Interview: Top producer James Pulsipher talks mortgage workflow
Top mortgage originator uses tasking systems to set pace for 470 units funded in 2015
James Pulsipher is known within the mortgage origination industry for a couple of things: producing high volumes, and his preference for finding new levels of efficiency by using his brain and experience, not his wallet, to improve the mortgage workflow in his office.
We checked in with James to find out what his team does to stay small and yet still consistently produce at a high level, and here’s what he had to say:
How is your office structured, and how would you describe the culture that is promoted?
We work within the regional office for Bay Equity, in Grand Junction CO. Within the office there are 5 loan officers, I am one of those loan officers. Our support staff, processing, underwriting, compliance, is all located here. Within my individual team, it’s myself as a loan officer, two licensed coordinators, and a processor.
Mortgage Office Culture
Culturally speaking, we try to maintain a really upbeat environment. Everybody who works here, does so because they want to and they like the company and the culture and the people they work with. We’re pretty intent on keeping it a fun and happy place to work. Part of that is just developing a really defined system on how we do things.
It’s kind of a culmination of things, I think, that helps to create the synergy that we have in our group that helps everybody to work together in a happy and effective way, and to produce a ton of business without spending more time or having more stress and anxiety doing it. I found that a lot of the discontent that people have within the industry with where they work or who they work with, really stems from a lack of knowledge of who is doing what and when, and how to execute properly. That frustration really comes from, again, people missing expectations they don’t know exist or trying to define a process or mortgage workflow that isn’t outlined clearly.
“I found that a lot of the discontent that people have within the industry with where they work or who they work with, really stems from a lack of knowledge of who is doing what and when, and how to execute properly.”
Setting up an efficient mortgage workflow
You’re a huge proponent of increasing efficiency through process & system. Could you outline the mortgage workflow in your office?
For me and my team, I generally loan-app the customer and do the initial setup and structuring of the file. That involves inputting the file into our LOS, starting the loan flow in Floify, and then from a task position there’s a couple of tools that we use. We have an internal marketing system that does tasking and communication, we also engage Floify as our customer facing document portal, and of course there’s our LOS. So within those systems, we all find our roles.
Once I’ve setup a file and structured it, I start the loan flow and task my coordinator to do file setup. She goes through, scrubs that file, does a quick analysis of the data, runs the AUS, and from there she tasks out to the rest of the team anything that’s going to be ordered. Some people call them order-outs, whatever you want to call it, but she tasks out everything from the nominal stuff like USPS and Flood and 4506T to the critical components of the file.
A key to our success is that everything big or small that happens in the file is managed by task. So I can go in and see what that person or any other person on my team is doing within a file, when that’s expected to be completed and how they’re executing that. We’ve templated a lot of that stuff, so we can simply apply those templates and say that every time and every file these are the things that are going to occur. So we eliminate the human-ness of the potential to miss something there, and we walk all of that through in that way so that hopefully what we’re doing is more transparent.
“A key to our success is that everything big or small that happens in the file is managed by task. So I can go in and see what that person or any other person on my team is doing within a file, when that’s expected to be completed and how they’re executing that.”
The overall goal of that is to avoid the discourse that you have to spend with your team to figure out what’s going on. The typical reality, even with well qualified, highly producing teams, is that one person will field a question about a file and they’ve gotta connect with somebody else, and even though that’s brief, that interaction and that exchange takes time.
If we have a peripheral system where we can see and know that information without having this sort of “circle the horses”, and have everybody ask and wonder what’s going on 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes at a time, we gain hours in our day that we can use to continue to replicate our process and increase our production. That’s why our per-person productivity on our team outpaces the industry the way it does. We’re not only great technicians at the business and what we do, but we’ve plugged it in to the system that automates what we do, when we do it, how we do it, and the communication piece with the customer as well.
A lot of people tend to throw people at problems, but to make the business truly scalable and let people grow and develop the way that they want to, you’ve gotta have a real defined methodology about it or all you’re doing is just adding more people that are independent operators and dividing work.
Knowing the WHOLE lending process
You started as a processor, and then became an underwriter. How did those early “back-end” experiences shape your business perspective?
This is true of most people within my office. Too often people get thrown into the loan officer role because they’re “a good salesperson”. Sales is just one component of what we do as a loan officer. As a sales person, part of what makes me effective the way that I am, is also that backside knowledge of the industry.
I started at a very young age assisting and processing within a mortgage office. That transitioned into an underwriting role for a wholesale lender, and then back to retail origination and management as it added on to that. For me, a big part of my perspective about the business is that I do know what the underwriter is going through and I do know what they’re looking for and how to accommodate that, and I’m trying to do a whole lot more than just make a sale and establish the relationship with the consumer.
That’s all important, but it is just one component of the overall mortgage workflow. As sales people, I think too many people are out there in the industry trying to sell a product they don’t know or understand. So, my whole team has experience on every side of the business, so that we can lend that perspective to the customer, and that goes a long way to their overall satisfaction in the process and their ease of transaction.
The people that don’t have that experience and perspective they learn the hard way, by making mistakes. The unfortunate part about what we do is that every mistake we make is somebody’s house or lack of a house, so there’s a lot of collateral damage in our industry if you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t execute correctly.
Does the pressure of knowing the impact of your mistakes ever get to you? Or does it drive you?
It’s a good and a bad thing at the same time. It definitely adds to the stress level, because you know that it’s not somebody grilling your steak wrong at a restaurant, there’s real life consequences for people, but that’s also where the reward is found.
