Executive Conversations is a HousingWire web series that profiles powerful people in the financial industry, highlighting the operations and the people that make this sector tick. In the latest installment, we sit down with Melinda Wilner, chief operating officer at United Wholesale Mortgage, to discuss the central role of operations in a competitive mortgage environment.
Q. What does operational excellence look like for mortgage lending?
A. I categorize operational excellence into two buckets: the operation itself, which needs to run smoothly. Here at United Wholesale Mortgage, a couple of our biggest selling points are service and turn times, so it’s very important that our underwriting and closing processes run as smoothly as possible. The second part of operational excellence that is equally important is the ability for team members to realize when something is wrong and to be aware that they should bring it to your attention. It’s critical that our team members understand if something is working differently than it did previously, so we can find a way to make it better and improve our efficiency.
Q. What makes operational excellence critical in the current mortgage-lending environment?
A. The wholesale mortgage-lending environment is competitive and the old adage of people wanting to do business with people they like is accurate. For us, we have a gigantic focus on service as well as operational excellence. We celebrate service, but with that, we have to be operationally excellent in order to deliver in tight timeframes. In the current lending market, it’s critical that we work efficiently and produce a superior product. We want to ensure that every mortgage broker has a great lending experience, and part of that, for us, is to make sure we do the work quickly and in a friendly and consistent manner.
Q. What are some areas where these unsung heroes make such a difference?
A. Some of our operations teams are very client facing. Not all lenders do that. We like to have our operations teams — the people doing the work on each loan — as available to our clients as possible so they get questions answered more quickly. Let the people who know the file the best work together to get the job done well. Operationally, we don’t hide our people behind the curtain, but we utilize our technology and client service to be a difference maker. Sales teams bring in the first loan, but it’s up to operations teams to deliver remarkable client service to generate repeat business.
Q. How have these teams led to UWM’s success?
A. We’re known in the business for speed, consistency and great client service, and it’s up to our operations teams to deliver that experience in order to keep brokers coming back. Brokers love our technology but they also love the processes that our operations teams make possible every day. Ultimately, it’s our talented team members that make the difference and have led to UWM’s success.
Q. At UWM, what do you do to support your operations teams?
A. Our leaders are very hands-on and involved in the day-to-day activities. So as a leader of the operations teams, I’m in the weeds of the business. I’m always talking with people to figure out how we can make processes better or how new technology can improve our capabilities. We’re constantly asking our team members for feedback: ‘Underwriters, what can we do differently?’ ‘IT, is there a way to speed this up to make it better for our brokers?’ In everything we do, we analyze how it will positively impact our brokers — and we challenge our team members to keep that mindset in everything they do.
Q. Why is it important for lenders to invest in the best technology for their Operations teams?
A. Investment in tools for Operations is big, both from a client service and loan-quality standpoint. The two are related. If someone makes a mistake, you’d rather discover that human error earlier in a loan file than later, because it impacts the service we deliver. So we use technology to ensure underwriting accuracy and a positive client service experience. Technology enables us to create news ways for our brokers to enjoy faster, more consistent service.
Q. In what ways is the communication between a broker and operations the most important channel of communication?
A. I think that our operations teams, collectively, have a lot of communication with our brokers over the course of each loan. For instance, every time our underwriters touch a loan file, they call the broker to review the approval and discuss any remaining conditions that need to be cleared. So they have a lot of one-on-one contact, which facilitates communication, strong relationships, and helps the loan process run as smoothly and efficiently as possible for our brokers.
Q. How much does UWM emphasize client service training for its operations teams?
A. We put a gigantic focus on client service training for our operations teams. Service is our main value proposition to all of our brokers, and we love investing in our people so they’re able to do the best job possible. Our broker-facing operations teams go through call scoring exercises and receive monthly scorecards to identify strengths and areas for improvement. A key component of client service is our operations team members knowing that they make an impact on the lives of others — that the loan file they are working on is so much more than numbers and documents. There is a borrower on the other end of the transaction and we’re helping to make their dream of homeownership come true.