How can the mortgage industry retain more employees?

Black Knight's Sandra Madigan shares tips and advice on recruiting and retention

HW+ Sandra Madigan
Sandra Madigan, digital product director, enterprise product strategy, servicing technologies at Black Knight

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 Q&A featuring Sandra Madigan, digital product director, enterprise product strategy, servicing technologies at Black Knight

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

Sandra Madigan: Delivering products in the software industry, truly, it’s a magical thing and it’s a combination between product and engineering. I have been blessed in having a fabulous engineering partner who allows me to dream big for these products and architects them and helps me lead an engineering team in a way that we can deliver on that vision. 

Again, I have a wonderful boss that supports me not just professionally, but personally and it goes without saying that without the team of developers and product people that we have who actually are the ones who are the boots on the ground, that get the code laid to get these products out, we would have nothing. They are a magnificent group of people that share in the vision and the passion that we have for what we do at Black Knight. They help us get through the finish line and put beautiful stuff out there.

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

Sandra Madigan: Interestingly enough, my degree is in psychology, and I’ve always had an interest in people. People and their emotions and what drives them and all of that. I came into the mortgage industry more on the banking side at Merrill Lynch, working with home equity accounts. The behind-the-scenes software really fascinated me because you can change so much of the process and make things so much better, not just to that person that works with the software, but the end consumer at the end of the day, if you just do tweaks and look at software differently. I came over to Black Knight over 10 years ago now, and it’s fascinating to me to work in software that really goes to the heart of emotions and people. If you think about it, nobody in our mortgage industry grows up and says, “You know what, when I’m 20, I want to have a mortgage.” 

Nobody says that, right? But what we all do want is we want to have a home, and a mortgage is such a key part of homeownership in our country. Of that American dream, I can’t think of a higher emotion, something that would drive people’s emotions higher than a mortgage.

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

Sandra Madigan: I think as leaders, we have to talk with more passion about our industry and kind of make that tight correlation to them. Mortgage is part of the American dream. You think about a generation of kids who are now entering the workforce, and they’re definitely more portable mindsets. They want to change the world; they always are seeking higher meaning. It’s not so much about the paycheck anymore, it really goes down to the why, “Why are we in this industry?” If you think about it, our industry, like if you look at a bank’s balance sheet, mortgages fall into a combined line that’s called loans, notes and mortgages, those that stay on the balance sheet of a bank if they’re not securitized out. This one little line on the balance sheet, these mortgage-backed securities, they seem like tiny pieces of our economy, and yet back in the crisis, we almost brought the entire economy down to its knees.

We should take pride in the fact that our tiny, little industry is really pivotal in this whole cogwheel of not just the American dream, but our economy and everything else. And then if I put my female Hispanic hat on, homeownership is pivotal to wealth growing in this country. How could we not be proud of being in it and instill that pride in this younger generation to come in and truly help us revolutionize what we do?

Brena Nath: For the other side of that story, what are three things that you think are the key to retaining employees?

Sandra Madigan: In any industry really, because retention is not necessarily in my mind industry-driven, when you work in a company in any industry, there’s key things that kind of keep you in place. You have to feel that you’re fairly compensated. I do think our industry shines there, we do compensate people fair for the work that we request them to do. 

You have to be part of a great team. I think this crisis that we had with COVID launched us all into a new wave of technology, where we all had to figure out how to keep that team bonded and everything going while we’re all working away and joining calls through Zoom or Teams or anything like that. 

Then, they have to love the work that they do. And if we share again the passion for what we do, that’s easier to instill. I can tell you, I’ve had the biggest success in my team and keeping people engaged when I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get dirty, if you may, in the detail. Not from providing them direction and saying, “You need to code this this way,” or, “This needs to look exactly this way and you have to do this,” but it’s almost that type of leader that they know that they can come to and will be there in the trenches with them. 

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

Sandra Madigan: What I would love to tell them is that you guys need to start using more technology. We need to keep up with the changes in technology, keep up with the time to serve customers better. It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for us to figure out in the mortgage industry how to process a loan modification automatically from a cell phone for a borrower or to originate a loan or a refinance and be able to do remote notary. But it really did take that to kind of force our hand to adopt some of these technologies. The technology is there and available, and there’s a lot of vendors that are coming up with a lot of really cool things in our industry, but it seems that we’re our own worst enemy.

We hide at times behind, “Oh, well, there’s too much regulation in the mortgage industry.” Rather than figuring out how to use technology to our advantage, we wait and wait and wait like sitting ducks and then we have all these other areas of the economy that are thriving by leveraging new and better technology. I would really love for them to just take a pause and see how much transformation we’ve been able to bring to the industry in this past year, and then kind of pledge that it won’t take an elongated crisis for us to evaluate technology, but we’ll start pushing forward without having to by necessity.

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

Sandra Madigan: The industry is so vast and there’s so many players that at times if you are entering into the mortgage business, whether you are a young loan officer, that customer service rep that takes those calls or you’re the person that like scans and copies documents behind the scenes, at times our jobs may seem tiny, but it is going above and beyond and doing that job the best that you can that makes our overall industry grow. It’s again, tying it to that meaning. Everything we do is about that home. It’s more than just the loan. The loan just happens to be a byproduct that we’re really good at managing and helping them through, but it’s really about the home.

Brena Nath: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Sandra Madigan: The only other thing that I would say that in our industry would be great to see is for us to leverage user experience better. We’re seeing a lot more of it in products that are coming out, in products that are being designed and everything else. And user experience, again, not just from a technology perspective. if we could focus on the overall end user experience, I think we would delight customers a lot more than we do today.

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