In a recent piece for DS News, Sagent CLO Wendy Lee shared two approaches to refining talent in the mortgage industry (and beyond) during the tough cycle we’re currently experiencing. She drew conclusions from what she’s seeing right now, as well as from her own experience as a lawyer-turned-fintech pro (with a sprinkle of tech-startup curiosity). From there, she connected some of the dots for lenders, servicers, and fintechs who want to use talent development as a strategic differentiator during this pivotal moment in our market and economy.
Uncovering Diamonds in the Rough
As the mortgage industry goes through this sharp tightening cycle in 2022-23, we must look deeper than shock-and-awe headlines about headcount reductions and lender/bank strain. Our industry will still fund around $2 trillion in new loans this year, and there is still $12 trillion in outstanding mortgage balances. So we’re still serving millions of consumers every day, and doing so when they need it most. This is critical work being done by seasoned pros who care deeply about the consumers we all serve.
And as M&A activity ramps up, lenders, servicers, and fintechs can and will make smart deals to shore up talent and tech stacks. These dealmakers look at “Who’s getting laid off now?” headlines as opportunistic moments to answer questions like: “How can we refine talent to advance our strategy?” Based on my experience in multiple market cycles, I have some ideas about where that conversation should go.
Got Talent? Two Approaches to Developing Humans in This Market
Mortgage-industry insiders might say this sector is too nuanced for outsiders, but new people are always needed to drive innovation, and here’s why—from two different angles.
First, we should remain open to the tech-disruption narrative that says outsiders bring fresh perspectives.
It’s easy to question the relevance of, say, a retail e-commerce tech pro coming into mortgage. However, they’ve participated in complete innovation cycles in their world that we haven’t fully seen yet in ours. Retail innovation happened faster (and actually set the tone) for consumers who now expect to manage their entire lives from a smartphone.
We haven’t come as far in originations and servicing because innovation took longer to take root in our highly regulated world. But from where I sit at Sagent, where we’re now leading consumer-first modernization in servicing, our industry needs tech talent that has already led a few rounds of consumer-first innovation.
It’s also a net win for us to bring in these seasoned technologists, train them on mortgage technical issues, and mold them into the fintech professionals we need.
Which is where the second approach comes in: we must do the same thing with 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 ‘trial by fire’ approach is especially true in mortgage servicing, which gets even more technical during 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, servicers investors, regulators, lawyers, title companies, appraisers, and—of course—a whole ecosystem of fintech software solutions.
I’ve said it before (and insiders know it well): this isn’t an industry that’s taught in universities. It’s taught in the trenches.
Whether those are folks from other industries or younger team members already in the mortgage space, it’s up to all of us to groom the next generation of mortgage experts.
Lessons From My Own Career Path
This is why I’ve made mentoring others such a high priority. I spent most of my two-decade mortgage career at law firms representing lenders on issues pertaining to foreclosures, bankruptcies, and property-related litigation. This included managing scale foreclosure operations during the fallout from the global financial crisis.
At the same time, I watched the tech disruption revolutionizing other industries, saw what it did to the people and companies who weren’t prepared, and didn’t want that to happen to me or this industry.
So I dove into digital transformation and the role of technology in making things better for mortgage operators, consumers, and investors. It was very organic, and definitely a learn-in-the-trenches moment.
The same approach led to my current career chapter as Chief Legal Officer for Sagent. I had been observing the innovation progress in mortgage originations and noticed Sagent’s laser-focus on bringing that same progress to mortgage servicing where lenders manage and grow lifetime relationships with homeowners.
The rest was good old-fashioned hustle to network and find a way to this next opportunity.
Is Your Mortgage Resume Relevant for the Fintech Era?
Only now, almost a year into this job, am I asking myself whether it was more the mortgage or the fintech expertise that got me here.
My answer (at least for now) skews toward mortgage expertise. I was able to pick up on the fintech part because, as noted before, I have maintained a long-term lens on the impact of technology in mortgage.
For me, there’s an additional aspect which is my extracurricular curiosity and exposure to the world of tech 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 redefines the status quo into a better experience for users, customers, and industries.
Regardless, you can see from my example how exploring your own skill set, curiosity, and long-term interests can help you find or finetune your path.
So let me boil this all down to two pieces of advice:
- Be confident. Don’t ever think you don’t have the right experience. Markets, policymaking, mortgage operations, and the fintech software that powers it all are always evolving in real-time. Experience is gained daily.
- Be brave. Don’t fear that this market cycle will send you packing. If your head is in the game and you’re ready to solve complex problems, a tough market cycle could just be your best growth chapter.
This applies exponentially as the servicing innovation era converges with the latest market cycle. Opportunities abound for those always working to keep their mortgage resumes fit for the fintech era.