What does it take to be a top workplace in mortgage?

In this edition of MPA TV, Erica LaCentra, Chief Marketing Officer at RCN Capital, Chelsea Balak, VP of Operations at Wemlo, and Paul Buege, CEO and President of Inlanta Mortgage, gather to discuss their companies' status as top mortgage employers. In the discussion, they shed light on recruitment strategies, retention and the key to keeping employees happy.


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Paul L.: [00:00:29] Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of MPA TV. A Top Mortgage Employers Power Panel. We're constantly reading about how important employees are to an organization. I'm sure you've received plenty of internal rhetoric from your own firms, telling you how valued you are, how it welcomes your feedback, and how it is implementing wonderful new initiatives to help you make the most of your working day, both personally and professionally. But is it all talk? A company is really following through with these initiatives, and if they are, which ones really work? And then, of course, there's the hiring process. You may be one of the top mortgage talents in the country, but how does a company go about getting your attention and getting you through the door? I'm delighted to welcome an expert power panel who will delve into some of the key aspects of mortgage employment, including how to attract the cream of the crop and keep them. They are Erica LaCentra, Chief Marketing Officer at RCN Capital. Chelsea Balak, VP of operations at Wemlo. Paul Buege, CEO and president of Inlata Mortgage. So welcome, everyone. Let's get started with some congratulations because you all represent companies that have been acknowledged among MPA's top mortgage employers. So to get us started, give us a little snippet and tell us what contributed to your success. So, Paul, talk to me about Inlata. 

Paul B.: [00:02:03] Well, it's a great honor for Inlata to be recognized as a top MPA workplace. Our company now just about 30 years in terms of age, we are an independent mortgage banker operating in 42 states and we are quietly stretching and growing our organization. Now we have just a little bit over 250 employees in the organization. 

Paul L.: [00:02:29] Excellent stuff. And Erica, just give me some background on RCN. 

Erica: [00:02:33] Sure. Absolutely. It's a pleasure to be here. First and foremost, RCN Capital is a direct private lender that specializes in financing for real estate investors. We've been around in the industry for a little over a decade now, and we have rapidly grown to expand our employee base to about 200 employees now. So it's a good time to be in the mortgage industry. 

Paul L.: [00:02:56] All right. And Chelsea, of course, you represent a relatively new company. Tell us about Wemlo. 

Chelsea: [00:03:02] Yeah, of course. So Wemlo is about three years young at this point right now. We are in the mortgage processing sector of the wholesale business. And so we we support mortgage loan processors and wholesale brokers and getting loans through the process because we are a startup. We initially started with our group of employees creating our own culture, and we really stuck through that with as we've grown and kept that culture of a collaboration and just involvement from employees through that entire part. So we're super excited to be part of this panel. 

Paul L.: [00:03:33] Yeah. Well, great to have you all with us. Well, let's delve that into your recruitment strategies. Give us a little bit of an insight into what it is that your company offers to attract top talent in the first place and and how you go about sourcing that talent. Erica, I'm going to start with you first. 

Erica: [00:03:51] I mean, RCN Capital is really known for having a strong company culture as it stands now. So I think that definitely attracts a lot of top talent as well as just different opportunities that exist within our company. We definitely excel in Down to Earth. Interviewing is what we call it, basically finding if the employees that we're looking to hire going to fit within our particular company culture. In terms of recruitment strategies, we do a lot of internal recruitment recruiting at this point in time. So about 90% of our job postings are first released internally to see if there's folks within our organization that have that level of talent so that we can allow them to grow within their careers and really maximize on the talent that exists within our organization. We place a large emphasis on promotions from within and offer a lot of cross training opportunities for folks, as well as making it clear what folks need to do to be able to grow within their own careers. And then also, I would say one of our biggest benefits too is we have offices in key markets throughout the country. So while our headquarters is in Connecticut, which is between Boston and New York, we can attract talent there. And then we also have offices in Charlotte, which has a large financial industry following there as well as in LA. So we do offer that option as well. 

Paul L.: [00:05:16] The advantage of being such a well-established company. But Chelsea, for you, it's obviously a different end if you want, because you've obviously undergone a lot of change over the last couple of years in particular. So tell us how that's impacted how you go about sourcing talent? 

Chelsea: [00:05:31] Yeah, of course. So in the beginning it was definitely a little bit more difficult to get talent and just having to sell on the vision and being a part of a bigger organization that was changing the industry. Now that we've been acquired, we have amazing benefits for our team members that really sell the job itself. And to be quite honest, because we have such a great brand and recognition between even those that work with us and partner with us on loans, they're the ones who are referring a lot of our LPs or loan processors that we recruit. And so a lot of seasoned talent out there that have been contract processors that are really looking for a home and just that collaboration with other processors in the industry. And that's really what we offers. Our team also does a really great job of internally referring over team members to us that are great talent, that continue to stay with our organization and help us grow. 

