In an industry hit by the pandemic and now by a shifting interest rate environment, leadership at several of the Best Mortgage Companies to Work For said open communication is what keeps their staff engaged.

None of the companies interviewed were planning any reduction in perks, but the pandemic has changed the way those amenities and benefits are viewed.

Communication and connectivity creates trust, said Bill Rogers, president and CEO of Homeowners Financial.

“I think that’s a key component in any environment, but certainly when things are changing, you need to have trust,” said Rogers. “Once you have the trust, you get into partnership with your people and you understand that there’s not one thing in a challenging environment that the company can do or that its employees can do, but collectively, we can do a lot.”

As the leader of the organization, he will send out occasional videos, “just checking on my people, just checking on my homies; that’s what we call each other around here,” which is a play on the company’s name. He seeks to be “really engaged just on an interpersonal level as much as possible on my videos to each and every person and to make sure that they know that they’re appreciated.”

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While Sonny Bringol holds the title of president and chairman at Victorian Finance, he sees his role as the “head servant in charge. I’m constantly, every day, trying to find a way to keep the team happy. My primary client is the team members of the company and we treat them like family,” he said.

The loan officers’ primary clients are the borrowers, the real estate agents and the other referral partners, “but that’s not my client,” said Bringol.

The staff is “comfortable when you hyper-communicate, when you give them knowledge of the market, when they understand macroeconomics of the world, the microeconomics of their real estate market,” Bringol said.

At Taylor Morrison Home Funding, whose parent company is the eponymous home builder, the market dynamics are a little different. Loan officers have long lead times to close their deals, which have become even longer due to the supply chain shortage.

Its culture has gotten the company through the ups and downs of both the homebuilding business and the economy in general, said Tawn Kelley, its president.

Still, “no one is immune from anything that is happening in the mortgage world and the competitive pressures on margins; the competition to earn the right to have our customers business can create pressures,” said Kelley. “And so culture for us is about making sure that we take care of the customer equally as we take care of our internal customers, our employees.”

At Taylor Morrison, “we call our culture ‘the culture of family’ and as corny as that might sound, we really are a family,” Kelly said. It used to have daily 10-minute-meeting around the water cooler to discuss the comings and goings and celebrate birthdays. But as with everyone in the U.S., things changed on March 13, 2020.

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Today, most of its workers remain remote and they like it. Those 10-minute discussions still go on daily, but now they are online.

“Now it’s Hollywood Squares times hundreds and hundreds of people that get on but they get to hear the comings and goings they get to hear about the ‘hurrah’ story and the ‘wow’ story of getting a family into a home that had some kind of unexpected challenge or just something and that has been so important,” Kelley said. “It just kind of transcends that culture of family and keeping things real, even though we’re not all in the same offices anymore.”

Just prior to the pandemic, Taylor Morrison closed on its purchase of William Lyon Homes. The daily huddles allow for a successful integration between the staffs of the two companies, including on the mortgage side.

“They never worked in that old way before and they’re committed as those who had been with me for 20 years,” Kelley said.

While it’s not requiring its staff to do so, Victorian Financial wants to attract employees back to the office at least one or two days a week.

“I’ve tried to make the office a great experience, with great coffee, great drinks, snacks, nice bathrooms, nice spaces and nice colors, so they enjoy it and they feel comfortable,” said Bringol.

American Mortgage Network’s employees are the company’s owners. That, in addition to the company’s variable compensation structure based on volume, set its culture apart.

“We pitch everybody when they walk through the door, the reason why we structured the pay that way is so that we don’t have to do massive layoffs,” said David Wallace, its executive vice president. “And now it’s coming where the industry is doing what the industry does every three to four years.”

President and CEO Joseph Restivo has time blocked out on his calendar to speak with the company’s loan officers, processors and operations staff. An area of concern at the start of the year was rising mortgage rates, but management was out front, addressing that with staff and alleviating their concerns.

Now, purchase applications are back on the rise. “So I think that initial shock and fear is over, and people are back to work and really focused on their production,” Restivo said.

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Only one perk is impacted by margin compression at AmNet: “how much more [money] we can put towards buying real estate for the retirement plan,” Restivo said. “I don’t think it’s going to really affect us as a company as a whole.”

That investment funds the retirement component of the employee stock option plan.

“We’re going to invest in real estate properties that belong to Mr. or Ms. Employee,” Wallace said. “And so we don’t have a lot of perks and novelty items to get them to stay here, they stay here because their retirement is here.”

At Homeowners Financial, while the benefits like the 401k match remain in place, other things have become more difficult to do because of the pandemic, such as lunches in the office, said Rogers.

“There’s things that you can still do and sometimes it’s not so much the perk, it’s just picking up the phone and calling to make sure your people are okay,” said Rogers. “And we’re able to do that because we have a good infrastructure of leaders throughout the company.”

It’s not about being able to offer all of the bells and whistles. “Sometimes it’s just making sure somebody knows that you’re there if they need help and checking in on them,” Rogers said. “I mean, that’s the ultimate perk.”

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