PERSON OF THE WEEK: Faramarz Moeen-Ziai is senior vice president of sales and production for Commerce Home Mortgage, a fast-growing regional lender offering conventional, government, jumbo and reverse mortgage products. MortgageOrb recently interviewed Moeen-Ziai to learn more about how the company has managed to grow in this current market and how technology has become the most important competitive differentiator for lenders.
Q: What are the three most important considerations for a lender hoping to grow its footprint in today's environment?
Moeen-Ziai: In our case, it comes down to service, culture and compliance.
As far as service goes, we strive to maintain our best-in-class service commitments to all of our loan agents as well as our clients. One thing that we pride ourselves on is staffing at 120% of market average, so we are always prepared and in growth mode.Â Whether that is adding new offices or being ready to withstand surges in refinances from drops in interest rates or market opportunities like the recent mortgage insurance premium reduction offered by the Federal Housing Administration, we are ready.
We had a record month in February, and our underwriting turn times went from 24 hours to 48 hours, while we saw our competitors' pipelines bulge, and their turn times go to more than a week.
As far as culture goes, we have a very tight-knit group of people, company-wide and particularly with sales and operations. Our culture is built around communication, collaboration and respect. We will not sacrifice our culture and employee satisfaction by growing too fast, so we take the needed steps. For example, our 90-day onboarding and training program is designed to not only make new hires feel comfortable and secure, but to help them understand their responsibilities and how they fit into the mortgage process and complement the team.
As far as compliance goes, growth into new markets means understanding the nuances of local regulations and customs so that files flow as easily as they do in markets where we have an established presence. This applies to regulations as well as to the sales culture and customs.
Q: What is the role of technology in your company's growth plan, and how are you planning to leverage that technology?
Moeen-Ziai: Technology is tremendously important to growing lenders on many levels.Â We have been a back-office technology leader in our industry since we first adopted Encompass in 2009. This technology is now moving to the front of the house with our new website and mobile applications. Our focus on adopting the latest technology, including social media, mobile, and video, will keep us current and fresh as we turn our focus to the millennials for viral growth. As we spread our footprint, we will continue to grow our intranet content, which includes our library of training and onboarding videos, so that new hires can find all the tools they need 24/7 while supporting our fun, collaborative culture.
Q: Being based in northern California, you know about jumbo mortgages, but what about the underserved areas of the markets you currently serve and plan to expand into?
Moeen-Ziai: Although our home office is in San Ramon, Calif., we have a track record of success in Colorado, central California and Redding, Calif. These are markets where you see a lot of Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Administration, and U.S. Department of Agriculture loans. Our jumbo offerings are why we've been able to grow so quickly in Southern California, and we continue to serve all kinds of consumers in our new markets in Arizona and Florida.
We have worked hard to ensure that we have strong ‘good fit’ product offerings across economic and geographic lines. We have a growing number of mortgage advisors and team members who speak Spanish, and we are currently localizing our website and materials into Spanish to better serve Arizona, California and, of course, Florida.
Q: When attempting to expand, many lenders try to acquire the services of the top-producing loan officers in their target markets. Is this how your company also plans to grow?
Moeen-Ziai: We will be employing traditional growth models like new loan officer and branch acquisition, as well as beginning to grow our consumer direct channel. One other area of growth is our affinity partner referral network, which includes small community banks and credit unions that are moving away from mortgages due to cost and complexity. We can offer them private-label mortgages to help them reduce the danger of losing customers to larger banks with mortgage departments.
We are not actively pursuing the top-producing loan officers per se but are more focused on loan officers with a certain attitude. We would like to hire the up-and-comers who are passionate, hungry to succeed, and who work hard and want to learn the business. Our mission is to find these loan officers and help them achieve their professional goals. We value training, growth and supporting our employees to their full potential. Our top producers have been with the company over 10 years, and part of the reason is because Commerce Home Mortgage has helped them grow into being top producers. Loyalty is part of our company culture, and we are proud of that.
Q: What else makes Commerce Home Mortgage a ‘company to watch’ in the coming years?
Moeen-Ziai: We have kept a fairly low profile up to this point, and we are now ready to build on a very strong foundation. When it comes to the mix of compliance, culture, products, marketing, pricing/compensation and, most importantly, transactional execution, we feel that we have a mix that is unmatched in the business for any top-producing loan officer.Â
The three things that make us a ‘company to watch’ include the following:
1. Our focus on loan officers and on all employees.Â We invest in our people and value differences and creativity. As a result, we have strong performers in a highly positive work environment, thinking and working collaboratively.Â
2. Our commitment to technology. We have several people in the company and in leadership positions that have come from high tech. We are way ahead of the rest of the industry when it comes to leveraging the latest technology for overall operational efficiency, better customer service/communication and just doing cool, innovative stuff in sales and marketing.
3. Our commitment to growth in production volume and in geographic reach. We feel that we have a winning formula that shows well in any part of the country, and we will become a national presence in the coming months.