In today’s market climate, are mortgage experts or fintech pros better poised for success? Our Chief Legal Officer Wendy Lee set out to answer just that in her recent article for DS News.
How to Build Tomorrow’s Mortgage Talent
Industry gatekeepers will say mortgage is too complex for outsiders, but as fintech continues to proliferate across all facets of the industry, it might be time to adopt a more nuanced approach.
As Wendy argues, “We should remain open to the tech disruption narrative that says outsiders bring fresh perspective. It’s easy to dismiss this by questioning the relevance of, say, a retail e-commerce tech pro coming into mortgage.”
After all, as she points out, tech folks have been privy to complete innovation cycles in their world that we haven’t gotten to witness yet in ours. Retail innovation occurred at a faster pace, and in fact set the tone for today’s consumers who expect to be able to manage their entire lives from a smartphone.
“We haven’t fully realized this across originations and servicing because innovation took longer in our highly regulated world. But from where I sit at Sagent where we’re now leading consumer-first modernization of servicing, our industry needs tech talent that has already led a few rounds of consumer-first innovation.”
There’s much opportunity to be had by bringing in these seasoned technologists, bringing them up to speed on the mortgage technicals, and molding them into mortgage fintech pros.
And Wendy believes the same can (and should) be done for early-career talent.
“As a mentor to many who are earlier in their careers, I tell them a tough cycle like today is better to learn in. This is especially true in mortgage servicing which gets even more technical in down cycles.”
“Default management is full of nuances across forbearances, loan modifications, and judicial vs. non-judicial foreclosures – this is granular work that involves consumers, banks, lenders, investors, regulators, lawyers, title companies, appraisers, and of course a whole ecosystem of fintech software solutions.”
“It’s up to all of us to groom the next generation of mortgage experts, whether those are folks from other industries or younger team members already in the mortgage space.”
And as we very well know, mortgage isn’t something you learn in school; it’s something you learn in the trenches.
Wendy’s Path from Mortgage Lawyer to Fintech Exec
For Wendy, this has deeply informed her own path, and it’s the reason she has dedicated so much of her time to mentoring.
“I’ve spent most of my two-decade mortgage career at law firms representing lenders on issues pertaining to foreclosures, bankruptcies, and property-related litigation,” Wendy explained.
“This included managing scale foreclosure operations during the fallout from the global financial crisis.”
“All the while I observed the tech disruption washing over other industries, saw what it did to the unprepared people and companies, and didn’t want that to happen to me or our industry.”
This led Wendy to immerse herself in digital transformation and the role that tech can play in making things better for mortgage operators, consumers, and investors.
Her organic, “learn-in-the-trenches” approach led to her current career chapter as chief legal officer at Sagent.
“I had been observing the innovation progress in mortgage originations, and noticed how Sagent was laser-focused on bringing that same progress to mortgage servicing, where lenders manage and grow lifetime relationships with homeowners.”
Wendy’s path — and the path of many others with similar industry trajectories — begs the question, is mortgage or fintech expertise more important for career success in this era?
Is Your Mortgage Resume Fit for the Fintech Era?
For now, Wendy leans towards mortgage expertise, at least in her case: “I was able to pick up on the fintech part because, as noted above, I have maintained a long-term lens on the impact of technology in mortgage.”
“There’s also maybe a third dimension for me which is the extracurricular curiosity and exposure to technology-related startups. Watching innovation in other spaces gave me context: how a startup unfolds as a founder conceives an idea, obtains funding, deploys said funding into constructing said idea and then moves the status quo into a better experience for users, customers, and industries.”
And as for what you can take away from Wendy’s experience, she has two pieces of parting advice:
“First, don’t ever think you don’t have the right experience. Markets, policymaking, mortgage operations, and the fintech software that powers it all is always evolving in real-time. Experience is gained daily.
“Second, don’t think this or any other market cycle will run you over. If your head is in the game and you’re ready to solve tough problems, a tough market cycle should be your best chapter.”