The Wrong Person For The Job

BLOG VIEW: Back in September, I mentioned that I was taking a course to learn how to become an emergency medical technician (EMT). I thought that it would be an interesting challenge, and I was eager to explore a subject where I had little expertise.

That course concluded last week, and I learned a great deal from it. I also learned something that I wasn't quite expecting to discover: I am not the right person to handle the duties required by an EMT. I can state, with no small degree of exaggeration, that the health and well-being of the general population would be best served if I played no role whatsoever in providing anything that even vaguely requires medical assistance.

I am not the least bit bothered by this outcome. I recognize that I am not the right person for this type of job – and even if I decided to pursue this activity, I suspect that my deficiencies would become apparent before too long.

However, I also recognize that not everyone shares my degree of self-awareness and self-criticism. Too often, people go into occupations where they lack the proper focus, temperament and training. The results can run the gamut from mild disappointment to full-blown catastrophe. While it is easy to blame these individuals for goofing up, one also has to fault their employers for allowing them to get away with such bad work.

One of the more notable examples of this dilemma is Renee Hertzler, whose November deposition before the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts during the investigation of the robo-signing controversy raised serious questions about mortgage banking staffing. Hertzler identified herself as a high school graduate with "minimal college" experience. However, Hertzler was a vice president at Bank of America and acknowledged that she robo-signed between 7,000 to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month. Did anyone at Bank of America ever stop and wonder if Hertzler was the right person for that particular job?

Of course, it is unfair to single out Hertzler, or the servicing sector in general, for not doing a great job. Really, the large volume of delinquent and at-risk mortgages would never have occurred without the input of the originators who approved the faulty home loans in the first place. And there were plenty of regulators, Executive Branch officials and members of Congress who didn't bother to pay heed to what was taking place.

More often than not, the higher-profile cases of people who did a terrible job resulted in very little punishment for those offenders. Sen. Chris Dodd declined to seek re-election when early polling determined that his patience-exhausted Connecticut constituents were eager for change. Angelo Mozilo's $600 million net worth comfortably absorbed $67.5 million in federal fines. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was reconfirmed for a second term in January 2010.

Yes, the likes of Hertzler, Dodd, Mozilo and Bernanke are all high-profile cases. But what about the rest of the industry? Today's problematic environment is the result of too many people who were never reprimanded, despite making endlessly bad decisions and playing loose with the basic tenets of quality control and risk management. Employers that don't make any effort to weed out the less-than-stellar performers complicate the matter further.

As 2011 approaches, I might recommend that mortgage banking companies begin the new year with a review of the weaker links in their corporate chains. I hate to recommend firing people at a time when unemployment is hovering near 10%, so maybe some sort of alternative can be put in place – perhaps increased training for the problem workers or, perhaps, reassignment to other departments, if the company is large enough to encourage it. Or, as a last stop before the exit, companies could be advised to create a period of probation, in which the workers have a little extra pressure on them to shape up.

At a time when the mortgage banking industry is still in a slow-motion recovery, it is crucial that only the best people be trusted with important responsibilities. Giving the steering wheel to the wrong people will put our industry off the road. Now, more than ever, it is important to ensure that only the best workers are at the helm.

– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive

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