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Mortgage

How can the mortgage industry recruit people earlier in their careers?

Freedom Mortgage's Dave Sheeler shares tips and advice on recruiting and retention

HW+ Dave Sheeler
Dave Sheeler, president of residential servicing and correspondent lending at Freedom Mortgage

This year’s list of HousingWire Insiders radiate influence well beyond the walls of their individual companies, providing the infrastructure that upholds the whole industry. HousingWire decided to dive deeper into a few of our award winners to get a peek behind the curtain on what defines an Insider, with this first Q&A featuring Dave Sheeler, president of residential servicing and correspondent lending at Freedom Mortgage.

Even though it’s rare that housing finance is listed on someone’s career aspirations when leaving high school, it doesn’t mean that the people who are in this space are any less passionate about what they do. This can be seen in these Q&As with three HousingWire Insiders as they share how they got into the housing industry, how to get more people into the space and the key to retaining employees.

Humble, driven and innovative, the Q&As also feature Sandra Madigan, digital product director, enterprise product strategy, servicing technologies at Black Knight and Agnes Standowicz, vice president, underwriting leader at United Wholesale Mortgage. To read the other two Q&As in the magazine, go here.

Brena Nath: First off, congrats on being named a 2021 Insider. If you were standing on a stage giving an acceptance speech, who would you want to thank for helping you get where you are today?

Dave Sheeler: I would have to start with Stan Middleman, who I’ve worked for the last eight years. I’ve learned a lot of different things from a lot of people, but Stan has a knack for being able to look around corners. 

I remember one of the first conversations we had, where we were talking about what’s going to happen in 5 to 10 years. It’s a very different way of thinking than a lot of leaders, and it really kind of re-trained me not only to look at what problem is right in front of me, but what are the problems or what are the challenges we’re going to have in you know, 5 years, 10 years down the road? 

And how do we not just prepare for what we need to do today, but how do we prepare for what we need to do in the future?

Outside of that, I would have to thank my wife, first and foremost. She puts up with a lot of travel, a lot of late nights, and really just supports me and supports my children and really allows me to succeed in my current role. There are countless other people throughout my career who I could also think of that have been real mentors. 

Brena Nath: Rarely do people choose to get into the mortgage industry. What has your journey been like getting into the industry?

Dave Sheeler: Back in 2002, I was actually working over in Europe. I was working in Paris doing strategic development for a bank over there, and we hit a big recession back in 2002. The company decided to step back and stop doing acquisitions, and that was really time for me to look for new opportunities. I really got into the mortgage business because that was the industry that was thriving. I have a financial background by nature, so I went to Countrywide and worked in the financial department. I’m not by nature an accountant or finance person, but it was a fantastic entry into the organization. 

One thing I’ve done in my career, particularly as I’ve gotten into the mortgage business, is focus on learning everything. It’s important as you continue to expand your career to really focus on being well rounded, and I always try and surround myself with people that have diverse backgrounds. And a lot of times I put them in roles that may be different than what they’re historically used to. Because now as they work with others in the group, everybody has a different perspective on what somebody else is facing or challenged with. It creates for cohesive groups when you have people that move from one area to another.

Brena Nath: What do you think it would take to get more people in the industry?

Dave Sheeler: I think there are a couple of things there. One, we have to recruit people earlier in their careers. The mortgage business has historically been one where we recruit, and then people ultimately come into the industry. We don’t do enough conscious recruiting at the college level or the high school level. 

People earlier in their careers are particularly knowledgeable about what mortgage banking is. There’s no degree for mortgage banking. There’s a degree for finance, and quite frankly, I look at the housing industry and mortgage industry as one of the most important things that anybody could do for the community.

Think about how impactful mortgages are and homeownership is to the entire country, and I think that gets lost. The complexity of the mortgage industry gets lost on individuals earlier in their career and all the different things you can do in this industry. When you think about marketing and push versus pull type marketing activities, we do more of the push. We put out that we have jobs, and we wait for people to come fill those jobs. We need to change the dynamic and change the way individuals looking for jobs and individuals looking for career progression think about this business because there’s a lot of opportunity in the mortgage space.

BN: For the other side of that story, what are four things that you think are the key to retaining employees?

Dave Sheeler: At the end of the day, every company, it all comes down to culture and how you drive opportunity through that culture. When I think about retention, within my own organization, I really think about transparency. How do I create an environment where all my employees have transparency into our goals as a company and into the meaning of what we’re doing? And quite frankly, their own goals, so people can feel rewarded and enriched by achieving the goals and by the overall company being able to achieve its goals. 

I think one of the other things that’s important is making sure every employee understands how important their role is. When you think about what we do every day, you can boil it down to anything you want. You could say, “I’m a capital markets guy and I securitize mortgages into loans.” You could say, “I’m a credit guy, and I make sure that we’re giving loans to individuals that are prepared for homeownership.” But at the end of the day, what we’re really doing is helping people.

Another one of the big things for me there is making sure that everybody in the organization understands that mission and gets to see how they’re helping people. We’ve had a significant number of customers who have been on forbearance over the last year and a half. What I try and focus on, is think about all the people you helped that were stressed, were financially challenged, had health issues or had family with health issues. What we did for them and what the individuals who work within the organization did for them is so meaningful to that individual. Wherever you are in the value chain, ultimately what you’re doing is you’re helping somebody get into a home and stay in that home.

The other big thing for me is empowerment. I like to make sure that I’m giving my leaders, and I expect my leaders to give their leaders, the ability to make decisions. They may not always be the decision I’m going to make but having capable people around you and giving them the room to make decisions really creates a sense of community and a sense of a vested interest in the outcome of the company. 

BN: If you were sitting in a room with the top leaders in the housing industry, what would you want them to know?

Dave Sheeler: I would really want to talk about the digitalization of the industry. We have a lot of opportunities to continue to make progress in terms of creating a more seamless end-to-end process through the whole industry. In the mortgage business, we have a large number of companies that do different things. And we’re not always as efficient as we need to be in terms of how information transfers from one organization to another, how documents transfer from one organization to another, how we move customer loans through the process, from origination all the way to the capital markets. How do we think about that? And how do we come together as an industry to create a more seamless process and make the entire end-to-end experience, the front experience for the customer, more seamless? As well as the end experience all the way through to the securitization. How do we make that more seamless and more transparent from a data perspective as well as a document perspective? I think we have a lot of opportunities there to eliminate redundancies and create efficiencies within the industry.

BN: To wrap, what’s one piece of advice you would give people in this industry?

Dave Sheeler: I’ve talked a fair amount about the customer, but we face a lot of challenges in this industry. It’s not always easy. It’s particularly hard right now, as we’re facing — and we have been for the last year and a half — record call volumes. We’re facing that shifting landscape. We’re facing changing government regulations and changes to the different home retention solutions. We’re having situations where customers are struggling. But I always believe in one thing, if we remember that there’s a customer at the end of everything that we do, then it makes all these different challenges easier.

At the end of the day, there is somebody who is in their home, and they need our help to understand their escrow, their payments, what’s available to them, their protections and how states can assist if they’re struggling. If we just remember, these are not loans, these are people, it makes everything you’re struggling with and every challenge you have a little bit easier.

This Q&A was originally featured in the September issue of HousingWire Magazine. To read the full issue, go here.

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