Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the September issue of MReport.
Suzy Lindblom was recently named the new COO for Planet Home Lending. She previously served as the company’s EVP of National Operations. Lindblom helped grow some of the leading brands in the mortgage industry, including Stearns Lending, where she was Managing Director of National Fulfillment and Operations, leading a multibillion-dollar, multichannel business. During her four decades in home lending, she also worked at MetLife Bank, Bank of America, CitiMortgage, GMAC Mortgage Corp., and Countrywide Home Loans. Lindblom appeared on the National Diversity Council's Southern California 2016 Most Powerful & Influential Women list and also won the 2017 MPA Elite Women Award.
Lindblom recently spoke to MReport on the challenges facing the industry, trends to be watching for, and how to adapt to the surge of millennials entering the housing market.
What are some of the challenges facing the industry today and as we head into 2020?
One of our biggest challenges is how to mix technology gains for efficiency and control while maintaining the personal touch with customers. Supporting that personal touch with customers who interact primarily via our digital mortgage assistant has been a focus for us at Planet Home Lending.
The second challenge I see is supporting a workforce that is energized to support your company. I make it a point to ask the staff on the front line what we can do better. They are in the trenches day to day and, trust me, they have incredible ideas. With that engagement, you become a stronger team, a stronger company.
What are some trends you're looking out for as 2020 approaches?
In 2020, we will continue to see the industry embrace the digital mortgage and bring it to the forefront. We need to be diligent on the balance of technology and the human touch, but clearly we need to look for ways to streamline the home loan process not only for the customer but for the mortgage industry as a whole.
In what ways can the industry adapt to the growing number of millennials entering the housing market and meeting their changing needs?
As an industry, we need to push more education out to the general public about homeownership and its advantages. We also need to educate more borrowers about the expectations of homeownership. While defaults are at historic lows, we need to maintain servicing knowledge that helps borrowers keep their home in the face of financial challenges. We also need to reach millennials in their own element. They grew up in a digital era, and we need to adapt by giving our customers access to apply and communicate with us digitally.
We also need to promote the mortgage industry as a career to millennials. Planet Home Lending is a sponsor for the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America (NAMMBA) Connect 2019 fall six-city tour, where we’ll be promoting careers in home lending. This is an incredibly bright generation that will usher the mortgage industry into the new era.
What are your thoughts on the market’s ongoing affordability issues, and what can be done to help borrowers in today's market?
Education for homeownership is the key. It is amazing how many veterans I talk to who don’t understand their home loan benefits and how many homebuyers don’t know about the parameters of products, including the availability of down payment assistance and bond programs. As an industry, we can always improve our efforts to educate homebuyers through social media posts, seminars, partnerships with community groups and any other way that will provide substantive information to consumers on the lifecycle of home ownership.
How can the mortgage industry best utilize technology?
Technology needs to be used for efficiencies within the mortgage industry and to offer easier access to our borrowers, and it needs to do this without losing the personal touch. We should be wary of over-engineering technological improvements without considering the effects on our customers and partners. Technological advances have helped bring much need efficiencies to the industry as well as given us the ability to integrate regulatory and credit rules into systems to ensure adequate controls for quality and compliance. While the benefits of technology have outweighed the negatives, too many companies/people rely heavily on technology, and that has hampered outside-the-box thinking. We as an industry need to be able to look at the entire picture. That includes considering system output and other variables that cannot be measured by technology to create processes and decisions. Again, it has hampered good old-fashioned customer service. Along with technology providing access to keep customers up-to-date, customers want the live voice; they want to know we care.
How do you foresee technology being used in the mortgage space moving forward?
I foresee more advances in technology being used to streamline our processes, allowing for more data exchange versus paper shuffling. It is very cumbersome for our customers to have to print, scan, fax, etc. their pay stubs, W-2s, bank statements, letters of explanation, etc., and we as an industry need to allow the electronic exchange of this data to become the norm, not the exception.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your career in the mortgage industry? How did you overcome them?
The mortgage industry has been very good to me, but there have been obstacles. Over the years, women have been channeled into operations and servicing. And while the women I know in operations and servicing are excellent in their positions, when we see corporate roles assigned by gender, we should be questioning why that happens. Women have much to offer across other industry specialties.
I learned to speak up and have my voice heard. I learned to hire and promote people around me who are much smarter than I am, and then continue to support them, respect them, elevate them, and showcase their successes.
What advice would you give to aspiring female professionals?
Speak up, while also listening and learning from everyone. Mutual respect is key. Don’t dismiss ideas because the person giving them does not have a title or you view them as competition. We need to support each other and learn from each other every day. It’s a team effort and too many people forget that and instead focus on promoting themselves. I have had the pleasure of having many female and male mentors and am truly blessed to continue to have them in my life. Get involved with industry movements such as mPower and NEXT mortgage events. Be heard and listen.