About 30 years ago when I began my career, someone told me to make as much money as I could as fast as I could, because mortgage loan officers wouldn't be needed for much longer.
When I look back and think about that sentiment, it makes me laugh a bit. As the president of a healthy mortgage division at a community bank in Baltimore, I'm confident that my 40 loan officers have a direct impact on our positive gross revenue and increased loan origination.
Coming in at No. 20 on the U.S. News & World Report Best Jobs Rankings in 2016, the loan officer remains a relevant option in today's job market at a national level. Like most other jobs in the business, economic growth, population growth and low interest rates all create demand for mortgage loans — thus creating employment opportunities for eager mortgage loan officers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the loan officer employment rate is projected to grow 8% between 2014 and 2024, with almost 328,000 employed U.S. loan officers anticipated in 2024.
Doing it alone is not an easy task.
Digital mortgages with savvy program offerings and a streamlined application process conducted without a mortgage loan officer can certainly be a valid option for some consumers. However, when it comes to mortgage lending from the consumer's perspective, it's not often as simple as it seems. To the consumer with several existing loans, several sources of income and a less-than-perfect credit report, the lending process via automated tools may prove to be less straightforward.
No matter how technologically advanced and automated our industry becomes, there will always be a situation where further explanation or documentation beyond the standard requirements is needed to apply for a loan. A good loan officer is capable of probing to unveil information that might have otherwise gone by the wayside, leading the borrower to choose an unsuitable loan. By asking the right questions, the loan officer is equipping the borrower with everything they need to make a well-informed decision. This fact alone is one reason loan officers will continue to add value to mortgage lending.
Consumers are still looking for personal interaction and service that can be customized to fit their unique situation, beyond an automated response. According to a consumer survey by appointment scheduling vendor TimeTrade, 75% of millennials surveyed are willing to schedule an appointment to meet with a mortgage specialist. Millennials, shockingly enough, were the age group most likely to be willing to schedule an appointment. When the age group with the greatest reputation for using technology and automated services is still willing to visit a mortgage specialist in-person, this indicates the loan officer remains a necessity.
Attract more than paper pushers.
In today's lending world, loan officers don't just process loan paperwork. Of course, that is a key part of their role, but it does not stop there. Where my loan officers prove their value time and time again is in getting the borrowers to walk in the door. Sure, they are facilitating the lending process and serving as a source of information for the borrower. However, the selling component of the job is more prevalent now than it ever has been.
Even if the mortgage lending system is completely automated and a company offers the lowest rates, that company needs salespeople capable of customizing the best experience and cultivating a strong relationship between the bank and the borrower. The best loan officers in the business have built a career around creating long-lasting relationships with intermediaries, ultimately so they can better navigate each borrower's unique situation.
Lenders need to prioritize recruiting loan officers who have strong relationships in the market and are capable of getting borrowers in the door. Top talent is necessary in order to keep "feeding the beast" in a competitive low-rate environment. It can be difficult to recruit strong mortgage loan officers, but it's certainly doable if the environment exists for good people to efficiently do their jobs.
As the leader of the mortgage division of a community bank, I have the ability to give my loan officers the autonomy to work their connections and build relationships in a personalized way with little red tape. For a business to remain successful in today's market, it's crucial to find the right combination of loan programs, viable rates and autonomy given to talented loan officers.
Top-hat service is a component that can keep business competitive and successful for the long run. As long as a bank wants to do business with borrowers, the loan officer is here to stay.
Dave Jacobin is the president of 1st Mariner Mortgage, a division of 1st Mariner Bank.