Paul L.: [00:06:18] And that word of mouth can be so important. But Paul for you, of course, on the lender side, you're in a very, very competitive business environment. So what's your approach? 

Paul B.: [00:06:27] Well, we lead first and foremost because there are so many great paths or options for for professionals on our side of the industry, the lender side. So we we are very deliberate in leading with there is an awesome career environment that you can find if you consider joining Team Inlata. And we really focus on sharing the perspective that we lead with the individuals perspective, first and foremost, followed with strategy. So with that kind of view, we really work hard to get to know the professionals that are joining our company. What are their goals, where are they looking to stretch and grow? And then from there we really have a waterfall, so to speak, of many, many value offerings that we can provide our new employees as well as our tenured employees. We're huge believers in training. We have a coaching academy which is staffed with internal trainers. We also use external trainers. We're big advocates of using virtual technology to connect our people. We are today still nearly an entirely virtual company across the United States. So we can really offer people great work, workplace flexibility. You can be in an office if you'd like or you can work virtually for our company. And I think all that then kind of just creates an environment where individuals considering employment with our company can see that we're an organization where they really can come in and they're going to be they're going to be taking care of. They can flourish here. In terms of recruitment, there is not a better, more powerful way to recruit than to take happy employees who are incredibly successful and very tenured and let them have their magic in the marketplace. So our ten year team of professionals talk to our clients, our referral partners and to peers, and we're always welcoming professionals to join our living and growing story of success. 

Paul L.: [00:08:22] I like that idea of using the talent you have in that way. And of course, that brings me neatly to the next question that I had in mind, which is when you get that sort of top talent on board, how do you ensure that they have that that proper career path that allows them to stay with you in the long term? Chelsea, I'll come to you first on this one. 

Chelsea: [00:08:40] Yeah, of course. So when we have employees that come on board with us, we initially do a two week training for them, train them all the ins and outs of how to be a successful loan processor with Wemlo, as well as supporting them on the technology aspect of it. And then after they get through that training, it's when they meet with their manager and they really develop a coaching strategy that works for them. So we're talking about long term growth as well as short term growth in their current role to make sure that they're successful in that. And we really try to engage our employees through training each other as well. And so making sure that our senior processors have a hand in training our loan processing assistants or lower level loan processors to keep them engaged in it. Because if they're engaged in that organization and their career goal, they're going to stay with an organization for a longer amount of time. 

Paul L.: [00:09:25] Yeah, of course. Engagement. Absolutely vital, Paul. How do you keep them engaged? 

Paul B.: [00:09:30] Well, it starts with you have to have an absolute connection to every team professional. If you don't have that. And it's not real. Nothing really will happen. So we again, we really try to create an environment where everyone that's responsible for a team of professionals, it's their responsibility. It's really everyone's responsibility to create a connection to every team member. And if you have a true connection to the team professionals, it's through that relationship that you really begin to see what people want to do with their career. Some people are very happy with the work they're doing today and they're very successful at it, whereas others want to stretch and grow. So it starts with you have to create a connection that's very real and authentic. And once you do that, I think from there we have worked very hard as a company to create a flat organization. So we've eliminated a lot of the hierarchies that sometimes exist both in large companies and small companies. So as a flat company, team professionals can be found very easily. We can we can find our team members, we can pay attention to how they're progressing, developing, and they can find leadership as well. And that's important because it gives them an opportunity to talk about what they're trying to do relative to their goals. And you lay all that. Then on top of an environment where we're big fans of the peer community, certainly we can learn a lot from leadership and outside coaches and mentors, but boy, there's nothing more powerful than creating a company, an environment where we can go to our peers inside the company, talk to the best, and learn how they're building success. It's very, very powerful. 

Paul L.: [00:11:06] And I like that idea that Paul that you're talking about there around connections and establishing those. And Erica, if I can bring you in as well, I imagine those sort of connections need to be sort of established as part of the onboarding process. 

Erica: [00:11:18] Absolutely. And so while we do at least two weeks of training for all of our employees, when they come on board, one of the things that is very important to our organization is assigning a mentor to every new employee when they come on board. So somebody that has either been in their position before or is within their particular career path because we want from day one that new employee to have an established connection with someone that they can talk to. They can understand what they need to do to grow within their career. They can come to that person with any potential challenges that they're having as they're coming on board. So having that mentor established from day one is something that we pride ourselves on to give folks an accurate idea of what they can do and how they can excel within their particular career path. In addition to that, we also offer continuing education within our company as well as cross training opportunities. So in the event we have top talent within our organization that maybe isn't within the trajectory of their particular position and wants to go to other areas of the organization, we do allow those opportunities as well because we don't want to lose top talent just because they don't necessarily want to take that straight career path that we've set out for them as well. 

