By now, you've no doubt heard about what a great show the Mortgage Bankers Association threw in honor of its 101st Annual Convention in Las Vegas. In typical Vegas style, the industry's largest trade group offered up headliners, including Kevin Spacey, Michael Lewis and music from Hall & Oates.
I got a little concerned when my wife was in the front row at Hall and Oates singing "She's Gone" a little too enthusiastically. I did not end up losing a spouse in Vegas, but certainly not everyone leaves Vegas as winners. So, here are my observations about the show.
Winning and losing is what Las Vegas is all about. As we know, in Vegas the house always wins and many in the industry were talking about the rising house values that are driving competitive purchase markets in some parts of the country. Lenders are having to compete on service, the ability to get the purchase loans closed, and some lenders who have refined their value proposition for this market climate are reaping the rewards by maintaining margins in 2014 and gaining market share.
Of course, the round of refinancing in the weeks preceding the show gave new life to some lenders who have been riding the refinance train for too long, so those refi-centric lenders have gotten lucky yet again and likely will survive into 2015.
The biggest winners I saw at the show were the executives from companies that had recently been acquired or from the firms that had acquired them. In fact, during the show, we learned that Guild Mortgage had purchased Northwest Mortgage in a combination of two big purchase lenders. At Stratmor, we have a front row seat for many of these deals, serving one side or the other as an advisor, and we get to look below the surface to assess the real value that each side brings. I can tell you that there are a lot of winners in this most recent round of M&A activity. I'll leave it to our M&A folks to give you details, some other time.
But there were also some losers on the exhibit hall floor at MBA Annual, though many of them may not realize it yet. We heard from a lot of companies that they are in the market for new LOS systems, or are very worried about their current system meeting the new disclosure requirements in 2015. Others are trying to figure out how to get an LOS that works for new channels or expanded product options. In fact, Stratmor partner Len Tichy is working on a new technology survey to get real data on what is going on in the LOS space, from the lenders' perspective. All the vendors say they are doing great, but the stories from the lenders are often very different. In fact, some of the tales we hear fit right in with the Halloween season (scary stories at night, and a sick feeling in the morning).
Lenders who participate in the survey will receive summary findings, although I will be highlighting some of the trends in future columns. So, if you plan to invest in tech next year, now is the time to tell us about the technology you already have.
We also heard from executives who want to ramp up their retail lending capabilities and are actively trying to recruit better producers. This was such a common theme at this show that it's pretty obvious why LO attrition rates and LO compensation remain high. It seems like every single company is trying to hire away everyone else's originators, and in some cases they are successful in doing that.
The question for the industry is whether that model of recruiting really drives the bottom line? My colleagues are working on an Originator Census to address this question and early results are very interesting. We have found that many new hires wash out within the first 18 months and that LOs that perform in the lowest 20% of producers leave their company much more frequently than those that perform at higher levels. In other words, we may be in a perpetual cycle of recycling the bottom producers, which is hardly a recipe for success.
In our work on the Loan Originator Census, we are also analyzing the age of the LO segment. We certainly appear to be having issues bringing young people into the industry, and maybe that is the final lesson we can learn from Vegas. When I was younger, Vegas was a place that old folks went when they wanted to party. And this past week in Vegas, the mortgage bankers sure made it look that way again. But generally Vegas is a much different place than it used to be (except for the ugly carpets).
There are a lot more hip youngsters in the place who are cash-rich, multicultural and (for the most part) physically fit — which may explain the popularity of the hotel's European style "toptional" adults-only pool, which I did not visit because I would never approve of such a thing. (I mentioned that my wife reads this column, right?) Also, I don't want to expose my bare belly to anyone.
Anyway, these young people are out and about in Las Vegas, spending a lot of money and having a lot of fun. At some point, we need to try to get these young ones to consider growing up, buying a house, and getting a mortgage. To be winners, we might need to get better about recruiting them and figuring out how to make them successful in our industry. In fact, I will be speaking on that topic at the next conference, the Independent Mortgage Bankers in San Diego in December.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.