Ramaj Balley: Hope, Optimism and Excitement Are Contagious

PERSON OF THE WEEK: Ramaj Balley is vice president of national retail lending at MiMutual Mortgage, a mortgage lender with retail and wholesale operations in more than 30 states.

Balley contends that two things – technology and cultural identity – are driving how mortgage originators are operating in today’s environment. Mortgage Orb chatted with him to explore what spells success, given all the changes and challenges in the industry.

Q: What are modern mortgage professionals looking for in an organization?

Balley: In a word, culture. The most important thing for a mortgage organization to do in this post-regulation, modernized environment is to present an attractive intersection between what the company believes and the actual work that it does. In other words – define your purpose and core values in order to find talent that is a cultural fit. This helps present cultural identity and ultimately provides a source of inspiration for members of the company family.

Success in attracting and retaining valuable branches and loan officers does not necessarily reside in having a corporate identity, but understanding why it’s important – the elements that make it successful, for both the employee and the company itself.

Modern mortgage professionals are looking for organizations that are passionate about what separates them from the pack and how this translates to the employee’s contribution. It is paramount to place clients at the top of the organizational chart and provide the tools and environment necessary for mortgage professionals to accomplish this. Attracting talent that aligns with this belief system is the cornerstone to a successful recruiting philosophy.

A culture of communication is the solution to most problems commonly found in business. Organizations should demonstrate a commitment to problem-solving together, with the understanding that we are all working to help each other, even when you might not agree with the solutions.

Consumers and mortgage professionals alike do not want to be “sold”; they are looking for a home and want to work with genuine, authentic people – especially given what the industry has been through the last 10 years. Because of this, there is a longing for a clearly defined cultural identity in an organization that creates a sense of hope, optimism and excitement for the future. These attributes become contagious. Employees are looking for a corporate home. If used properly, this can create a sense of inspiration for consumers who are looking for their dream home too.

Q: What are some of the ways successful mortgage professionals can differentiate themselves within such a commoditized industry?

Balley: There are two significant ways for mortgage professionals to distinguish themselves in an industry already saturated: technology and cultural identity.

We are all reliant on technology to accomplish everyday tasks – why wouldn’t it be the same for the mortgage process? A mortgage organization can differentiate with technology if it covers multiple steps of the process, if not all of them, from a mobile hand-held device.

This technology footprint should encompass the beginning stages of the process from searching for a property and applying online to actually getting a loan approved. This is where the industry is at right now – it is important to be a part of that as an organization, to meet the expectations of the modern consumer. If an organization incorporates these initiatives, it contributes to the overall corporate identity. This provides an important competitive differentiator and toolset for loan officers.

Q: How can we optimize the loan origination experience for both employees and customers?

Balley: There is an umbrella under which the entire mortgage organization should fall: the consumer. Optimizing the consumer experience is ultimately why we’re here. If you are able to create an outstanding experience for the consumer, then everything else will fall into place.

Part of what creates that experience is members of the mortgage organization. This means we need to take care of our team as well. There is so much importance in taking care of employees, because they, in turn, will take care of consumers.

The work-life balance is one of the most important components to having highly productive and great employees who do a great job – and ultimately drive an excellent customer experience. In this way, mortgage organizations can utilize the culture that encourages employees that, in turn, drives the consumer satisfaction. Because essentially, that is our purpose: to optimize the experience for both our employees and our customers.

Q: What factors will be important to achieve success in the mortgage industry in the future?

Balley: Achieving success in the mortgage industry will be predicated on meeting the technology needs of the various demographics – namely, Baby Boomers, first-time home buyers and Millennials.

In addition, as a leadership team, it’s imperative that we continue to maintain an entrepreneurial environment for the production team while maintaining cost controls and risk and regulatory compliance. Striking the right balance between these multiple factors will lead to continued profitable growth.

Q: How can mortgage professionals navigate some of the unintended consequences of post-recession regulation?

Balley: The CFPB and its regulatory and compliance oversight on transactions were intended to protect the consumer, and I believe in many ways it has. But there have been some unintended consequences. It has become more difficult, more stringent for the consumer to get a mortgage.

By effectively pushing the liability of foreclosure to the lender from the borrower, the Dodd Frank Act has caused lenders to limit credit availability to what’s viewed as high-risk borrowers. While we have seen an increase in non-QM lending programs, this strata of borrowers – including the self-employed borrower – has been underserved as a result.

Mortgage professionals need to educate themselves with non-QM products so that they are equipped to serve this underserved market. In this low rate environment, this is a challenge, given the vast quantity of qualified mortgage opportunities.

However, at some point, rates will rise to a level where the qualified mortgage opportunities will drop to a level that could potentially affect the sustainability of an originator’s business. A vast product offering, in addition to product knowledge and expertise, will be a key differentiator for originators and lenders going forward.

Q: What has been the most important improvement in the industry within the last 10 years?

Balley: Technology – hands down. Technology has created tremendous efficiencies throughout the entire mortgage workflow. From speed-to-decision and innovation at the point of sale, to responsive communication throughout the entire loan process, tech is creating an unparalleled user experience.

The industry continues to compress the time it takes to originate and close a loan – the consumer demands this. Consumers want to handle property searches, loan applications, credit pulls and loan approvals with their hand-held devices. And they want a data-driven experience versus an image- or paper-driven process.

Ultimately, consumer demands will drive a more efficient and streamlined data-centered mortgage experience. Those companies that embrace this reality will be the most successful as we move forward.


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