Award-winning lenders, part III

Teamwork, Sales Focus Lead to Mortgage Success

Staff view their jobs as if they're running a small business.

January 22, 2013

When Sunmark Federal Credit Union’s senior management and board of directors surveyed the local mortgage market, they saw opportunities to boost volume, market share, and off-balance-sheet growth.

That directive fell to Alissa Sykes, mortgage manager for the $375 million asset credit union in Latham, N.Y. She developed a number of strategies to meet those goals, including sales incentives, competitive rates, new products, community partnerships, and sales-oriented staff.

Hiring staff with mortgage skills has been a challenge for many credit unions, she says, and Sunmark Federal is no exception. “We don’t always find candidates that have both a background in mortgages and a sales culture, so we’ve invested in additional training to make sure we fill our open spots with the people who will fit best in the long term.”

One method that helps staff achieve a sales mindset is to view their jobs as if they were running a small business. Sykes tells staff they need to own each loan and “be responsible for all the moving parts. When employees ask for assistance, I ask them, ‘What would you do?’”

Successful mortgage operations are a result of involving all staff and departments, she says. This requires training and teamwork.

One exercise in teamwork involved staff building miniature houses. “About 30 to 40 employees at the branches participated, and the staff became very engaged,” she says. “Branch staff kept their houses on the teller line. This increased awareness for both staff and members, and helped initiate conversations about mortgage products.”

The credit union hired four loan officers in 2007 to join three mortgage processing employees. Providing sales incentives stimulated growth in volume.

From 2005 to 2010, the mortgage department recorded a 560% increase in loan volume, finishing 2010 with $165 million in loans. Forecasts for 2012 call for a 34% increase over 2011 volume.

To meet the increased activity, the department has grown from a staff of four to 25 in five years.

Sunmark Federal has sold mortgages on the secondary market for the last several years, generating substantial fee income and reducing interest-rate risk.

Members occasionally are concerned when they find out another company will service their loans. To mitigate these concerns, “we have an agreement with our mortgage provider to not sell the mortgages again,” says Sykes. “And if a member is adamant about not having their mortgages sold, we will look into retaining it. But they may have to pay more in interest.”

Sunmark has continually expanded its mortgage offerings during the last several years. In 2009, it introduced Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration loans, and in 2011, U.S. Department of Agriculture loans joined the mix.

These products combined account for 34% of Sunmark Federal’s purchase business through mid-August 2012, and at least 16% of all mortgages in 2011.

Streamlining the mortgage process with a paperless system (except for a couple of state regulatory requirements) also has given the credit mortgage program a boost.

“This has saved a significant amount of time for mortgage staff,” Sykes says. “Credit unions may not have the resources that other institutions have. But that just means we have to look for creative solutions to meet the needs of our members and staff.”

Sunmark Federal won an Excellence in Lending Award from the CUNA Lending Council and CUNA Mutual Group for outstanding mortgage lending (more than $250 million in assets).