The three-finger salute, used to resolve all system issues, is Control-Alt-Delete. Image: Fotolia.
The three-finger salute, used to resolve all system issues, is Control-Alt-Delete. Image: Fotolia.

WE’RE HEARING from a lot of clients who are concerned about the changing market conditions. They are calling us about volumes dropping, margins tightening, purchases up and refinances going away, and asking us how they can fix things quickly. Some are looking to make small moves, others seem more desperate, like they want to restart their companies for this new environment.

It struck me that many of them are acting like a person who is using a computer or laptop that was not built for the task they are trying to complete. They keep banging on the keys and the situation just gets worse. They are frustrated and scared that the machine is just not working anymore. Maybe they even have the screen of death, which for mortgage bankers is the process of staring at the pricing screen and watching the 4% coupon prices drift up as their volume goes in the opposite direction.

So, here is my metaphor for the day. We all get frustrated with our computer when it’s not working well, and often we get so angry that we want to give it the finger. But we all know that the way to get the system working better is to not show frustration with the one-finger salute, but rather to employ the time honored process that makes the machine work better—the three-finger salute! Anyone who has used a computer knows this magic trick that solves most computer problems.

Now, working in our industry, I’m guessing that you probably know what the one-finger salute is. If you don’t, I would like to invite you to join me on the roads in South Florida. You will quickly learn the one-finger salute and may also get to witness an alligator crossing the road on his way to bite a guy in the head (that actually happened over the weekend, which is not unusual in Florida but was newsworthy enough to make one of the lead stories on CNN’s “This Week.” Only crazy Florida stories can knock a crashing Asian jetliner and a Middle-Eastern coup off the front page).

Now, back to our regularly scheduled column, already in progress.

So, what is the three-finger salute? The three-finger salute, used to resolve all system issues, is Control-Alt-Delete. This works on nearly all computers, all of the time, except of course on a Mac where you have to log in to the app store and download the “fix it” app and then agree to buy all of your products from Apple while wearing a black mock-T. We’re not on Macs, obviously.

So, if you use Control-Alt-Delete your problems are get to stop all the bad processes, close out the programs that are not helping you and restart your machine. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use the three-finger salute in mortgage banking to restart our businesses when times got tough?

Well, why not? Let me share my method for restarting yourself in the face of a changing market when your current mortgage system just doesn’t seem to be getting the job done. Let’s take it one finger at a time (no, not that finger!). This week I will talk about the first finger, Control.

In the context of the mortgage business, Control is all about having a better understanding of your revenue and your costs and how they compare with those of your peers. When the market gets tough, you don’t need to cut all your costs, you don’t need to be better than everyone, you just need to be better than your competition. And you don’t need to be better at everything, just at the things that will drive your business to be more successful.

At Stratmor, we use data to help our clients understand what their competitive advantages are. Are they lower cost, or higher revenue? Is their product mix consistent with the market? Is their market share going up, or going down? In fact, knowing this one item on a near real time basis can have a big impact on your decisions.

If everyone else is going down, but you are going down less than the others, then you are actually growing share, and that is much better than losing share andlosing volume. So, my recommendation is to keep control of yourself, get control of your metrics, and work on the things you can control that drive your business.

There are tools that can help you do this. Getting access to them is akin to pushing down the first button in the three-finger salute. I’ll tell you about the second finger next week.

(Editor’s note. Next week: Alt—which is about alternate channels and alternative marketing methods. The following week: Delete—which is cutting staff and other expenses.)

Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group, and has over 25 years of mortgage experience, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, including management of two of the most successful mortgage e-commerce platforms. He was formerly with Chase Manhattan Mortgage and ABN Amro, where he was a senior executive during the sale of its mortgage group to Citigroup.