Greer Allgood of Wipro Opus Risk Solutions: Managing Mortgage Underwriters Remotely
Greer Allgood is Managing Director of Mortgage Operations with Wipro Opus Risk Solutions.
For years, mortgage underwriters have been accustomed to working from home a few days a week; consequently, during the pandemic, it was not much of a challenge to transition to a 100% remote working scenario. What has been a challenge is managing these highly-skilled employees and maintaining their morale at the same time. The great news is that it can be done.
Experienced underwriters are well-versed associates charged with assessing a borrower’s credit worthiness and ability to repay while ensuring adherence to the financial company’s broader credit and risk guidelines. Underwriters primarily depend on the Internet and access to the company’s loan origination system (LOS), electronic client files and documents as well as other support systems, such as email, Microsoft Word and Excel, to do their job. This paperless environment was not shared by processors, closers and other support staff who still depend, at varying degrees, on paper to work effectively. Being in the office meant managers could still observe their work even during the pandemic because they were considered essential. This affected how managers were able to oversee exclusively remote underwriters who never came to the office.
Managers had to learn different skills in order to supervise this talented group in their new environment. As accustomed as this talent may have been to working remotely, a completely remote environment creates a very different culture and behavior pattern versus an environment where individuals are still coming in the office periodically. And when managing this remote talent, especially those that already work very independently, it is critical that production does not diminish as life happens around them.
Working remotely is peppered with disruptions that every manager must appreciate and be empathetic to if they want to stay connected to their team. Therefore, managers need to be vigilant about “checking in” and ensuring they are meeting with their talent frequently. Dropping by the office for a quick chat, where unexpected questions or concerns are raised and addressed real-time, is no longer an option (at least not for now).
Here are a few key areas for managers to build on when helping others successfully supervise remotely:
- Communicate. Communication is vital and may, for some managers, feel a bit forced until they get into a groove of meeting with their teammates regularly. It is critical, nonetheless. The back and forth with their team will require managers to be extra diligent with their own time management and require them to show flexibility. Interruptions are inevitable, but ensuring the option to reschedule, follow up and have those calls to keep that dialog open regularly will allow managers to stay on top of any issues and complexities that individual team members may be experiencing or seeing.
- Provide support. Because this talent is so mature and self-sufficient, they may not be as forthcoming with areas where they need help. Therefore, managers must ensure they set expectations for underwriters and provide real-time feedback. Whenever possible, this type of communication should be done via video conferencing to give the underwriter a chance to have face-to-face meeting. It is just as much visual as it is verbal. Equally important on providing this feedback is listening to the underwriters’ responses. One of my mentors once shared with me, “If you don’t listen to your staff, they will stop talking to you.” In this environment, where skilled underwriters can easily find work at another company, that is a death sentence. Remembering to stop and listen, providing them a forum to share what they are going through will build mutual respect and trust. With this comes loyalty without which managers will not have the type of accountability needed to be successful.
- Socialize the team. Although underwriters may be working on their own as their norm, they once were in the office at some point and were able to have a social component to some degree. Therefore, managers must continue to ensure the “team” is building relationships – both as their supervisor and with others on the team. This camaraderie is harder to come by remotely, but by instituting team meetings and team building activities with an opportunity for open forum, teammates will learn from one another. That connection keeps people engaged, excited and motivated.
- Pay attention to progress. Managing remote talent can feel a lot like flying blind unless managers have the right level of reporting and monitoring. This has likely become one of the biggest hurdles for many professionals in the industry. When in the office, managers can see work in progress. When those same resources are remote, the only thing managers can rely on are the queue reports to discern matters related to time management, productivity and/or staffing. Managers must be conscientious when building out the right reporting package for them to keep a pulse on their operations. And just because they are not in the office does not mean that you do not celebrate progress and successes during a public video conference meeting for team members to get noticed.
- Provide needed technology. Having the right technology is key in successfully executing many of the activities previously mentioned. Creating those reporting packages, video conferencing options, addressing system and access issues expediently are all vital elements to keeping the manager and their team in the know and engaged. And any manager who is required to oversee a remote team must stay close to their technology partners. They must trust that these partners are keeping abreast on the industry’s latest and greatest tools to allow for ease in managing remote resources. If a team is not plugged into their technology group, or do not have a strong contact, this should be a manager’s first step.
As many banks and mortgage companies determine that having remote employees and in-office staff works for their business model, managers will need to ensure they can maintain productivity as well as morale. Taking the time to communicate with an underwriter is needed and giving them an environment to continue to thrive will prove beneficial for everyone involved.
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