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Opinion, commentary, and analysis on everything that makes the U.S. housing economy tick -- not to mention the ghosts in the machine, too. Written by HW's team of editors and reporters each business day.
Investments

Freddie Mac CEO: 4 ways to turn around the supertanker

This is how to manage $2 trillion in assets

February 16, 2017

Donald Layton, the chief executive officer of Freddie Mac, began Thursday’s earnings call with the media in a new fashion. He reminded those in attendance that he’s been at the helm of the government-sponsored enterprise for nearly 5 years.

It’s an unusual bit of color from Layton and I asked him about it after, especially since he was brought in as a turnaround guy, as per his resume at E*Trade.

While there, Layton led a successful restructuring and recapitalized the balance sheet and then stepped down.

But look at Freddie’s earnings, I pointed out, 5 years of profits. The mortgage finance company is turned around, so why is he hanging around? And why mention it to the press?

“It takes more time to turnaround a supertanker,” he said. “My management team is as good as any private-sector company. We’re really proud of it.”

One thing that gets little coverage is how effective Layton managed his team, which runs the $2 trillion in Freddie Mac assets.

So, it seemed appropriate to find out his formula for retaining top staff and keeping the foot soldiers motivated.

Layton puts it down to 4 ways they helped turn around this “supertanker.”

1. Credit-risk sharing deals

This new asset class helps keep things exciting and intellectually challenging for his staff. By keeping things fresh, Layton is keeping his staff engaged. In single-family, that team transferred a significant portion of the credit risk on approximately $215 billion of loans, and over $600 billion of loans since the program’s inception in 2013. In multi-family, Freddie transferred a large majority of the credit risk on a record $50 billion of loans, and on nearly $180 billion of loans since the program’s inception in 2009.

2. Set customer-service standards

Layton said that before arriving the focus on customer-service needed immediate improving. Once he set a standard for customer service closer to what homeowners get in the private sector, morale improved overall at the company. How big is customer service? In the quarter, Freddie provided approximately $456 billion in liquidity to the mortgage market – funding nearly 1.7 million single-family homes and approximately 739,000 multifamily rental units.

3. Stay sales-focused

Layton sets goals for sales staff. One thing Freddie Mac is improving on is selling legacy assets. In the quarter, staff sold $3.1 billion of seriously delinquent and $1.1 billion of performing modified and reperforming single-family loans; cumulatively sold $7.7 billion in seasoned single-family mortgage loans since 2013. They also sold $8.1 billion of single-family non-agency mortgage-related securities; cumulatively sold $36.1 billion since 2013.

4. Belief in the underlying mission

Layton is a firm believer in aspiration goals for the company as well. In this case, Freddie Mac works hard to help finance the multifamily sector, to help those who need a place to rent on the path to homeownership. In that department alone, Freddie clocked record purchase volume of $56.8 billion, an increase of 20% from 2015, primarily driven by significant growth in the multifamily market and the company’s increased presence in the small balance loan market. Also, in the quarter Freddie Mac helps keep 69,000 families out of foreclosure.

“Alongside these improvements, we are more effectively delivering on our community mission each year – with new products and programs which increase access to credit for more homebuyers and which fund affordable rental housing across the nation,” Layton said.

“All of us at Freddie Mac are strongly dedicated to continuing this momentum and, through it, to improving America’s housing finance system,” he added.

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