Experiencing it for themselves

MBA Annual attendees say networking, speeches by industry bigwigs too good to pass up

Bill Cosgrove, CEO of Ohio’s Union Home Mortgage Corp., has made the trek to MBA Annual for some 20 years.

Memories still stand out from his first one, held in Orlando.

 “I saw that the mortgage industry was vast,” he said, recalling that first conference, “much bigger than you expected it to be.”

Some 4,000 attendees are expected at this year’s MBA Annual conference, Oct. 19-22, in Las Vegas. That’s down slightly from 2013 when the Mortgage Bankers Association was celebrating its 100th year in Washington, D.C., and 4,500 people came.

“When you come to your first annual conference, it is an eye-opening experience and I think it sticks with you your whole career, ” said Cosgrove, chairman-elect of the MBA.

Cosgrove’s reasons for attending every year are multifaceted, but he admits that he goes for competitive reasons. He wants to know what his peers are doing, he desires to learn the latest on the regulatory front, and he works to build relationships with MBA staff and others in the industry.

“I think the first thing I look at is the challenges and opportunities we are facing at Union Home Mortgage Corp.,” Cosgrove said.  “Is that what is on the minds of our peers? Is that what they are talking about?”

The mid-sized lender closes 8,000 to 8,500 loans a year for about $1.4 billion in production. Active mainly in the Midwest and the South, Union is growing aggressively with an eye toward eventually reaching $5 billion in production annually.

The MBA Annual is chock-full of information to help it along that path.

“You really come back with a laundry list of 25 thoughts and ideas every time you go to the convention,” Cosgrove said.

He sees it as a good investment to prepare for the coming year. The lender typically sends four to eight people and taps some of those to hold dozens of business meetings with third-party vendors, warehouse lenders and others.

Mortgage technology firm Ellie Mae sends about 25 people to the conference each year and has been going for 14 years, said Susan Scarth, vice president of marketing. As a silver sponsor, it will be hosting a party this year and hopes to connect with partners, customers and prospective clients, she said.

Over at CoreLogic, Faith Schwartz, senior vice president of government solutions, has been attending MBA Annual on-and-off since the 1980s.

“They are a little different from most conferences and are enjoyable for a variety of reasons,” she said.

“I think one thing about the Mortgage Bankers Association, as I grew up and learned the mortgage business, they were the institution that I grew and learned with,” she said. “The annual convention is great because it ties together what is going on in housing in a macro perspective. You see how politics intersects with the housing industry. You’ll see the regulatory impacts. Coming off of a financial crisis, where have we been? Where are we going?”

EXPERIENCE IT

This year’s theme, “Experience it for Yourself,” is based on the ability for attendees to come and gain a lot from the experience. The conference is set up to give attendees plenty of opportunity to network and to learn about the latest solutions and best opportunities for success in a challenging mortgage market, according to the MBA.

“The networking aspect turns out to be one of the most valued parts of the conference, but there obviously will be some key speeches that will deliver critical information to lenders across the country, starting with people like Mel Watt,” said David Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

It’s been a long time since the MBA held a conference in Las Vegas, although Sin City has been a regular go-to site for other industry-related events such as the American Securitization Forum’s annual convention. The pros to the location include easy access with
direct flights from many cities across the nation and relatively inexpensive accommodations.

The negatives encompass all that Las Vegas represents as a gambling and entertainment mecca that some might not see as appropriate for the buttoned-down financial services industry.

For some, this year’s conference might remind them of the funny, 1990s era movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, Stevens said.

Murray plays “Phil,” a self-centered TV weatherman sent to cover Punxsutawney Phil’s appearance on Groundhog Day. A snowstorm strands him, and Phil wakes up to relive Groundhog Day over and over and over.

“There is an endless array of rules that we are still dealing with and litigation that seems to never go away and a housing market that is still searching for a recovery,” said Stevens, likening the experience to the movie.

To get the industry out of what seems like a perpetual loop, the MBA is bringing in the big guns. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt, who had only given one public speech at the point that this article was written, will be a keynote speaker. The CEOs of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae will also speak.

Julian Castro, the newly installed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will also be featured. Lenders, servicers and investors look forward to hearing the vision from the HUD secretary.

One of the most coveted spots at the conference will be a seat at an exclusive roundtable hosted by Watt. Stevens said a few pre-selected lenders will sit down in an intimate setting for face-to-face dialogue with the director. At press time, the MBA didn’t know exactly how many lenders would be invited to the roundtable but said the intent was a small number that would represent all facets of the lending community from small and large players to banks and nonbank lenders.

“The dialogue will be extremely relevant as we work together to try to bring greater clarity and certainty to thousands of lenders across the country who want to lend but are operating purely defensively in fear of making of a mistake,” Stevens said. “It’s a very unhealthy dynamic for housing.”

