Since agreeing to a consent order with federal regulators last year, Wells Fargo—the nation’s largest servicer—has embarked on an aggressive plan to implement new loss mitigation strategies and improve upon existing practices, according to Randy Bockenstedt, a senior vice president at the bank.
Speaking at the recent National Mortgage News Best Practices in Loss Mitigation Conference in Dallas on Friday, Bockenstedt outlined Wells Fargo’s single point of contact program. Through SPOC, home preservation specialists are assigned to borrowers and stay assigned to a case until it has been resolved either by the loan becoming current through a workout, preforeclosure sale (short sale or deed-in-lieu) or foreclosure sale.
While the primary goal of Wells’ SPOC staff is to assist distressed borrowers through a variety of workout options in an attempt to keep them in their homes, Bockenstedt said that specialists also discussed liquidation options on the very first call to ensure that borrowers understand that a modification or other workout is not guaranteed.
Still, when a borrower’s case cannot be resolved with a workout, it can be difficult for team members to discuss other options with borrowers.
“That’s the toughest conversation we have with customers,” he said, adding that early in the process, it was engrained in employees’ training that their job is to help people stay in their homes. But the specialists’ training has since changed.
“It’s not a failure for the team member if they can’t keep the customer in their home,” he said. Rather, successful employees find the best resolution for a borrower and investor, even if that means the borrower can’t keep his or her home.
While SPOC staff members are trained to work with borrowers throughout the entire loss mitigation process, they’re not super specialists, with expertise in all servicing functions. “They don’t have an ‘S’ on their chests,” Bockenstedt said. SPOC personnel rely on communication with a variety of teams across Wells Fargo’s operation.
Another policy that’s improved SPOC performance is having specialists assigned to particular investors, rather than trying to train staff on multiple programs offered across all loan types.
“We assign specialists based on the investor,” Bockenstedt said. “We really want to make sure that our single points of contact are very familiar with the programs offered by each investor. You want them to sound like the expert they really are.”
He added that specialists are trained to succinctly set their expectations for borrowers, and set timelines that are adequate for the task, but quick so that borrowers submit required information as soon as possible.
“It can’t be open-ended. You can’t tell the customer they have 30 days to get us the documents. Establish when you need the documents back and get a commitment from them,” he said. “It’s of the utmost important to establish that timeline with the borrower very early on.”
Training and technology are also key to Wells Fargo’s SPOC approach. When specialists leave the company or transition to other positions, the bank ensures that the borrower fully understands what’s going on, usually with a joint call between the old and new SPOC specialist and the borrower.
Specialists also receive monthly training to understand new policies and directives and for supervisors to emphasis issues that can be improved. Specialists are trained to build and maintain customer loyalty, rather than just going through the steps of a procedure. “It’s not just did you ask the right questions, but how you asked the right questions,” Bockenstedt said.
In addition, systems that help specialists prioritize their work based on key milestones ensure that loans approaching foreclosure sale are prioritized.
“Before we instituted some of these tools, we passed out Excel spreadsheets with 75 to 100 loans and said, ‘Go figure out which loans you need to work on first,’” he said. Now, the system prioritizes projects. “It’s really important that our team members feel that they have systems and tools that work for them,” Bockenstedt added.