So, it's a new year and we're all going through the process of preparing for everything new and saying good-bye to the past. All things considered, last year wasn't as bad as some thought it might be. Volume was slightly better, the economy improved and the industry did a pretty good job of coping with the regulatory changes.
As we enter the new year, there is a real possibility that we'll be saying good-bye to historically low interest rates and the refinance business that has sustained many firms. And it's obvious to all that we will not be saying goodbye to the renewed scrutiny on compliance that is now standard in the business.
On a sad note, as the new year begins, we also say good-bye to Stuart Scott, one of ESPN's most popular sportscasters. This loss set me back a bit. Sure, readers of this column know I'm a sports fan, but losing Stuart seemed more personal to me. He was born in 1965, the same year as me. He attended the University of North Carolina, while I was at its rival, the University of Virginia. He was my age just a few weeks ago. Now, he's gone.
We didn't know each other, but watching his career develop over the years gave us all a sense of being part of his circle. He made us feel like he was one of us. It was a very powerful part of his personality and we can all learn some lessons from him that we can apply in our own business.
Scott was part of ESPN's effort to appeal to a more diverse audience. That meant attracting more African-American viewers certainly, but also a young, hip generation. He wasn't the only young announcer the network hired, but he was the one that didn't put his personality on a coat hook by the door when he came to work. He never gave up his unique approach, never became a younger copy of the older sportscasters he followed into the career.
We don't always tolerate that sense of individuality in our business. When we do recruit young people into our business (which our recent LO Census study indicates isn't very often), we expect them to be just like us. Then we wonder why they're not making a connection with millennials and other first-time homebuyers.
Our data indicate that LOs under the age of 30 make up only 4% of the origination team for independent mortgage companies, and about 3% for banks. And we don't make it easy on these new guys. In the independent mortgage company, LOs under 30 average less than $2.5 million in annual loan volume, and turnover for this group is about 50%. Young LOs at banks do better, originating about $5 million per year with an attrition rate of less than 40%. I suspect that they are getting more high-quality leads from bank branches and a somewhat better support system, maybe even some formalized training. But it's still not a great track record.
Maybe we could benefit by taking a page from ESPN's playbook here and allow our younger LOs to express a bit more of their own personality. How can I be so sure? Because it worked for me.
I started at Chase Manhattan Mortgage right out of college. It was my first job and I hit the ground as a new LO. I tried to originate loans the corporate way, reaching out to real estate agents and delivering donuts and rate sheets.
But I found that there was little loyalty there, and a lot of low producing agents. I wanted to do things differently and, to its credit, the bank let me try it. I ended up calling on law firms, employers and other alternative sources, and did well enough that Chase had me start their corporate affinity program nationally. They tolerated my style, which was certainly different and at times irreverent and edgy (as readers of this column have probably noticed). I ended up spending nine years at Chase, was one of their top producers, and still fall back on the extensive training they provided to a young loan officer right out of college. There probably isn't enough of that in our industry.
Later on, I was one of the founders of mortgage.com and we built a very sophisticated online platform, with lots of technology and innovation. And that enabled us to hire a young team and build a training platform that generated a lot of call center agents that did business the way we wanted. They were highly effective, and very loyal. But we had to be willing to hire those that were not experienced in our industry and let them use the technology tools and training that we were willing to invest in. I remember at the height of the refinance boom having one of our top agents have three calls going at one time, juggling multiple opportunities into multiple applications. That multitasking is not exactly the one on one model that we see with most call center agents.
So, we can continue to recruit new talent and then force them to do business the way we've always done it. We will find some good LOs this way, but what will we miss out on? Looking back over Scott's career, I'm so glad that ESPN didn't think that way. We should learn from that.
To attract new segments of customers, we have to be willing to allow a different type of personality to go into those communities and be themselves. We have to accept tools and techniques that certainly are not how it's always been done before. After all, ESPN was smart enough to realize that "boo-yah" was a perfectly acceptable word to describe a great sports play despite the fact it was not in any dictionary. Maybe hiring that fleet of young people and finding a way to let them maintain their own personalities is how we'll find the superstars, just like ESPN.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.