens' tenure, independent mortgage bankers flourished and Bode hopes that continues in the future. Cosgrove, who is also the president and CEO of independent Union Home Mortgage, said that is likely to happen under Broeksmit's leadership.
"He has a clear understanding of those attributes that independent mortgage bankers bring to our communities and he values that. I think Bob will do a great job representing all facets of the business," including the commercial/multifamily sector as well, Cosgrove said.
Among Broeksmit's early priorities are housing finance reform, creating long-term stability with the FHA program and working with the Trump administration to get clarity and more certainty for lenders from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rather than the past practice where regulatory guidance was done through enforcement actions.
Taking on the CEO's position is "a great honor for me and a great way for me to be able to contribute to the industry and its policymaking that has been important to me for several decades. It's a dream job for me," Broeksmit said.