The financial industry is filled with careers that have solid earning potential. Joining a financial institution as a loan marketing officer, or loan officer, is one of them. Like a lot of sales positions, it can be lucrative and enjoyable, or grindingly difficult and stressful. The difference comes down to charting a deliberate “business plan” for success, and then investing the time and effort needed to make your plan a reality.
Mortgage Broker vs. Loan Officer
As a loan officer, you’ll fill much the same role as a mortgage broker. A lot of people aren’t quite clear on how the two positions differ, but it’s a pretty straightforward distinction.
A mortgage broker deals with multiple lenders and has no explicit loyalty to one or another. The relationship is purely transactional. A broker will deal with whichever lenders offer the best commissions and/or make it easy for them to get their clients approved. As a loan officer, you’ll work directly for one lender and sell only that lender’s mortgage products. This can be a limitation, but on the upside, you’ll only have one line of products, and one underwriting department, to deal with. That means you’ll be able to develop expertise quickly.
Which is better? That’s not a straightforward question. Some borrowers prefer to deal with a broker and get a wider picture of the offers that might be on the table. Others prefer to work with an established lender, partly because they like using a known quantity and partly because brokered mortgages can cost more than conventional mortgages. Ultimately, it’s up to you to help a borrower decide in your favor.
Know Your Stuff
If the salesperson at your local cellular store stumbles and bumbles through a presentation, you’ll probably buy your next phone somewhere else. The same holds true with mortgages, only much more so.
As a loan officer, you’ll only have one product line to learn, so master it: Know it cold; absolutely crush it. Soak up every bit of training your institution offers. Find someone in the underwriting department who’s willing to explain to you what they want to see in an application, and which novice mistakes happen over and over again. Competence and personal expertise are the foundation everything else is built on.
Spend a Lot of Time Listening
A lot of people work in the real estate industry, and collectively, they can tell you a lot about how to be a successful loan officer. Whenever you’re not actively working, find opportunities to sit with them and listen to their advice. This can include everyone from Realtors to private lenders to builders and renovation contractors.
This may take some persistence on your part, because the most-successful — and most worth listening to — are also those whose time is most valuable. Don’t waste it. Prepare questions ahead of time, but remember that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and leave time for the experts to tell you the questions you should be asking. Find out how you can make their lives easier, and earn their trust and loyalty. Many will already have established relationships, but they can tell you how and why those relationships happened.
You may even find other brokers or loan officers who will help you find your feet, despite being nominal competitors. Many well-established brokers and loan officers no longer deal in the entry-level market where they first made their mark, and would be happy to provide the guidance you need to be successful there. This kind of hands-on mentoring from an established player is invaluable, and it’s worth expending a lot of effort on building that kind of a relationship.
Pick a Niche, and Work it Hard
In the early days of your career, you’ll take any business that comes your way, but the sooner you specialize, the sooner you’ll start to build a viable, distinctive clientele. How you choose that niche is up to you. You might opt for a community where you have an existing presence — local sports if you were an athlete, fellow alumni from your college — or one that’s not adequately served at present, according to the Realtors and loan officers you’ve been listening to.
Consider the growing number of people who rely on gig work and “side hustles” to fund their dreams of home ownership, for example. Traditional underwriting looks primarily at conventional employment income, which doesn’t work in this case. If underwriters at your institution have been working on that problem and have come up with alternative ways to assess an untraditional borrower’s reliability, you’ll be able to build a clientele from those unconventional applicants. If others in your area aren’t doing that, you’ll have a viable niche; one that will get the attention of Realtors.
Build Your Visibility, Online and Off
Your institution probably has an online presence of some sort for its mortgage unit, including the corporate website and social media accounts, but you should have your own as well. Be present on social media; create a blog, vlog or podcast of your own; and link to useful information from others in the home industry in your area. Offer to guest-post on the sites of Realtors or others working in your area in complementary fields.
By all means, contribute to your company’s social media feeds as well, but work at building out your own presence. Focusing on a tight niche actually helps you with this. Google tends to favor tightly focused pages in its search results, so a niche-market site or blog will fare better than one that’s “all things to everyone.”
Offline visibility matters as well. Your local TV stations and newspapers are always on the lookout for inexpensive content, especially in slow times, so reach out and offer to provide it. You don’t have to wait for big regulatory or legal changes to talk about; the same things that work online (“The top three mistakes people make on mortgage applications”) work just as well on TV or in print.
Educate Your Borrowers
Your borrowers don’t really understand the lending business the way you do (or soon will), so they’ll rely on you to help them make sense of it all. Set realistic expectations, especially if there’s anything in an application that might raise a red flag.
