How Greatest Mortgage Firms to Work For deal with persevering with schooling

The Best Mortgage Companies to Work For are offering employee education benefits at a higher average rate than other housing finance firms, suggesting that doing so has a payoff that may be worth the challenges.

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Nearly two-thirds or 65% reimbursed employees for business education, compared to just under one-third or 33% of companies that didn’t make the list. The equivalent numbers were 66% and 63% last year. The split for financial assistance around certifications in 2022 was 59% verses 33% of the companies that didn’t make the list, vs. 46% and 50% in 2021. The numbers suggest that supporting employee education in an industry where it’s required on an ongoing basis for some licensed positions is something highly rated companies want to keep doing, even though margin pressure is increasing and there’s heightened wariness around the potential for abuses of the system.

Regulators recently charged and settled with hundreds of loan officers and a training program provider who allegedly engaged in fraudulent practices like taking continuing education classes required for licensing on their behalf. No companies were cited unless they were sole proprietors subject to settlements for their own actions, and the LOs were essentially given a chance to retain their licenses by enrolling in and completing legitimate classes. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors had not responded at deadline to a request for comment on what role employers could play in preventing this type of fraud.

Representatives of some Best Companies and one of their business partners said they’re no less dedicated to offering employee education benefits in general as a result of such concerns, but they may vet or limit outsourced providers, focus more on informal in-house programs, and position themselves to nip problems in the bud as best they can if they run across them.

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For example, while the residential business- purpose loans Civic Financial Services specializes in may not be held to the same regulatory standards as more traditional owner-occupied mortgages in this context, President William “Bill” Tessar said any kind of falsified training is a practice he works to weed out because it undermines company values and benefits.

If the company ever finds employees or its business partners got “rubber-stamped” training they didn’t actually complete and sought reimbursement or other support for it, that would be unacceptable, according to Tessar.

While the risk employees or business partners could engage in continuing-ed scams has been spotlighted by the settlements, it’s not so much a new problem to be aware of as a twist on an old one, he noted.

“That was actually more prevalent back in the late 1980s,” Tessar noted, referring to regulatory actions at that time around falsified classes required for licensing by the Department of Real Estate in California.

Meanwhile, in more recent years, the industry also has savings from two banner years for origination behind it and a shift in mindset about training as a priority which might explain why a high number of Best Companies keep investing in it.

“We took people that were just out of college or fresh to the workforce, brought them in and took them through a six- to eight-week course …and taught them our business….then they’d [graduate], go on to a mentor-mentee program for six weeks, and when they came out of it, these were some of our very, very best originators,” Tessar said. “In the olden days…no one had time or money to invest in training. So I think something like that is a real cool thing.”

Today, many companies in the industry have savings from two banner years for origination and a prioritization on training might explain why a high number of Best Companies keep investing in it.

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Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. emphasizes training through an in-house program and has noted a shift in industry attitudes.

“We have a base camp course that we run through and offer corporate employees who maybe want to get into originations. We have external folks who can sign up for base camps so that we are building our bench of loan originators.

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“There’s really been a big emphasis on getting new folks into the industry in the last year and a half,” said Julie Fry, chief human resources officer.

Efficiency training and programs that don’t fulfill licensing requirements but do support the career development of loan officers are part
of the company’s offerings, said Fry. Tracking of licensing and fulfillment of the continuing education it’s contingent upon is handled separately by the company’s compliance department, she added.

Certifications that serve practical rather than regulatory requirements may sometimes need to take a back seat to continuing training required to maintain licenses but with originators likely turning to a broader product set, these are gaining traction.

The National Association of Mortgage Brokers, which has had an educational partnership with Fairway’s wholesale division, has focused on providing certified training such as Department of Veterans Affairs-guaranteed loans. Some of the Best Companies with wholesale divisions and their brokers view VA loan training as a way to grow volume in a year when refinancing is likely to be more scarce.

“This year we’re going to double the places we go to certify loan officers so that they’ll have the knowledge they’ll need to help the veterans,” said Linda McCoy, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

While Best Companies offer professional education through internal resources or reimbursement to a greater degree than other mortgage businesses, they also disproportionately support employee education in areas like personal finance that furthers individual, or work-life balance goals. That’s likely because companies find the payoff in this is improved employee relations and communication, said Tessar.

“We support all of our employees with all things education,” he said.

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