Rob Wilson: Relationships Need to be Transformational, Not Transactional

Rob Wilson joined Merchants Mortgage, a division of Merchants Bank of Indiana, in February 2017 as Vice President, Correspondent & Warehouse Sales Executive. He has 24 years of mortgage banking experience and has held positions in mortgage finance, construction lending, operations, sales and sales management. Merchants Mortgage is a full-service mortgage banker offering retail, correspondent and warehouse Financing. Learn more at

Rob Wilson

The mortgage business is inherently transactional and cyclical, with ever-changing rates, high-highs and low-lows, and this trend is not expected to change any time soon. The circumstances due to the pandemic mirror those of the economic downturn in 2008, and in both situations, it was crucial to have formed two-way partnerships with others in the industry who had a vested interest in mutual success and propelling both businesses forward.

Relationships Today

Strong relationships are vital in one’s personal life, and the same principles should be applied to business. There are two types of relationships: transactional and transformational. Transactional relationships are those that are about getting the most one can in exchange for as little as possible. They’re all about the individual and what can be gained, not about what can be given.

Transformational relationships are the other side of the coin. According to The Ladders: “They go far beyond the exchange of money, goods or services. By very nature, transformational relationships are about giving the most you possibly can in attempts of helping others. They’re about advancing other people’s goals in a synergistic and win-win way–because clearly, you could do far more together than alone.”

Transactions will always be embedded as part of any relationship, but they should not be the focus. Think of it like Amazon: Every day, the company completes one-off orders and deliveries (transactions), but also tries to form a longer-term partnership with benefits by asking customers to enroll in services such as Amazon Prime (transformational).

Competing on price alone is a race to the bottom, and it is simply not the best way to do business. Rather than picking the right partner by price, consider traits that would foster a great client partnership. This can include being aligned on core value propositions, having similar financial strengths, holding industry connections or sharing lobby interests. Once a relationship forms, it becomes “stickier” and both parties can reap the benefits over time. It is important that each partner understand the other’s economic model. Economic models can diverge during certain periods of time, and so long as the partners understand the cause and neither takes advantage of the other, they can achieve a lot and solidify the partnership by working together.

Another best practice is thinking of relationships not only through the lens of a mortgage professional, but also as a consumer. When acting in the spirit of a partnership and nurturing relationships rather than thinking of something as “just another loan,” it is possible to build a long-lasting franchise that stands out from the competition. Simply put, it is a better way to do business.

Why they matter

Focusing on people instead of price allows relationships to form with others in the industry who are willing to lean in even when there are challenges. When the industry hits the low-low cycle, it is critical to have someone who can help by providing a special favor. They can knock down financing obstacles not because they have something to gain, but because there is a level of trust and knowledge built up.

One instance of a transformational relationship in practice came during the significant disruption to the world economy and mortgage space in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Because Wall Street deemed the market as unpredictable and froze the buying of mortgage loans, there was a short-term liquidity crunch. Some companies decided to shut down lending, while other companies made the decision to change business models to allow business partners to continue to send business.

In an industry full of uncertainty, being the partner who is able to run into the fire while the house is burning, when no one else will, creates respect and longstanding trust. This is a prime example of why having partners who have the financial strength to make a decision to continue and add liquidity to a marketplace as a result of the pandemic (or any future unprecedented event) matters.

The action of building relationships is easy, but as is the case with most things, the execution is hard.   When conditions go sideways, it is not recommended to hide behind email. Instead, take ownership of the situation at hand and look for shared compromise, while still setting realistic expectations. The best way to develop strong relationships is to do what others will not do, and think of facts as friendly and conflict as neutral, not scary.

By limiting transactional relationships and instead focusing all attention on transformational ones, a business can create more meaning and better partnerships in the 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