It’s especially important to be scrupulously upfront about costs, fees and penalties. That’s one area where nobody likes surprises. Many consumers have been attracted by a low published rate, only to find out too late that fees and surcharges made the final loan much less appealing. You can even make a brag of it: “Unlike your cellular carrier or your cable company, I’m going to make sure you absolutely understand the costs involved so there will be no surprises, ever.”
Be a Student of Your Own Presentation
Surprisingly few salespeople in any field closely monitor their own presentations, but you should. As you see more clients, you’ll notice that sometimes you seem to lose them at points in your presentation. Make a note of those. You’ll also find that sometimes you hit on a way of expressing a point that really seems to resonate. Make a note of those, too. Ideally, ask each client for their permission to record the presentation “so I won’t overlook anything important.”
Once you find words or phrases that work well, use them word for word. Find different ways to say the things that haven’t been working for you. If you do a few online searches, you’ll find lists of words and phrases that are well-established as good or bad in a sales setting. Learn them, use them and continually refine your presentation until it’s effective from beginning to end.
Upgrade Your Borrowers
The better a client’s credit score, the easier it is to get them approved and to get them the rates and terms they want. One option is to screen your borrowers and only work with those who have solid-gold credit, but there’s a ton of competition in that demographic. It’s better to work a niche that makes sense for you, and to upgrade the borrowers you get.
How do you do that? Your best bet is through ScoreMaster. Most people don’t know how to structure their existing financial activities to maximize the impact on their credit score. ScoreMaster does that, with prompts, guidance and regular feedback to help them do things in the right order and at the right time. Radical changes for some; for others, tiny tweaks.
It’s deceptively simple, but the results can be startling. In actual testing, ScoreMaster users raised their credit scores by an average of 60 points in just 20 days. That kind of result will make you a hero to your customers, the realtors you work with and especially your underwriting department.
Offer Borrowers a “Concierge” Experience
Getting a mortgage is an important part of the whole process of moving to a new or first home, but it’s far from the only part. Unless they already live close by, your borrowers — once they’ve bought a house — will need to know everything about their new neighborhoods.
You can separate yourself from your competitors by knowing local services and companies they can turn to: lawn care, landscaping, moving and storage, local contractors and mechanics, and even things like child care. Not only does this set you apart from your less-committed peers, but those same service businesses can become a great source of referrals back to you. Landscapers, designers and home-repair contractors will often know who’s planning to sell long before the customer reaches out to a Realtor or lender.
Get Reviews at Every Opportunity
Direct word-of-mouth referrals are the gold standard in sales, but — to extend that analogy — reviews are the paper money of referrals. When was the last time you bought something or tried a new restaurant without checking the reviews? Exactly.
That’s why it’s important to solicit reviews and feedback at every opportunity. Encourage your social media followers to like, share and retweet the articles and tips you post. Send every new customer a follow-up email after their loan is approved, with a brief survey (“Was the loan application easy? How well did you understand the loan process? What could I/we do differently?”). Provide the opportunity for more detail, and ask permission to quote them on your site when appropriate.
Stay in Touch (But Don’t Be Pushy)
If you’re thinking in terms of a long-term career, not just your next payday, one thing you’ll never do is lose touch with a customer. In the coming decades, a large percentage of your clients will buy several more properties as their main residence or as investments. You do want their business then, too, right?
Never forget a customer, and never let a customer forget you. Drop them an email from time to time with a tip, pointer or useful piece of information in it. A card or a handwritten note on their birthday is even better, and you have that date on your application form. You also know their renewal date, and should be on top of that at least a year in advance.
You’ll also want to keep your own records, separately from the company’s. You may leave one day, either because your current employer is caught up in an acquisition or because you’ve found a better opportunity. That doesn’t mean you should immediately go raid your old employer’s clientele — you don’t want a reputation for underhandedness — but be sure to let customers know when you move, and reach out when renewal time is on the horizon.
Being on “Their Team”
Ultimately, helping others get what they want is the road to success. Your borrowers should feel that you’re on their team from Day One, not just viewing them as the ticket to your next payday.
ScoreMaster can help you build that rapport right from the start. Introduce it at your very first meeting with the client, and show them how their mortgage options will change with an extra 60 points on their credit score. Lay out a plan to help them get there, and then show them how to enter your email to share their plan in real-time so you’ll get notifications as they reach their goals. It keeps you in the loop, keeps them accountable, and — most importantly — reinforces the message that you’re collaborating with them to get them what they want, as opposed to simply selling them something.
Contact us today to request a demonstration, and learn how you can turbocharge your new career with ScoreMaster.
*Legal Disclaimer – ScoreMaster is a patent-pending educational feature simulating credit utilization’s effect on credit scores via payments or spending. Your results may vary and are not guaranteed.