"Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing anyone can learn,” sang Dionne Warwick in one of Burt Bacharach’s classic tunes, and truer words have rarely been sung. It’s a sentiment that certainly applies to our industry, where loan officers frequently jump ship in hopes of finding greener pastures.
Of course, the decision to switch companies isn’t always that hard. The more difficult decision may be figuring out where you want to take your talents. Every company has a different culture and different ways of doing business. With a shifting market after a year and a half of disruption, making the right choice may seem more challenging than ever. But it can be done.
Signs It May Be Time to Move on
Branch managers and loan officers move all the time in our industry, and changing mortgage companies can be nerve-wracking even during normal times. That’s why it’s critical to know when—and why—it’s time to make a switch.
Of course, the easiest reason to switch employers is when you’re at a company that’s floundering or about to go under. Today, however, the majority of mortgage lenders are doing quite well, so the decision to switch companies usually boils down to whether or not you feel happy and supported in your current role.
Loan officers may become disillusioned with their employer for all kinds of reasons. One of the biggest and most hurtful reasons is not feeling valued by management, or feeling as though your skills, knowledge, and experience are being taken for granted. Of course, most lenders don’t intend to make their people feel this way, but if they aren’t putting constant effort into making their people feel valued and empowered, loan officers and branch managers can become disheartened.
Many loan officers leave their current company after realizing there’s no room to grow. This is quite common at companies that don’t invest in their employees’ ongoing training or professional development.
Probably the biggest motivating factor behind making a move is when your job affects your personal life. As much as people may try to separate their personal and professional lives, it can be difficult to do so in practice. After all, we spend a significant amount of time and energy at our jobs. If you’re unhappy at work, your personal life will likely suffer as well.
Often the writing on the wall appears on Sunday evening, when you find yourself dreading going to work the next morning. Or it may boil down to a single moment of clarity while on the job. Perhaps you want to propose a new idea for generating business to your manager, only to stop yourself because you’ve realized your ideas will be shot down. If you’re feeling this way, you know it’s time to move. But where?
What to Look for in a New “Home”
For many loan officers, the decision to move to a new company is easy. Perhaps it came with a promotion or the promise of more business opportunities. But given the aggressiveness with which lenders today are recruiting salespeople—especially high performers—it can be difficult for a loan officer to know whether they are making the right move.
There was a time when most loan officers left companies simply for the opportunity to make more money. However, the profit motive is not as alluring as it once was. In fact, according to a 2019 Glassdoor survey of 5,000 people, 77% of respondents said a company’s mission and culture were very important considerations when applying for jobs. Younger people were even more motivated by culture: the survey found that millennials are more likely to prioritize culture above salary.
What constitutes a good company culture? I believe it’s when team members do not compete against each other but work together towards a common goal—such as making borrowers happy. A company with a strong culture is also a place where people feel trusted, valued, and supported in their ability to reach their highest potential. Creating that sort of positive environment comes from the top.
Early in my career, I was lucky enough to work for someone who advised me to always maintain “an abundant mindset” and to be opportunistic. That advice has had an immense impact on the way I approach my work and how I manage people. Mindset is a critical component of success in business and in all aspects of life. Those with an abundant mindset maintain a positive attitude and realize there is plenty of business for everyone. That positivity flows down the ranks and touches all employees.
Another important thing to look for is an organization that helps its people maintain a healthy work-life balance. Traditionally, people attracted to sales careers have struggled with balancing their personal and professional lives and are prone to overworking themselves. Thankfully, there is a greater awareness today of the benefits of maintaining a healthy balance between work and home, especially after a year of working remotely.
What to Avoid
Before deciding on a move, it’s critical to understand what’s not working out with your current lender, so you know what to avoid at your next one.
Most importantly, you’ll want to steer clear of companies where people aren’t happy and passionate about what they do. This may seem difficult to detect, as every lender looking to attract talented loan officers will want to put on its best face. For this reason, you may want to avoid companies that seem overly aggressive with their recruiting tactics. These companies often spend more energy bringing in new people than they spend making current employees happy.
For the same reason, you’ll want to avoid companies that aren’t able to open their doors and show you all the different ways they help people reach their highest potential. Good, successful lenders give people the freedom to think outside the box and find new ways to build successful relationships with borrowers and referral partners.
I would advise loan officers and branch managers considering a new employer to look for a company that focuses on bringing teams and processes together to produce positive results. Seek out a company that makes its people feel empowered and valued.
Personally, that is one of the best parts of my role. What really drives me is knowing that I’m able to help people realize all of their potential.
In this day and age, it also makes little sense to switch to a lender that lacks a real commitment to DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion. A quick way to tell whether a lender provides equal opportunities to all its people is to look at its leadership and managers. Do they reflect the rest of the company or its customers? It’s important to ask what your prospective lender’s DEI strategy is—or if they even have one.
DEI is not just about creating a welcoming environment and equal opportunities for everyone, although these things are certainly important. A lender that commits itself to hiring people who reflect the borrowers it wants to serve is more likely to generate more business. Diversity among a company’s team members also creates an environment where a broader range of ideas can flourish, which can also help a company’s bottom line.
Tools for Success
You’ll also want to find out how well a prospective employer is prepared to meet the needs of today’s borrowers. It’s critical for lenders to be able to provide both a high-touch customer experience as well as being able to deliver services digitally. The demand for digital mortgage processes accelerated during COVID-19. If you’re looking to switch lenders, how well a company has navigated the pandemic should rank high in factors to consider. For example, did the company act quickly to set up employees working safely from home? And did it still close loans on time?
It should go without saying that a good home for any mortgage professional is a lender that provides the widest possible range of loan products, as well as the back-office support needed to help loan officers serve borrowers looking to finance their dream home or refinance their mortgage loan.
It’s important to mention here that our industry is about to transition from a refinance market to a purchase market. Mortgage lenders that lost touch with purchase loan referral sources during the past 18 months will find this transition much more challenging. On the other hand, lenders that encouraged loan officers to stay in touch with their referral partners will be a better choice.
When evaluating prospective employers, look for things that make them unique. For example, in order to ensure all voices are heard, some lenders have created advisory boards made up of employees that provide input on the company’s strategic direction. Typically, such lenders enjoy high morale and low turnover because everyone feels as though their opinion matters.
The Bottom Line
While many lenders see people come and go quite frequently, there are lenders where loan officers remain the entire length of their careers. Usually, these lenders are quick to pivot with market cycles and have built a strong culture and fiercely protect it. Most importantly, they are the ones that pour every ounce of energy into keeping people happy, engaged, and in a state of constant learning and growth.
Anyone who is passionate about their mortgage career deserves to work someplace that is equally passionate about them. Find that place, and you’ll no longer wonder when it’s time to leave. You’ll be too busy having fun.
Paul Buege is President and COO of Pewaukee, Wisconsin-based Inlanta Mortgage, a lender licensed in 24 states that is actively seeking new loan professionals. Buege has over 35 years’ experience in the mortgage business and is an expert in recruitment, business development, and growing sales. Under his leadership, Inlanta Mortgage has received numerous awards and accolades, including multiple times as a Top Workplace in the mortgage industry. Buege may be reached at PaulBuege@Inlanta.com.