PERSON OF THE WEEK: What’s it like opening a new mortgage servicing center during a pandemic?
To find out, MortgageOrb recently interviewed Sandra Jarish, president, servicing, Planet Home Lending, who helped the company launch a new servicing center in Dallas.
Q: You recently opened Planet’s fourth servicing center. Why did you choose the Dallas Metroplex?
Jarish: Dallas was a great choice for a new servicing hub for multiple reasons. Planet’s growth as a multi-channel mortgage originator and servicer played a major role in our decision. Our servicing portfolio hit nearly $41 billion in April after expanding 17% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2021. Our retail and correspondent divisions doubled to nearly $7 billion a quarter. To originate efficiently during growth phases, you have to service efficiently.
The Dallas metroplex has a deep pool of knowledgeable servicing talent able to deliver the efficient, high-touch customer experience Planet is known. The center in Dallas also expanded our time zone coverage, which makes it easier to serve borrowers and to be accessible to private clients.
We have also expanded our small-balance commercial, residential transition loan (fix-and-flip) and non-QM servicing. Being in Dallas puts us closer, geographically, to the markets where those products are popular.
Q: You have opened servicing centers quite a few times, how was doing it during COVID different?
Jarish: The two biggest challenges were setting up the space while following social distancing and health protocols for office work and staffing the center. We interviewed job candidates as well as hired and trained teams virtually. Employees have a lot to juggle, especially parents of school-age children and those who are caregivers. To increase work/life balance, we expanded part-time, flex time and work-from-home opportunities, not just in Dallas, but in all our locations.
Remote work can be particularly hard on new hires. Typically, you are learning to use a new servicing system and a telephone system, as well. If you are new to mortgage, it is easier to be onsite where you can have face-to-face interaction with your supervisor and colleagues. Yet, we are still doing virtual team meetings to troubleshoot questions and onboard employees.
Our company culture encourages collaboration, and we value work/life balance. We are thinking about all these factors as we review new options and strategies for employees returning to the office.
Q: What are investors asking your asset management team to do in anticipation of the end of forbearance?
Jarish: Understandably, investors want transparency and insight into the set of borrowers who have begun emerging from forbearance — performance data, reporting and analyses at both the loan and portfolio levels. They want their borrowers to have a great customer experience as they move through the default waterfall for permanent loss mitigation solutions. We are also planning for the end of the foreclosure moratoriums and the restarting of pre-COVID foreclosures halted by the moratoriums. We are talking to investors about the host of issues that will come into play — everything from the effect of rising home prices to the contraction of the foreclosure legal community due to foreclosure moratoriums.
Q: What trends are you seeing in the servicing rights and sub-servicing market?
Jarish: A number of investors have done early buyouts (EBOs) on the millions of home loans made to borrowers who asked for forbearance. We are seeing the mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) on that EBO product trading very aggressively where it makes sense to sell instead of holding on to the servicing. Clients are moving the MSRs on those EBOs to us because of our competency at high-touch servicing and our track record for turning non-performing loans into re-performing loans.
Q: You shared a statistic showing about 40% of Planet’s servicing employees have been with the company five or more years. Given the high rate of turnover in entry-level call center employees across all industries, how do you make that happen?
Jarish: People want to stay where they are mentored, have opportunities for upward mobility, and have a voice. We are excited about the talent we have been able to attract in Dallas. They are excited about their ability to make a difference during this phase of our company’s growth.
We value transparency and open communication whether that’s peer-to-peer, among our teams or with the clients and borrowers we serve. We encourage staff and clients to question our tactics and processes because we are always looking to improve workflow efficiencies and our service.
This is also just a really interesting place to work. We do more than just home loans. We also service commercial, fix and flip, consumer loans, and performing and non-performing government agency portfolios. There is always something new to learn.
Q: You have been in the business since the 1990s, when it was almost exclusively run by men, and took over as President of Planet Home Lending in 2007. What enabled you to rise to the C-suite and what’s your advice for women who want to follow the trail you blazed?
Jarish: I have been fortunate to work for our CEO, Michael Dubeck, who appreciates people who work smart and work hard regardless of gender. Servicing is the core of our book value, and I have built the platform, people, processes and technology that guards the MSRs. It was a lot of effort, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with the help of a great team that’s been together for 15 years. There are a lot of opportunities out there with companies that value diversity and inclusion at all levels. If you don’t work for one of them, come join my team.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policy, or position of Planet Home Lending, LLC.