Stevens said Watt can play “a key role in a positive way, to bring confidence back to an industry and help make sure we are meeting the credit needs particularly of the first-time homebuyer and core entry-level segment of the market, which is so critical right now,” he said.

SO MANY OPTIONS

Those who don’t get a seat at the table will still have plenty of opportunities to network and learn the latest industry trends.

Stevens said topics at this year’s conference will include loan officer compensation; points and fees; managing vender relationships; consent orders; GSE updates; economic forecasts; operational strategies and more.

“I’ve only been running the MBA for 3 ½ years but I’ve spent over 30 years in business, and I’ve never missed an MBA conference, I don’t think, in my life,” Stevens said. “The reason is — you can’t buy that kind of information.”

The chance to network with the largest group of peers getting together under one roof — essentially the entire nation of lending — is something that cannot be purchased via a webinar or any educational program, Stevens said.

The combination of general sessions and more detailed breakout sessions has been a good combination, he said.

The reasons people come, though, aren’t solely to soak up all that information.

There’s a vibrant merger and acquisition market where people are looking to sell or buy companies, for example. Headhunters will also be searching and interviewing for key positions.

“I’ve often joked, when you are at the bar in one of our conference locations, there are more resumes exchanging hands than handshakes sometimes,” Stevens said. “It’s just a very vibrant marketplace.”

ECONOMIC PREVIEW

Michael Fratantoni, chief economist of the MBA, said he’ll update the association’s economic
forecast and give attendees a preview of the coming year.

Rates were about a half point lower than expected as summer drew to a close due to global unrest that has caused a flight to U.S Treasurys. The MBA is continuing to watch the global situation, both in the Ukraine and in Iraq, for potential effects on the U.S. mortgage industry, he said.

Fratantoni said he expects to provide some pretty positive news when he speaks at MBA Annual. When we talked in late summer, the economy had experienced six straight months of job growth exceeding 200,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate was lower than what had been expected.

That trend of job growth over 200,000 and lower unemployment figures is expected to continue over the next 12 to 18 months.

“People will be feeling more confident about their own financial and economic situation,” he said. “That is the right backdrop you need for a pickup in home buying.”

Still, there remains a puzzling weakness in the first-time homebuyer market that is sure to be part of the discussion among MBA Annual participants, although purchase market volume next year is expected experience some decent gains.

DIVERSITY AND OPEN DOORS

The MBA’s still-new diversity committee will install new leadership and have its biggest meeting at the conference. The MBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative was formed last year to “provide leadership and guidance to help the real estate finance industry gain a competitive advantage by increasing diversity in leadership, workforce and supplers,” according to the MBA.

The initiative is meant to encourage the members to support and recognize the competitive advantages of embracing a diverse and inclusve workforce and marketplace, including: fostering creativity and innovation, gaining market share, attracting and retaining top-tier talent,and increasing economic development.

The MBA’s Open Doors Foundation, in which it pays the rent or mortgage for families with critically ill or injured children, will be active at the conference and will talk from the stage about its efforts. At last year’s convention, the MBA raised more than $100,000 for the foundation.

STAR POWER

Of course, the star power at the conference isn’t limited to Watt and other federal regulators. The conference also features “A conversation with Kevin Spacey” on Oct. 20.

The  actor, director and producer has garnered accolades for his roles in everything from Broadway to the big screen, winning awards as diverse as the Laurence Olivier award for best actor in The Iceman Cometh, to an Oscar for best actor in American Beauty.

He currently stars in the wildly popular Netflix original series House of Cards, where he plays a ruthless politician. Not content to dominate the usual genres of stage and film, Spacey is also featured in the new Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video game that releases in November.

Closer to the business of housing finance, author Michael Lewis is another speaker that conference goers get to hear from this year. Lewis has written several New York Times bestsellers which were turned into movies, including Moneyball and The Blind Side.

 Most recently Lewis released Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which probed the world of dark pools and shone a light on the practice of high-frequency trading.

The book’s exposure of the stock-market practice that allows traders to capitalize on the milliseconds between buying and selling on different exchanges precipitated federal investigations by the Justice Department, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission shortly after the book’s release in March.

Lewis is scheduled to speak on the morning of Oct. 21.

IT’S ALL GOOD

The MBA Annual Convention and Expo is designed to give industry professionals a chance to learn, network and be a participant in the larger housing conversation.

CoreLogic’s Schwartz said the conference will prepare all attendees for what might be in store for housing in the near term.

“It’s exciting to get refreshed on the year ahead,” Schwartz said. “This is a big picture of what’s happening that impacts both housing and finance. It brings the full industry out, which is good.” 

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