Sean Johnson, loanDepot top performer, to speak at engage.talent

Technology is crucial to retaining high-performing loan officers

Sean Johnson, producing branch manager at loanDepot who has been ranked in the top 1% of mortgage originators since 2012, will speak at HousingWire’s engage.talent event on Feb. 6.

Johnson will join Shant Banosian, vice president of lending at Guaranteed Rate, and Jennifer Micklos, MLO of Movement Mortgage, for a session on Recruiting and Retaining Top Originators, moderated by top mortgage coach and host of the bigJoel show Joel Epstein.

Johnson, who has been in the mortgage business since 2003, runs a team of 10 LOs at loanDepot out of Fairfax, Virginia. As a preview of his session at engage.talent, Johnson sat down for a Q&A on how technology is changing the mortgage business and what he looks for in new loan officers.

HousingWire: When it comes to tech tools or solutions, what are some you think have revolutionized the way LOs work? Are there any types of tools you think they rely on too much?

Sean Johnson: It’s all cyclical. We used to be really big on database management. For a long time, email blasts and drip campaigns were really effective, and we got a great response from those. But over the last two or three years, people have been inundated, so we’ve gone low-tech with more phone calls, and handwritten notes and cards. 

People were inundated with communication that had a less personal touch. So, I think, even though tech is fantastic, maybe the best use of all those tools it to give LOs more time to interact on a human level, where most people aren’t. That sets people apart.

If you use tech as just a “set it and forget it,” it becomes just a numbers game at that point — on both sides. That’s not building a relationship, and for me, that’s not the way I do business.

HW: As a branch manager, what are some of the things you look for in a new employee that get you excited about their future?

SJ: We have a really, really big problem in the mortgage industry: the average age of loan officers is 50+ yrs old. For a long time in the financial industry, companies ran things in the exact same way they always had. There wasn’t a significant infusion of new technology, and technology that was available was stunted due to the financial crisis. There was no money in the mortgage business, so the investment in tech went away. It’s still expensive to make that investment — as an industry you still see a lot of stagnation.

But then it’s really difficult to attract young new talent when they grew up with technology in their DNA. They’ve never been alive without the internet, they’ve had iPhones since they were nine.

One thing that loanDepot does well is that it created technologies that are more familiar to younger generations of consumers and LOs. All the tools are similar to what they use in everyday life. So, for the online application, everything connects — it goes to social media sites, it’s mobile, you can operate from your phone. When new LOs come in and see what we do, they intuitively understand how it works, even if they haven’t seen it before.

HW: What do you look for in an LO?

SJ: First, I’m looking for someone who is a good cultural fit — they work well with people. The next factor is that I want to hire people where our tech is going to be an asset and not an anchor. Our systems are more accessible for people familiar with technology, so if someone has been taking applications by hand their whole career, there’s a lot to learn just to be able to function within our system. For some LOs, that much technology would actually hurt their business.

You should be honest about what you do well. I joke that a happy loan officer is a unicorn — they rarely exist — so if you’re happy, don’t go anywhere. At loanDepot, our product is technology. We’re a technology company that happens to sell mortgages. So there’s no point in bringing in an LO who is going to spend six months or a year trying to figure out the technology. It just wouldn’t be a good fit, so we are honest not only about our product mix, but also our company direction, to make sure someone is successful.

Our core differentiator is not what we’re doing with tech now, but what we want to do with tech in the future. So it has to be something an LO is comfortable with or they will be swimming upstream all the time.

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear Johnson and other experts at engage.talent on Feb. 6 in Dallas. Register here.

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