Paul L.: [00:12:34] I think obviously you've all got sort of great ideas in terms of establishing a career path. But perhaps one aspect that we haven't touched on just yet is that around diversity and inclusion, of course, it's increasingly under focus across the mortgage industry and beyond, of course. But so tell us a little bit about the strategies that you're employing to to ensure that you properly represent different ethnicities, genders and so on among your staff. Paul, I'll bring you in. 

Paul B.: [00:13:02] Well, for for us, this the process, the progression of creating a company that is very diversified and inclusive, it naturally is developing in our company. And it's been ongoing for years in the sense that as a retail mortgage banker, we're working with individual borrowers and communities that bring you all unique individuals, life stories that you're providing services to. So it's that environment that we really saw years ago, the importance of being a diversified, inclusive company to to properly give service to so many amazing people. As clients, you really have to be diversified. So it was very easy for us to see that this process should be very natural, it shouldn't be forced. And so we today have created a company that we're very proud of as individuals come in and they interview with our company, meet our company physically and virtually, they'll find an organization that's very diversified, very inclusive at all levels of the company, which we're very proud of. I think in this important work and seeing the importance and the value that everyone can benefit from being a diversified, inclusive company, it's also very important that you have to pay attention, that the work environments that your team professionals work on are always very open and inviting, inclusive to others, because we all come from so many different stories, walks of life experiences, and we're always training our leadership teams to be mindful of the fact that, you know, don't lead with first impressions. Those are mostly yours lead with an understanding of the person that you're talking to when you do that work very, very well. You can be very successful in this most important work for all companies. 

Paul L.: [00:14:50] And I like just to pick up on Paul's point, though, what he's saying about value. I think that's so important, Erica. I guess it's you know, from a company standpoint, D&I has to be a core value. 

Erica: [00:15:01] Yeah. And diversity is a core value for RCN. So when we're recruiting for people, we're obviously looking to hire employees that believe in the same core values as us. So I think that was something that is important and came from the top down in terms of communication is that we're one looking for folks that believe in that core value of diversity, inclusion and then two, just communicating regularly with employees and doing different activities to make sure that that core value is shown throughout everything that our company does. In terms of a recruitment strategy as well, our recruiters are doing outreach regularly to diversity organizations at local colleges as well, having exploratory calls preemptively when there's different positions open within our company to see if we can increase the diversity inclusion that's across our organization so that we are getting the best possible candidates in our organization over time. 

Paul L.: [00:16:02] And Chelsea, I guess for a company like yours that's in that sort of rapid growth stage, so to speak. Diverse perspectives are really crucial. 

Chelsea: [00:16:12] Definitely. So those diverse perspectives and experiences that our team members bring to the table are super valuable as we're trying to solve one of the largest pain points in the industry right now, which is contract processing help. And so we have a really unique culture that focuses on that collaboration, welcoming challenge and just ongoing development to make sure that we stay at the forefront of diversity and inclusion. 

Paul L.: [00:16:33] Yeah. And what I'd like to do now, if you don't mind, is just get your perspectives. Looking at the mortgage industry, industry specifically, because I think I think some of the advice that you've given us today is really probably applicable to companies far and wide. But is there anything that's particularly important for employees within the mortgage industry that perhaps might stand out in terms of their importance when compared to other sectors, other industries? Erica, is there anything that you would highlight? 

Erica: [00:17:02] Absolutely. So because the mortgage industry is constantly changing, it's important for people to be adaptable and it's important to be within an organization that allows their employees to adapt to those hard situations that are happening throughout the mortgage industry. So providing ongoing training for employees to learn about when rates are changing LTVs or changing products or changing, and also just being able to offer opportunities to cross-train in other portions of the company too, so that folks have that adaptability in the event that there's a downturn or something else happens. I think that's extremely important to highlight. And if employees are within organizations that are not offering opportunities for their employees to adapt, it's going to be an unfortunate situation, I would say, in the long term. 

Paul L.: [00:17:53] So adaptability stands out for the mortgage industry. Chelsea, is that something you would agree with. 

