John Russo: How Loan Officers Can Underwrite Their Own Success

John Russo is Florida Regional Manager for Homespire Mortgage, Gaithersburg, Md., a national residential mortgage lender. He has 20 years in the mortgage business as a producer and leader. He been named in the Top 1% of Loan Originators in years past and led seven Top 1% loan officers in the past three years.

John Russo

Despite this year’s pandemic, the mortgage industry has continued to expand at a brisk pace, and to keep up, lenders are actively recruiting the best talent to help meet demand. For loan officers who may be considering a move to a new company, this creates opportunity.

Whether relatively new to the industry or a seasoned mortgage professional, there are some key aspects today’s LOs must consider when searching for a new workplace. In many ways, it is to their benefit to approach it as they would a new potential borrower, as if they were underwriting the company.

Do your homework

Different mortgage companies often have different operating models. Asking how a company handles their loan processes (for example, do they send files to set-up or underwrite first?) can be critical for determining whether each is a good fit for the other. When a company’s preferred processes and workflows meshes with an LO’s preferred style and procedures, it helps ensure a much stronger (and likely longer) relationship.

Additionally, having the company “show” versus “tell” is very important. At times, a company’s leadership may have a certain view of how it operates, but what is happening at ground level may actually be very different. This can often lead to answers that are more philosophical than practical when it comes to how they would handle certain situations. By having the company directly demonstrate real-world examples, like going into a live file, LOs can get a much better feel for how things actually work.

Products and programs

While a long list of programs does not necessarily mean a lender is more successful, having a variety of different programs is a good indicator that it is open to meeting the needs of as many customers as possible. Expanded offerings could be a welcome opportunity for LOs, but most would at least prefer not to have fewer options than what they are accustomed to providing. Knowing the company’s preferred credit score thresholds for certain loan types can also be critical. Furthermore, it is also good to know if there are overlays, and if so, what does the company add on as their minimum or risk threshold? Is it different than standard Fannie, Freddie, FHA, VA, USDA?

Beyond this, LOs should consider the lender’s margins and pricing philosophy. Working for a company that sets its price outside of market value is generally not a recipe for success. Having the lowest price in the market is typically not sustainable in the long-term, while having the highest price will eventually run off most referral partners. Companies that find that happy medium remain profitable and are much better positioned for a strong future. In regard to margins structure, too many supervisors and executives above an LO, getting paid on every loan, could also be a problem and indicate a leadership team that is too deep and/or pricing that is out of control.

The right focus on tools and technology

Technology plays a key role in the mortgage industry today, and the right tools, apps and platforms can have a significant impact on an LO’s success. Knowing what modern solutions a company offers (for its customers, realtor and referral partners and its employees) is essential. What tools does the company provide? What investments have they made and are planning to make in their technology? How easy is it to do business within the company in the modern digital environment? These are critical questions to ask.

For less tech-savvy individuals, it is important that a company still provide the resources to help support their success as well. Whether it is help managing their database, supporting social media and email drip campaigns or less technical tasks like collecting documentation and clearing loan conditions, it is important a prospective company provides the necessary level of support needed in both the digital and analog world.

Training and advancement opportunities

Ideally, prospective employers should offer solid training at all levels of the company. Is there a culture of learning within the organization? Will management support me in some way if I pursue outside professional training/coaching? Successful mortgage companies make it a priority to continuously invest in their talent.

Culture is key

Reviewing a potential employer’s online presence and interactions can be a good place to start since examining its social media and client surveys allows LOs to see the external, public face of the company. Additionally, they should see how the company looks on the Better Business Bureau site, employment sites like Glass Door, and customer-focused sites like Social Survey or Zillow reviews. Together, this combined commentary can tell the story of who the company is, helping LOs pick-up on common themes and get a feel for its corporate culture and public perception.

LOs should also pay close attention to how the company’s leadership interact with one another. It is important that a company’s executive team are all on the same page – speaking the same language, driving toward the same mission and goals. One good question to ask is – would I be friends with these people outside of work? If the answer is no, it may be worth considering if this is the best fit. For an LO, inserting themselves into a new company means moving their license and all that goes into advertising/promoting their new role. If this change ends up being the wrong fit, that can be a costly mistake.

Additionally, something else to consider is how the company treats its real estate agents and other industry partners. Companies that value and push for strong, productive relationships are much more likely to foster a positive environment. Cool or strained relationships here could be a major red flag.

Today’s loan officers have many opportunities and making the move to a new company is always a big decision, and one with long-term repercussions. With the pandemic adding a layer of difficulty with facilitating interactions, thorough research and asking the right questions is more important than ever. Putting in the due diligence and underwriting the company itself can help position LOs for a much happier, successful future.

(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; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at