On the downside, it does create some stress and anxiety in going through the process and people are very highly charged within their transaction. At the same time when you execute well and the people are happy and the results are there, the gratitude matches that. I think for most people that have been in the business a long time, what really keeps you at the table and actively engaged are those people that truly just have a heartfelt thanks for what you do, and how you do it, and the difference it makes in their life.
“I think for most people that have been in the business a long time, what really keeps you at the table and actively engaged are those people that truly just have a heartfelt thanks for what you do, and how you do it, and the difference it makes in their life.”
We think it’s pretty cool that you’ve stayed with the same company (Fidelity Mortgage now merged into Bay Equity) for your 20+ year career. How important has that stability been to your success?
I started under the same banner, ostensibly with the same group of people in 1994. We’ve had some people come and go and retire since then, but we really have a close peer group. Within my team, everybody has more than 10 years of tenure just on my team and working together, so we really do become a family.
There are a lot of people who are really transient within this business. To some degree, there is value in the company that you keep and it is important to have an awesome company like Bay Equity behind you, but successful, career-driven, goal-oriented people are going to find a way to succeed no matter what their environment is and that’s an important part of who we are as a group.
Mortgage marketing and referral generation
What do you do to stay in front of clients?
We do a number of things for client retention. We have an automated drip campaign in our CRM that keeps in regular communication. We do a 3 year post-close campaign and then even past those 3 years we do a monthly newsletter, holiday/birthday cards, that type of thing. We also do data-analytics on our pipeline, so we’re going to know if their credit activity indicates that they’re getting back into the marketplace, and that’s a good chance to reconnect on a personal level and see what the customer is doing and if there is a need that we can meet.
Probably the most powerful thing that we’re doing right now that we’ve really integrated just in the last year to year-and-a-half, is the in-person prospecting which I’ve known forever is paramount to the business and have always just legitimately not had the time to do it. We’ve started doing that, we’ve automated some pieces of it with the dialer, and we’re manually doing some of it. We’re reaching out personally to the customer, on their birthday, and at least a few points during the year to just say, “Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on in your world? Do you have questions we can help with?”
The dynamic of the marketing culture has changed. It’s funny because people used to really be captive to email because they didn’t get a lot of them, and if somebody sent them an email that was kind of a big deal. Fast forward 10 years and we’re all so buried on email, it comes in every device, and a lot of people just don’t look at it and they go back to that phone call that we used to never want to get. Now, so few people call that the personalization of the phone call has really gone a long way to solidifying that relationship.
“Fast forward 10 years and we’re all so buried on email, it comes in every device, and a lot of people just don’t look at it and they go back to that phone call that we used to never want to get.”
I’m fortunate too because I live in a fairly small community, so my customers are literally my friends and neighbors, so just being out and in the community and active in civic organizations and events really keeps you in front of your base of people in a really positive way.
Keep improving your mortgage workflow to continue growing
We’ve heard that you’re part of a small focus group of top producers. Could you tell us what exactly that is and what it does for you?
It’s a group of 6 people within the industry, all at a similar level of production, doing high volumes, running teams, and managing people. We basically get together with a coach and moderator, normally twice a year, lock ourselves in a room for a couple of days, and really just download on ideas, what’s working, what’s not working, on every level of the business.
Whether it’s from business management and looking at your P&L, growth strategies, margins and market trends or whether it’s to look at consumer facing marketing material, recruiting and referral sources, integration of new technology, we kind of cover it from top-to-bottom. Within that group, we’ve really been able to share some great ideas with what we’re all doing to gain more efficiency. I know that for the most part everybody in that group has adapted pieces and parts of what each other is doing to continue to kind of tighten the bolts on their process and make it more fluid and stronger.
One of the hard things about being at a highly productive level in the business, is that we spend a lot of time fielding those questions from a lot of people. I love that part of my job. I love teaching loan officers and training people how to do more and better, but I’m also not at a position where I want to stop growing personally. So, that group is a great outlet for me to really have other resources that are going to encourage and help me take my business to the next level as well. Just because we’re successful where we’re at doesn’t mean that we’ve arrived. There’s always a next level and a next goal and a next plateau that we want to get to as a team as well.
“I love teaching loan officers and training people how to do more and better, but I’m also not at a position where I want to stop growing personally.”
Last year you were a Top-200 mortgage originator. How much production volume is your team doing in 2015?
My team has presently funded 347 units, and anticipate ending the year with a total unit production of about 470. We generally have an active, under-contract pipeline of 90-110 transactions. We’re churning those about every 60 days. That’s not to say that it takes us 60 days to close a loan, but we’re closing between 40-50 units monthly just depending on pace and time of file. Our average application to close is 18.1 days. The efficiency of the system and mortgage workflow really works.
To contact James:
NMLS ID #237744
Equal Housing Lender. This is not a commitment to lend or extend credit. Restrictions may apply. Rates may not be available at time of application. Information and/or data are subject to change without notice. All loans are subject to credit approval. Not all loans or products are available in all states. Bay Equity LLC, 100 California Street Suite 1100, San Francisco, CA 94111-4561; NMLS ID#76988. Licensed by the Department of Business Colorado Mortgage Company Registration #76988. Regulated by the Division of Real Estate; Montana Mortgage Lender License #76988; New Mexico Lender License #76988; North Dakota Money Broker License #MB102667 ; Utah DRE Mortgage Entity #7953347; NMLS consumer access: www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/EntityDetails.aspx/COMPANY/76988 BECH-151020-1.0