Chelsea: [00:17:59] 100%, especially for loan processors, because they're going into so many different lenders and having to understand portals and guidelines and overlays for the different lenders that we utilize. Staying up to to current on those industry changes, Fannie and Freddie changes, compliance, state regulatory regulations. They're just really important for our processors to be on top of that. And with our acquisition and being able to expand our team, we have people who are in charge of making those changes and knowing and keeping the team up to date on that. So it's really it's welcoming for a processor to know that they don't have to take that on their shoulders as well as that they have a team that's going to keep them up to date on things that are changing in the industry so that they can focus on what their job is, which is getting the loan from start to finish. 

Paul L.: [00:18:40] Yeah. And Paul, if I can bring you in as well, what would you describe as the differentiator for the mortgage industry? 

Paul B.: [00:18:47] You know, I think one of the best parts of what makes the mortgage industry so exciting as a potential career path or to build a career is that we're really a commoditized industry today. When you when you step back and you look at what the industry is made of, we all have access to pretty much the same access points for capital to invest and grow our companies. Technology is equally available to big companies. Small companies we sell today virtually the same products and services price just about the same. So what makes this industry so great is this the differentiator is the individual, and that's what our team professionals love about the industry is that success is driven nearly entirely on that individual effort, certainly supported by a great organization. But that's what makes the mortgage industry so amazing for individuals that really want to pursue a career and go after it. There is so much room for for great talent. The other part of that, when focusing on that individual effort, is most certainly companies and professionals that always lead by being more of a giver than a receiver. In everything that you do, the rewards are tremendous. We call that the multiplier effect. So everything we do as a company, as we do as a group of professionals, give to the individuals more than you expect back in value. And when you do that, amazing things really happen. 

Paul L.: [00:20:15] I think you've all given us some some fantastic tips today. But I'm going to throw one last question at you, if you don't mind. And it's quite a big one, I suppose, because if you could summarize which is a difficult task, but if you could summarize how to keep employees happy in this profession and leave our audience with one tip for employee satisfaction, just one tip, what would that be? Chelsea, I'll come to you first. 

Chelsea: [00:20:40] It sounds really small of a tip, but keep your employees engaged. And I know it can be tough, especially in a remote environment and having to keep things fresh and starting to just figuring out that, that and how to do it with your organization. But we implement frequent opportunities for our processors to share insight from the field, which is super helpful for them. It helps them stay engaged. They're making changes within our technology and then they get to see the implementations of the growth of the technology through input that they had brought forth. So just keep them engaged, figure out what that special part is for your organization and I promise you you won't lose your good talent because they'll be so invested in the organization and its growth. 

Paul L.: [00:21:18] All right. Great start, I think. Paul, let's go to you next. 

Paul B.: [00:21:21] Well, a great question. Everyone has a list. You know, one of the things that you gain great knowledge on when you participate with employee surveys, you do stay interviews. As you figure out really quickly that everyone has a short list, it's maybe five points in that list is always benefits. Compensation to other ones that are always big is my relationship with my direct manager, are they present? Are they going to help me? And most certainly the peer group that you work with do I work in a company where people are supportive and helpful of each other? But the one we see, and it's the leader on that short list that we see repeatedly over and over, is receiving genuine appreciation and the work that one does. And, you know, there are so many things that companies can do and it works robotic ways of showing things to employees, birthday cards annually, things like that. It's all a part of it. But by receiving genuine appreciation in the act of doing greatness, why that's that's the one that we see over and over. That's what keeps me at Inlata. The fact that I'm never taken for granted, I'm truly appreciated. And that's what we think is the big differentiator. 

Paul L.: [00:22:33] Yeah, well, we appreciate your insights as well. Well, let's go to Erica now. 

Erica: [00:22:39] I think the one tip that I would share is that organizations really need to keep the lines of communication with their employees open and also be transparent with their employees. So create an environment where their hard work is recognized and allow employees to see the impact that they are actually having on the organization so that they're engaged and they feel like they're actually making a contribution as opposed to just another cog in the machine. And I think when it comes to keeping lines of communication open as well, companies need to be able to adapt to to employee needs. So like how a lot of companies went through moving to remote work or now a hybrid model. Once we've been going through the pandemic, it's companies need to be able to adapt to what their employees want and make sure that they're staying happy with their time at their organization. 

Paul L.: [00:23:35] It seemed to be a theme that I didn't know about making employees feel like they're truly contributing. But yeah, fantastic points, everybody. It's obviously very clear while you all run out winners in our recent survey so huge congratulations to to RCN to Wemlo and to Inlanta on the top mortgage employers success and and thank you to Erica, Chelsea and Paul for sharing so much with us today. Hopefully whoever you work for, they allow you a little time to boost your education about the mortgage industry and keep on top of current events. And even if they don't, well, hopefully you'll still find time to join us next time here on MPA TV.