Austin Niemiec is the executive vice president of Quicken Loans Mortgage Services (QLMS). HousingWire sat down with Niemiec to discuss the challenges brokers are facing due to COVID-19, how QLMS quickly moved to remote work and how the company is supporting clients as the situation evolves.
HousingWire: What are you currently seeing in the broker space?
Austin Niemiec: I’m seeing the tremendous pride of our broker community. Of course there are challenges, but I have never seen loan officers take so much pride in helping their fellow Americans. Right now, brokers play such an important role in this economy. Rates are at historic lows, and Americans need to save money. We have a responsibility and now, more than ever, we will impact the outcome.
We are also seeing brokers who have embraced optionality succeed. Unfortunately, over the last few years, some lenders and associations have worked hard to get brokers to reduce the number of companies they work with. That self-serving advice is now backfiring.
Choice and optionality are a broker’s superpower. As we see lenders hit capacity, put overlays on their business and more, the brokers that can pivot quickly from great lender to great lender aren’t seeing disruption. They are leveraging their superpower.
HW: How is QLMS handling these challenging times?
AN: One of our ISMs (what we call our core culture and philosophy) is “We’ll Figure It Out.” That is what we are focused on day in and day out. During such a challenging time, it is nearly impossible to have all the answers. Everyone is in the same situation and some are handling it better than others. The main reason we are weathering this storm is our dedicated focus on preparedness and leveraging our experience.
When it comes to experience, we have to take a look at our company’s history. Quicken Loans started 35 years ago (originally called Rock Financial) as an independent mortgage broker and has since grown to be the largest mortgage lender in America. There were a lot of lessons learned and different markets sandwiched over those decades.
This has given us great perspective on how to ebb and flow with obstacles. One of the most important takeaways is understanding the value of culture. If you have a company all aligned and working together in lock step, you will be successful regardless of the current climate or where team members are physically located.
HW: You mentioned preparedness, how did QLMS prepare for this type of unprecedented circumstance and what measures did you take to ensure your team was ready?
AN: In late January, our CEO Jay Farner started preparing us for all possible outcomes of the coronavirus. We put a task force together, took inventory on every team member’s ability to work from home and began rapidly purchasing more than $4 million of equipment for those who needed it.
Then, in early March, we started testing our network’s capability in large groups to ensure we could operate at full steam while working remotely. When the time came to make the decision to shift our team, it was easy, we had already done it. We were one of the first large companies in America switching entirely to work from home.
I personally learned a lot from the experience. Many people thought we were crazy preparing in January, but it got our team focused and prepared early. Most importantly, we didn’t see a single hiccup when it came to supporting our broker partners’ business. Our turn times have actually decreased at a time where we are also managing unprecedented loan volume.
Through all of this we have been focused on two things: Protecting our team members and protecting our partners’ business. Being prepared allowed us to do both.
HW: While people can prepare for so much, it is nearly impossible to be completely prepared. What has been something you have had to adapt to quickly?
AN: Once we settled into having 98% of our team members work from home full time, we quickly realized we had a training class of 50 new account executives starting the following week. We had a responsibility to ensure these folks had a place to build a career, no matter the environment.
We quickly sent them all computers and equipment, and our training team transformed our new hire classes into a dynamic virtual experience. It wasn’t easy, and we are still figuring it out, but our new team members are absolutely crushing it and are engaged.
HW: What are you focused on when it comes to shifting back to normalcy?
AN: Building for the future. Right now, it’s so easy to be consumed in the here and now. The entire industry is watching the markets shift, paying attention to the news and dealing with change, but we still have a responsibility to deliver the broker community all of the innovation we were working on prior to this sudden change. It’s certainly not easy, but it is critical.
The lenders who will survive this storm and excel in the future are the ones who do not lose focus on building and innovating for the future. At QLMS, we still have our technology team working tirelessly to make sure brokers are prepared for the next quarter, year and even decade.
This is going to be the place of extreme innovation in the mortgage industry going forward, and we are not losing sight of that. We are currently delivering great technology for our partners like GURU and The Answer that help brokers reduce their largest expense: loan fallout. But we are building so much more. Going forward, we will continue to innovate and help the community to thrive and succeed.
HW: What is your outlook for the rest of the year?
AN: I think we can all agree that, on the back of historically low interest rates and the Fed stepping up to buy significant amounts of MBS, loan officers will have the ability to help more Americans refinance their mortgage than any year in the history of our country.
That’s exciting because consumers need it. Reducing an interest rate by .75% can help put over $250 back in their pockets every single month. That type of cash can make a world of a difference to American families, especially in challenging times like this. This will make the broker community busier than ever.
However, because of this, folks are going to have to operate differently. We have seen so much change in the last three months, from process to product to pricing. I truly believe it’s only beginning. There are going to be twists and turns ahead, I don’t think anyone will be surprised by that, but that just means the broker community needs to learn to adapt on the fly and be ready to help clients through any and all changes. We are excited to continue to support the broker community through this, Stronger Together.