What’s behind residence lending’s gradual uptake of family-friendly insurance policies?

While many mortgage industry companies have made their policies more family-friendly, current and former employees in the field say that benefits are greatly lagging when compared to other industries.

The reason for this is two-fold, they say. The boom and bust cycle of the industry often causes lenders to focus on addressing shifting business priorities rather than employee benefits. Also, the mortgage industry has historically been dominated by older employees who may not be motivated to create new family-centric policies, they add. 

Age and gender disparity in the mortgage industry might explain why family-friendly policies are not universal. According to estimates from Zippia, a mere 32.5% of all mortgage brokers in the nation are women, while 67.5% are men. Also, younger workers are usually the ones pushing for changes in company policies and since more seasoned employees are typically in senior roles, they’re less eager to alter internal practices.

“When you sit and look around the office the average age is a little older and so you have to think about your priorities to a certain degree,” Estelle Norvell, president of Mattamy Home Funding said. Policies such as maternity leave may not get revised or enhanced “because it’s just a small segment [of workers]” that benefit from them.

Fortunately, businesses in this year’s Best Mortgage Companies to Work For ranking demonstrate that more workplaces are prioritizing things like flexible working schedules. Out of 48 lenders in the ranking – including Atlantic Bay Mortgage, NewFi Lending, and Mattamy Home Funding – at least half reported providing full or paid parental leave to their employees. 

The survey also found that at least 29 out of 48 lenders provide lactation facilities to breastfeeding mothers, while 45 out of 48 lenders offer family-friendly benefits or practices such as flexible hours to accommodate school events, taking a family member to the doctor, etc.

“The nice thing is I think we’re starting to see a little bit more of the youth insertion in our industry as a whole, which is needed. It makes these types of things come to the forefront moreso than what they may have been,” Norvell said. 

Mattamy Home Funding offers both paternity and maternity leave options to its employees, allowing for greater flexibility for a family unit. Mothers can “take some weeks off” and then “the father may take it off in different increments.” This option can be broken up “within the first six months,” Norvell said.

Michele Kryczkowski, former senior vice president at Planet Home Lending, also points to age as the reason why family-friendly policies aren’t as widespread in the mortgage industry,

“What folks that are older value in a workplace is different from what younger folks value and that’s a big factor to consider,” said Kryczkowski.

The family-friendly policies – or a lack thereof – shows a “company’s culture” and what they value, said Paul Hindman, managing director at Grid Origination Services.

“Companies with family-first initiatives put the energy into finding out what people need to stay,” said Hindman. “When lenders don’t have these policies, they don’t have anything. It’s literally about a body count for many lenders and the first thing that they ask is how much production you have, not your childcare preferences.”

Amit Pall, senior vice president at NewFi Lending, says his company follows “what the regulations are on a state-to-state basis,” for maternity and paternity leave, but additional flexibility is allotted if employees want to spend time with their family. Additionally, the lender offers flexible working hours around life events, such as hospital visits, recitals, etc. 

“Aside from establishing a formal policy around it, really having the employee understand that their time with their family is important is a priority,” said Patell. “These are major milestone moments and if employees need to take the time to be with their family, we’re going to 100% support them.” 

Others in the Best Companies ranking, such as Pennsylvania-based Rehab Financial Group, only recently implemented maternity and paternity leave policies, while Arizona-based People’s Mortgage provides work flexibility to its employees and has a nursing room, but doesn’t have a set paternity or maternity leave policy yet.

“I say in all candor, we didn’t have one probably until last year. And that’s bad on me,” said Susan Naftulin, president and co-founder of Rehab Financial Group. 

The cyclicality of the mortgage business is an undeniable contributor to why these types of initiatives float to the bottom of a company’s priorities list. “Our business is so cyclical and I’m not sure that [family-friendly policies] are on the forefront of executives’ brains,” Kryczkowski added.

Especially now, as rates continue to fluctuate and origination volume is low, many executives are making the decision to right-size, close origination channels, or their businesses altogether. 

“I think about the cyclical nature of what we do and [executives of companies] are probably not sure how far the penny is going to pinch in really tough times, like right now. And so stuff like that just goes to the backburner.”

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