Rida Sharaf: The Pandemic Has Resulted in a More Cooperative Culture in Mortgage


PERSON OF THE WEEK: The mortgage industry is cyclical in nature – typically rising and falling with seasonal and economic patterns. But in 2020, the pandemic blew-up those typical patterns and injected a completely unpredictable element. Fortunately for mortgage lenders, the COVID-19 crisis resulted in mortgage rates hitting record lows, spurring a surge of refinance activity and increased demand for single-family homes. But, that meant lenders had to deal with implementing the needed protocols, in terms of social distancing mandates, while at the same time ramping up their ability to handle increased volume.

To get perspective from an industry veteran who has worked through past cycles on how this current crisis is different from anything ever seen before, MortgageOrb interviewed Rida Sharaf, chief strategy officer, USRES, a provider of financial support services for the purpose of valuation and disposition of distressed real estate assets.

Q: During your time in the industry, how have you seen things evolve? 

Sharaf: During my 18 years in the industry, there have been several expansions and contractions of the different business lines we focus on at USRES. Technology continues to play a more significant part of everything we do. Early expectations were that technology would resolve all servicing and mortgage related challenges and the bottlenecks ahead; however, for technology to be successful it must work in tandem with personalized customer service.

Having a more personalized touch and approach still proves very important. While the industry has grown, our relationships that evolve are where we make the most progress. Our industry’s most significant benefit will be seen in how we conduct ourselves and treat everyone in each transaction with a vested interest.

In the wake of the Pandemic, we have experienced considerable advances this year under the most challenging conditions. It is truly amazing to look back, just seven months later, at how an entire industry that occupied millions of square feet of office space and employed tens of thousands of individuals has been able to transition into a remote environment. It is a testament to the resiliency of this industry and its people.

Q: What are some of the changes you have seen that will continue to propel the industry forward?

Sharaf: One of the most impactful changes that I have seen is a greater motivation for our industry to work together as a whole and collectively solve problems. That sentiment, of continued collaboration, is critical because much of what we do results in a tremendous amount of economic activity for employees working within mortgage banking, the real estate industry supply chain, and consumers. We all play a critical role in what forms the real estate infrastructure, so sharing insights and collaborating helps maintain best practices and increase success.  

The pandemic triggered a more cooperative culture with more professionals sharing knowledge. This industry has always been essential; however, it was an awakening when it was challenged and uncertain. We are all in this together, and there’s much knowledge and experience to be shared.

Q: Looking back over the past 10 years what advice do you have for someone today that would be beneficial in their career? 

Sharaf: The first bit of advice I would share is to always maintain your professionalism – no matter what. When other people are not following decorum and [you] become tempted to follow suit by doing something that may be perceived as unprofessional, be confident in logic, reason, and civility. I was fortunate enough to be given that advice by an individual that I met early on in my business life, and I have aspired to embody this principle.

The other advice I have is to approach everything with an open heart and an open mind because business ideas will always have a mind and destination of their own. You may have some influence in where an idea lands, but what is more important are the relationships you form along the journey.

Earlier in my career, while I enjoyed many professional friendships, I did not assign enough attention, nor was fully aware, of the critical nature that honest and interactive relationships play in business and personal growth. I was focused on the business, getting ahead as a company and personally, and trying to produce the best work results. This all sounds good in theory, however, I failed to fully understand the value in building the relationships around me. Luckily, through guidance from some exceptional individuals and some challenging lessons, I was able to open my mind to these ideas and others. I went back to the drawing board to understand how I could make things better by being open to evolve and grow.

In my last ten years, I have learned that success can have vastly different meanings and is not static, but dynamic. My vision of success has become more relevant and personal to me than it had been in the past. I owe a debt of gratitude to all the individuals who helped me gain this new perspective.

Q: What do you think gives companies staying power in the industry? 

Sharaf: Building and maintaining strong relationships. Growing and nurturing solid communication and understanding throughout an organization is integral for a company’s staying power in the industry. The ultimate expression of these efforts is the unified, consistent collaboration and pursuit of knowledge that is exhibited by every member of an organization. This puts the company in the best position to understand and tailor their processes and models to effectively solve client issues.

To endure the changes of the industry and maintain relevancy, not only do you need experience and knowledge, but also adaptability. As the saying goes, the only constant is change. 

Diversification and prioritization of business lines is paramount and should be at the forefront in times of industry uncertainty.

Q: How has the Pandemic affected aspects of how you have shifted your management style, or have you? 

Sharaf: Our industry depends heavily on analytics and data, but this period has forced a shift to focus and concentrate on the human aspect, without abandoning the analytical elements. Analytics and data are tremendous tools, but we are innately social —that is built in us as humans. When we were forced to remove that in-person social aspect  of business due to the Pandemic, certain points of failure began to appear, which is why the social currency we have with our employees, clients, and everyone we encounter is invaluable. Being empathetic and using emotional intelligence to encourage and support is a must. 

When we had to act quickly during the early days of the pandemic, the concept of servant leadership was very evident and was clearly reaffirmed in my mind. I was going to my managers’ offices and saying, “Hey, what do you need me to do? What can I do for you?” and together, we accomplished very complex tasks involving both employees and clients. This experience reaffirmed the tremendous value of our management team and all of our team members.

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