By Aggie Dorr
I am often asked the following question, “what makes a great processor?” As a processing manager, this is definitely not a quick or easy answer. It instantly makes me think of the day-to-day functions of a mortgage processor, and let me tell you… there are so many! I will answer at the end of this article, but first let’s look into ‘What it takes to be a great loan processor’.
We will take a closer look into the relationship dynamics for a mortgage processor. Certainly, there are many aspects of the job, but dealing with clients and operations partners is the biggest part of their day.
Not much has changed from when I processed loans a couple years ago aside from TRID rolling out and rocking our world which added even more tasks, due diligence, and responsibility to our department. A processor’s day is just as fast paced, roller coaster ride as it ever was so it should start with…a big strong cup of coffee. She or he must be extremely organized and efficiently manage a pipeline, deadlines, and documents, and constantly communicate with clients. Everything must make sense once the file actually hits the underwriting department. The file needs to be presented so the underwriter can make a confident decision. The reputation of a processor is tested at every submission. It is up to her or him to keep it a good one. The pressures of the day-to-day are certainly eminent.
Let’s talk a little bit about the clients…
The most important clients are borrowers, who are eager, nervous, excited, and waiting on approvals, answers, and closings. They need guidance and reassurance, and sometimes they are difficult and hard to deal with. A processor must be ready to deal with all types of borrowers and guide them from the A-Z process to get them into their homes. Such a huge responsibility but also so very rewarding when you put a family into their dream home, particularly for those borrowers who were rejected at another bank or have a challenging scenario. Getting those loans closed because you structured the deal together properly and worked hard on painting a picture that made sense to the underwriter who approved it… well, there is no better satisfaction then that. On a side note – it is important to note that, as a processor, when speaking to your clients (the borrowers) please remember your job as a loan processor is to never speak to the clients about “Terms and Conditions” of their loan unless you hold a state license to originate mortgage loans. Only licensed loan originators are legally allowed to speak to clients concerning terms and conditions of their loans. When this issue comes up, always tell your clients that this is a matter that they will need to discuss with their loan originator.
The client is also the loan officer who may too be eager, nervous, and excited, and who is also waiting on approvals, answers, and closings. And who can blame them? They have realtor relationships to maintain, borrowers to put in homes, and commitments to keep. A processor must be committed to answering emails and keeping their loan officers updated and informed, and moving the pipeline along to meet closing dates. Often times the processor- loan officer relationship is evolved to resemble that of ‘family’. Our most successful branches are ones in which the processors and loan officers have this type of bond, and the processor has the support from the branch manager and the loan officers. This means if a loan is submitted to the processor but it is missing documents or information, it does not pass the initial review phase and does not get submitted to underwriting until all items and documents are provided. There is no argument, the loan officer will oblige and trust the expertise of his or her processor. On the flip side, I do also see the opposite , where the process is not cohesive, and the loan officer will ask or demand that an incomplete loan is submitted to underwriting against the processor’s advice. This puts a strain on not just the processor but all operational departments from underwriting to closing. These are the most challenging situations where there is almost a tug of war between the processor who is put in the middle of it all, myself who is trying to advise on how to handle the situation, and the loan officer who is trying to get the loan closed as fast as possible. I will always say that being a mortgage processor is one of the toughest positions in this industry. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.
A processor must keep commitments and SLA’s to sales partners, have a good reputation with underwriters, and make borrowers happy; sometimes, that is a very hard thing to accomplish. If ever faced with a decision to submit a file that is not ready for underwriting, I will always advise my processors to follow these steps: Analyze why the file is being rushed to be submitted when it is not ready. Was it already with another lender? Are we on a very tight deadline? What is missing from the file that you feel is needed? Then, if you feel there is a valid reason to go against your better judgement and submit, have a serious conversation with your loan officer first. Tell them that you are making an exception due to XYZ and will submit the file but you don’t expect to see this becoming a pattern because both your reputations are on the line. Last, already knowing that the underwriter will have to review an incomplete file (something that they absolutely frown upon), make sure that you include a cover letter explaining why you are submitting a file this way, what is missing, and outline the consequences that the borrower may face if the loan is not closed on time or if we don’t provide an approval by commitment date, ie, losing earnest money, contract will be void, etc. Trust me, if the underwriter is given the heads up with a good explanation, they will be more forgiving and understanding about the situation. They will also appreciate and respect the processor for thoroughly explaining the predicament.
Last let’s take a closer look at the dynamic of a processor–underwriter relationship. Underwriters are also clients. From the perspective of an underwriter, and trust me, this happens, when they start to review a new file, they immediately look to see who the processor is. They will either sigh with relief or brace themselves for what they are about to review. This is why maintaining a good reputation and taking pride in your submissions is so crucial. There is a saying I use when I train processors that join our company on this topic of ‘clean submission’. The saying is true that, “**** rolls downhill.” I want to stress that poor submissions not only jeopardize efficiency in all departments that ultimately inherit the file, but the processor reputation as well. We have a POD system set up in our company so the same processors have the same group of underwriters, and it has proven to work very well. Teams get used to one another and form relationships, and each processor will present their files according to what the underwriter will condition for. The underwriter in turn will get used to their processor’s submissions and this improves efficiency. The processor–underwriter relationship is a very special one. I am glad to say that our underwriting team understands the day-to-day pressures that a processor goes through. Even with calls that start with, ”this file was submitted so poorly from this processor,” always end with, ”but I know what they deal with, and they really do have a hard job.” I am thankful that they understand.
A processor’s job is one of the hardest. The expectations from sales, operations… and me can be overwhelming, but I have all the confidence in my team. They do an amazing job and have my full support always.
To answer, “what makes a great processor?” It is a combination of a lot of things. My #1 is being resourceful, being able to get your answers, finding a better way, and making ‘it’ happen. A great processor will be extremely organized, have a positive personality and a strong drive, and be very focused. At times, they will be a therapist to their clients and a good communicator to calm down a stressed borrower or loan officer and put them at ease. A great processor will set and re-set expectations if needed. A great processor will never stop learning, as this industry is ever evolving and what was the rule yesterday may be changed today. The ability to roll with the punches is a must.
Aggie Dorr is a Processing Manager at Alterra Group LLC overseeing the company’s entire processing department of roughly 50 employees. Aggie has been in the mortgage industry for over 20 years dedicating her expertise to guide the department towards same goals which include quality submissions, efficiency, and cohesiveness.