Women in Leadership: An Interview with Cristy Ward of Mortgage Connect
Faith Schwartz, President, Housing Finance Strategies
(Faith Schwartz is President of Housing Finance Strategies and a member of FormFree’s board of directors. In 2007, the Housing Policy Council and the Treasury Department appointed Schwartz executive director of the newly formed Hope Now alliance, a cooperative effort among government, counselors, investors and lenders focused on helping distressed borrowers through the financial crisis.
Cristy Ward is Executive Vice President and Chief Strategic Officer with Mortgage Connect, Moon Township, Pa. She has 19 years’ industry experience working with top-10 lenders to develop strategy, product solutions, and streamlined processes to maximize operational efficiencies and mitigate risk.
Strategic plans of financial services firms are generally completed in October for the following year’s budget planning priorities. In last year’s pre-pandemic environment, Mortgage Connect, the nation’s premier end-to-end mortgage services provider, opted to include in its 2020 strategic plan funding to invest in and refine its default management suite.
The contrarian move positioned the national mortgage servicing provider with the ability to meet the stress placed on the system by COVID-19 and the CARES Act.
Cristy and I sat down on October 13 and discussed the current state of the market and the trends we are observing in default management servicing. This interview continues an executive interview series I conduct to shed light on how women leaders built their careers and successfully managed an integral industry change.
Can we start by understanding your role and responsibility as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategic Officer?
I am very fortunate to work on the Executive Team at Mortgage Connect with many of the industry’s top professionals. My primary role as Chief Strategy Officer is working with the leaders of the nation’s largest lenders and servicers to understand their strategy, needs, and plans for creating success within their organizations. Upon a full analysis of their needs, I work with the executive team at Mortgage Connect to create customized solutions for business processes, products, and technology platforms that align with our clients’ needs. In addition, I am responsible for all lines of revenue generation, including Sales and Account Management which are direct reports. A core strength is my understanding of the pathing of lenders. This helps in my ability to direct the sales efforts of our teams along with strategic management of clients’ needs to ensure success of our partnership.
Now, before we dive into my questions, can you share with our audience an interesting and fun fact about your background that few people know?
I was in politics for a few years prior to getting into the mortgage business. It was a very interesting time for me and I certainly learned a lot. Politics is a fascinating space, but I found the mortgage industry to be a rewarding profession and an alignment of my overall passions.
Thanks, now on to my questions. Last year you advocated for enhancing Mortgage Connect’s loss mitigation suite at a time when loan quality and loan performance were performing exceptionally well. Why did you take that tack?
I felt there was a real need to bring innovation to an area that hasn’t traditionally focused on innovation. Mortgage Connect has the expertise and capabilities to really help servicers create a better borrower experience, workflow automation, and business processes. We are uniquely positioned to help them reduce costs and create efficiencies in their organizations while moving them into more of a digital landscape, evolving their servicing platforms. Mortgage companies spend significant time and effort on the digital consumer experience in the origination process, but historically servicing has not been prioritized with the same focus. We wanted to extend that forward thinking into servicing and create an exceptional borrower experience in loss mitigation and default.
In the event a borrower faces a loss mitigation or default situation, our duty is to create the easiest, stress free experience we can. We do this by creating awareness early on and educating them on the basics, to help them understand and determine the best option for them. Adding digital communications and signing capabilities makes this process easier and quicker for the borrower. Compliance tightened around this process with clear audit trails on the communication and education servicers provided to the borrower help on the regulation side. Adding velocity in the transaction to help with conversion rates and turn times, are benefits to
the servicer and their borrowers. We found it was time to innovate and invest and it has certainly paid off from a timing perspective in the current market.
With the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent CARES Act legislation, the occurrence of mortgage forbearance spiked across all investor types, but especially federally-backed mortgages. How has this impacted your business?
We serve many of the largest servicers, which set off a quick demand for the enhanced product suite we had implemented. The timeliness of our solutions compared to the market conditions were very complimentary and positively impacted our business. Providing technology, tools and products to help servicers scale quickly was critical, but being nimble enough for the quick and rapid changes being pushed out by the investors and assuring compliance and certainty for the servicer along the way was necessary and Mortgage Connect delivered.
