Successful executives in any business are focused on what it takes to get the job done with the highest level of efficiency and with the least amount of pain. The best managers watch their operations closely, on guard for problems that can slow things down, negatively impact customer service or increase costs. The closer they watch their own operations, the more successful they tend to be and the less likely they are to be in a position to pay attention to their external environment.
I think that's why we've been seeing more chief strategic officers showing up in the mortgage lending space, both on the part of lenders themselves and those firms that serve them. It makes sense, in my mind, to have someone who is tasked with paying close attention to the external partners. That makes great sense in a business with as many moving pieces as home finance.
I'm not just talking about partner relations here. I know every company has an executive or two who are focused on forging alliances with the best partners and then making sure they live up to the Service Level Agreements in place between them. This is important work, but it's focused mostly internally on what the lender wants and needs. These guys are doing what they're supposed to be doing.
There is room in the modern mortgage lending operation for another kind of executive, one who spends more time looking over the corporation's walls and focusing on the inner working of the companies the bank partners with to do it's work.
There are some institutions that are way ahead of me here. I know that Wells Fargo has appointed an executive to work directly with the title insurance industry to help smooth everything out regarding RESPA changes. She is attending conferences, speaking to that industry and generally making sure that everyone is one the same page. And I'm not talking about laying down the law according to Wells, necessarily. I'm taking about identifying mutual pain points and coordinating with partners to find workable solutions.
On the other hand, I've spoken to a number of executives who work for Appraisal Management Companies who are disappointed that their lender partners didn't step up and explain things to legislators before the federal government decided to let every state in the union impose their own rules and regulations on these entities. It's not the end of that industry, of course, but it could mean that lenders are going to be forced to handle more of the work that they previously handed off comfortably to companies that focused on that work and delivered good value for the money.
There are plenty of reasons to get a better handle on your partners' businesses right now. You'll be in a better position to negotiate for better rates. You'll be able to identify problems that might lead to violations of your SLAs. You might uncover an acquisition opportunity. The best reason is that you will forge stronger partnerships that will help carry you through the downturn.
The title insurance space is one place that lenders could capitalize now on this concept of getting closer to their partners. Some of these companies—both underwriters and agents—are feeling significant discomfort right now and could benefit from a more empathetic class of customer. Some institutions will doubtless feel their size trumps any need to care about their partners' problems, in which case some smaller institutions will have a competitive opportunity.
Rick Grant is veteran journalist covering mortgage technology and the financial industry.
Follow him on Twitter: @NYRickGrant