Here’s how the mortgage industry is reacting to the coronavirus

Spoiler alert: Everyone is working from home

Quicken Loans recently joined the thousands of companies that are encouraging (if not requiring) their employees to work from home to combat the spread of COVID-19. Nonbank mortgage companies like Quicken Loans are more able to move their employees to remote work than banks, given banks’ retail footprints and importance in their relative markets.

Case in point: Wells Fargo. According to a Wells Fargo spokesperson, the bank is taking steps to mitigate the virus’ spread but it is committed to keeping its branches open. “We remain focused on meeting the needs of our customers while reducing the risk to our employees and customers,” Wells Fargo Spokesperson Tom Goyda said in a statement.

“The majority of our employees serve customers, care for critical operations or are in regulated capacities and therefore unable to work from home,” Goyda continued. “For employees who are able to work from home, the company offers a range of options to provide location flexibility. In areas where there is concern about COVID-19 spread, we are asking those employees able to work from home to coordinate with their managers to determine appropriate work arrangements.”

JPMorgan Chase is taking a similar approach.

A Chase spokesperson told HousingWire that the bank’s employees are working from home if they can. “Employees, when their role allows, are working from home across the country,” the Chase spokesperson said.

Even the two biggest sources of mortgage funding are taking unprecedented steps to protect their employees. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say there are allowing their employees to work from home and are taking several other actions to protect the employees that are required to be in the office.

According to Fannie Mae, the company “proactively enacted social distancing protocols (i.e., directing employees to work remotely and canceling external events and employee travel), with only mission-critical need to enter our worksites.”

The company said that its actions are in coordination with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to ensure limited impact on the company’s employees and its business operations.

Freddie Mac is taking similar steps, including: expanding remote work; limiting visitors to Freddie Mac facilities; suspending non-essential business travel for staff; and requiring staff to follow CDC recommendations on self-quarantining after contact with an infected individual.

Both of the GSEs also said that they are communicating with lenders and servicers on potential changes to their mortgage policies.

There are some nonbank lenders with a culture of working in the office, like United Wholesale Mortgage. For these companies, the virus has necessitated taking steps beyond the ordinary. “People are our most valuable asset, their health and well-being are our number one priority at United Wholesale Mortgage,” UWM CEO Mat Ishbia said. “Thanks to the robust technologies developed by United Wholesale Mortgage team members, starting Monday, March 16, 2020 they will be working remotely offering no disruption in service or speed to our clients.”

Meanwhile, other companies are emphasizing their pre-existing technological capabilities as one of the main reasons that the company is able to embrace a remote working environment.

“We have prepared our employees to work from home and many are currently doing so,” Guaranteed Rate Chief Operating Officer Nikolaos Athanasiou said in a statement provided to HousingWire. “Our platform is configured for flexible and remote operations, thanks to modern technology (video conferencing, remote online notarization, e-signatures, etc.),” Athanasiou continued. “We are taking the necessary precautions such as following the CDC guidelines, reducing large in-person meetings, corporate gatherings, employee travel and other related events.”

According to Athanasiou, the company is dealing with high mortgage volumes given the recent drop in interest rates and is managing it quite well. “Business at Guaranteed Rate is incredible and we’re continuing to set company records at a record pace. First and foremost, we are taking measures to ensure the safety and security of our customers, team members and business partners. This includes our efforts to implement an efficient remote workforce with full capabilities,” Athanasiou said.

“Our corporate operations team and all of our office branches throughout the country are working around the clock to ensure loans close quickly and efficiently. We’ve added resources to support and expedite the process,” Athanasiou continued. “Our digital mortgage, including FlashClose, enables us to handle this surge in volume. With our platform, borrowers can close on loans anytime from anywhere with an Internet connected device,” Athanasiou added. “As always, we remain committed to our customers and to maintaining the highest levels of customer service.”

Caliber Home Loans has also moved most of its employees to working from home. “I am blessed to lead one of our country’s largest mortgage lenders, which is based in the Dallas metro area,” Caliber Home Loans CEO Sanjiv Das posted on LinkedIn.

“As soon as it became clear that coronavirus had become a pandemic, I convened my leadership team to discuss how we as a firm would respond. Indeed, our country is going through the crucible of a dangerous health crisis,” Das continued. “The prescribed ‘social distancing’ measures will be a challenge, especially for companies such as mine that have large retail business. As employees at many firms disperse, I believe it’s important that the leadership teams of corporations across the US remain ‘close’ to their workers via rapid and transparent communications.”

According to Das, the company has encouraged “almost all employees to work from home, in effort to practice social distancing.” Das added that the company recently “pushed a software update to the computers of many employees so that they could have the latest technology that enables them to work from home.” Das also said that the company has “paused” all non-critical business travel and is limiting visits from vendors to its offices.

Meanwhile, there are banks that also have a direct mortgage lending presence, like Flagstar Bank. Those companies are adopting a hybrid plan that balances staffing branches and limiting person-to-person contact where appropriate.

Flagstar Senior Vice President of Direct Lending Rocky Stubbs told HousingWire that the company “initiated our business continuity plan to go as fully remote as possible with great success.” According to Stubbs, “all critical business functions are operating at full capacity and were monitoring the health and safety of our team closely.”

Fairway Mortgage is also moving toward work from home for all of its employees at its home office in Wisconsin. “We’re working on migrating our entire home office to work from home——department to department,” Fairway CEO Steve Jacobson told HousingWire. “As far as business—busy like everyone.”

Lenders, obviously, aren’t the only ones being impacted by the spread of the virus. Top mortgage insurer Radian is also moving its employees to remote. “Over the last couple of weeks, as part of our objective to responsibly achieve social distancing for the safety of employees and communities, we have restricted all domestic and international travel and implemented a companywide virtual work from home model for many of our employees, including our staff located in Philadelphia,” Radian CEO Rick Thornberry said in a note to customers this week.

Mortgage technology companies are no different. On Tuesday, Black Knight said that beginning Wednesday, all of its employees will be required to work from home. “In light of the growing threat of COVID-19, last week Black Knight initiated a work-from-home option for employees on all of its campuses in the United States. Beginning Wednesday, March 18th, working remotely will become mandatory,” Black Knight said in a statement.

“While there are currently no Black Knight employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the company is making this decision out of an abundance of caution and concern for the health and safety of its employees and their communities,” the company continued. “Black Knight has thorough business continuity plans that have been prepared and tested over the years, including for situations such as this,” the company added. “The work-from-home order for all U.S. employees will allow those plans to be put into place while still providing innovative solutions and superior service to our clients.”

[Update: This article is updated to reflect Chase’s current policies.]

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