As you may know, I am leading an awareness campaign to ensure COVID-19 impacted borrowers at risk of delinquency/foreclosure understand their full CARES Act rights to sustain homeownership. As we pass the six-month point of borrower access to CARES Act forbearance, what is your assessment of the program and what are you seeing in terms of borrower exit rates?
I applaud your effort with the awareness campaign! It is important that borrowers understand their rights and are educated on what options are available to assist them through these challenges. Borrower education and communication remain critical points not only in this type of market, but in any market. Better education and communication with the borrowers will certainly create a more confident borrower. As we go through these scenarios, we will fail as an industry if we are not supporting and ensuring borrowers are well informed. We are continuing to see forbearance exits and that is really great news. The market is seeing more activity for that front on the conventional side. On the FHA/VA front, those borrowers are facing more uncertain economic challenges due to the job market and are not exiting at the same rate as conventional loans. This is going to challenge servicers as we get further into this cycle and moratoriums are lifted, forbearances expire, and loss mitigation and default activity pick up. It’s imperative we spend the end of 2020 wisely and preparing properly.
Cristy, you have tremendous experience with new initiatives and introducing new products such as the Enhanced Closing Model. How has that impacted Mortgage Connect’s business and market presence?
We have been fortunate to have a wide range of leading lenders support our vision at Mortgage Connect. This allowed our Mortgage Services Division the ability to create and implement the platform and tools necessary to improve the borrower experience for our clients. By working closely with our partners and understanding the needs of the market, we have successfully achieved that goal. We created a truly better consumer experience, and we continue to think
that way in every division and every solution we add. The consumer experience is such a key focus for us, it resonates with our lenders and servicers. It’s not a tagline for us, we combine care for the consumer with excellent operational execution. That influence has been our pathway to success and the very way we have grown market presence.
What advice would you give to younger women entering the workforce when it comes to seeking opportunities and growth in a career?
We work in a truly wonderful industry. It is tough and has its challenges, but it is also very rewarding. Our industry supports home ownership, providing many Americans their piece of the American Dream. What we do every single day is important. It’s an industry we should be proud to be a part of. Mortgage is a great place to establish an outstanding career and I believe your only limits are the ones you place on yourself. My advice to the younger women entering the industry: Don’t be afraid to be exactly who you are. Don’t try to emulate or fit the mold of other great women because you are a great woman for the very unique qualities that you carry in your
own way. Don’t be silent to be politically correct, especially when you see something wrong. Don’t let what others say, think or the noise they bring, get in your way. When you are good at
what you do, the noise will be there. You will learn over time to completely tune it out and focus on what’s truly important. Understand and believe in your value, and know how to clearly articulate your value to achieve what you are worth. It’s the only way we will progress.
Cristy, as you look back, what do you think has been helpful in your career, and what would you have done differently, if at all?
People trusting me has been very helpful to my career. That trust has to be built and only comes by doing what you say you will, when you say you will, and how you say you will do it. Integrity in the moment of choice is important. Trust creates efficiency in the work environment and it can help you succeed in so many ways, whether you are leading people, working with clients, or working within a team. In terms of what would I have done differently; sometimes you get so focused on achieving an outcome or result that you’re not stopping to enjoy some valuable life moments. You can miss things and important moments that if you had just been present, could have really been wonderful to experience. That can spill over into family, friendships, and people you work with. Being present and giving whoever is in front of you your full attention and energy is important. Don’t miss those moments because you are not only cheating the other party out of all you have to offer them, you are cheating yourself from moments in life you can’t get back.
At Housing Finance Strategies, we are leading change in all things housing. By interviewing key executives like Cristy Ward, our intent is to educate and encourage the industry to constantly grow and evolve. And take a lesson from Cristy, be a contrarian when it comes to annual strategic planning.
As we approach our NEXTDC20 event on November 10, we are focused on a series of initiatives to foster growth of women leaders. What a great example we have this month with Cristy Ward.
To learn more about Mortgage Connect, please open this hyperlink: https://www2.mortgageconnectlp.com/
Grow, lead and mentor your peers!
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at email@example.com; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)