COMBOG Corner: Interview with StanCorp’s Amy Frazey
Commercial real estate lending markets are on a tear heading into the last months of 2021. Life insurance companies are one of many capital sources benefiting from improved transaction volumes and economic fundamentals.
MBA reported total commercial/multifamily debt outstanding rose to $3.98 trillion at second quarter close. Life insurance companies held $596 billion (15 percent) of commercial/multifamily debt outstanding, having increased their holdings by $8.7 billion (1.5 percent) during the quarter.
MBA Newslink interviewed Stancorp Assistant Vice President Amy Frazey to find out where Stancorp Mortgage Investors is focused heading into 2022.
Frazey began her involvement in the commercial real estate finance industry in 2004 as Assistant Vice President for Investment Administration for StanCorp Mortgage Investors LLC, a subsidiary of StanCorp Financial Group, Inc. the holding company of Standard Insurance Company. In her current role, she leads the reporting, accounting, servicing and operations associated with their commercial real estate portfolio, which exceeds $13 billion and 6,000 loans.
Prior to joining SMI, Frazey was Treasury and Financial Services Manager at SIC and six years in public accounting with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She is starting her second year on the MBA Commercial Real Estate/Multifamily Finance Board of Governors and served on the COMBOG Servicer Council as Chair and Vice Chair between 2016-2018. She also served on the board of the Oregon Mortgage Bankers Association from 2008 to 2015. She sits on the planning committee for MBA’s CREF22 Conference and Expo in February.
MBA NEWSLINK: What’s one priority you’re focused on during your term as a member of the MBA Commercial/Multifamily Board of Governors?
AMY FRAZEY: Change is occurring in all areas of our industry, work and personal lives, so there are multiple competing priorities. With that said, my top priority as a member of COMBOG is working with MBA and our membership to adapt and keep current with topics affecting our industry so we may continue to manage our work and businesses effectively and efficiently. This includes having inclusive discussions on all topics, not only important items that might impact today but tomorrow as well.
I’m excited about the engagement we have seen over the past year and a half. We have accomplished so much in a short time by coming together and collaborating on issues that were changing rapidly. The conversations ranged from younger mPact members to those more seasoned in our industry–I want to make sure we keep that momentum going so people not only stay informed but have forums to continue to share ideas. I believe it’s important to collaborate on adapting to changes together so we are equipped with the tools for continued success.
NEWSLINK: Your company, StanCorp Mortgage Investors LLC maintains a substantial investment allocation to commercial mortgages compared to the average insurance company’s percentage allocation. Can you describe the firm’s commitment to the asset class in terms dollars, loans and correspondents?
FRAZEY: SMI manages a portfolio of approximately 6,000 commercial mortgage loans totaling around $13 billion, of which $8.4 billion is for our affiliated insurance company. Commercial mortgage loans are an important part of StanCorp’s investment portfolio. We are unique in that they make up approximately 38 percent of StanCorp’s general account. The credit quality and cashflow of these loans are a good match with the insurance company’s liabilities.
Our success includes a talented team at SMI in addition to our partnership with approximately 50 correspondents. The relationship with our correspondents is an extremely important part of our program given their knowledge of the local markets they work in, their direct relationships with our borrowers and their partnership with our team. We have worked with some of our correspondents for more than 50 years–that reflects our commitment to those relationships, the industry and the commercial mortgage loans as a part of our investment portfolio.
NEWSLINK: What are the biggest challenges in terms of servicing StanCorp’s commercial mortgage loan business?
FRAZEY: The biggest challenge is flexing with the needs of our investors and our borrowers as well as the marketplace. The need for timely information and responsive customer service is always a top priority. This past year and a half highlighted the need to adapt and stay current with numerous changes in state and federal rules while working with borrowers on COVID-19 forbearance requests and/or issues.
During this time, we were also adapting to working from home, adjusting procedures as needed (COVID-19 forbearance agreements, payment reserves, etc.) and, most importantly, supporting each other on a professional and personal level. The complexity of the work has increased over the years, and making sure we have the right tools, that professional development opportunities are available and that our processes remain efficient is always a priority. We want to make sure our team is well equipped to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.
NEWSLINK: Given a relatively small average loan size, StanCorp has been heavily invested in collateral located in secondary or tertiary markets. Has your firm’s production focus shifted in recent years, either driven by property type, market or strategy?
FRAZEY: Our production focus has not materially changed over the years; however, our loan size has naturally increased with property appreciation. We originate loans up to $20 million, but our average new loan size is approximately $4 million.
We continue to approach underwriting from our conservative and common-sense perspective. We remain focused on tenant and borrower credit quality, location and property functionality. We underwrite properties that have demonstrated consistent year-over-year net income and have stable tenant rosters. We continue to maintain our emphasis on selecting quality borrowers with a clear understanding of each borrower’s capital and net-worth position.
NEWSLINK: There are a significant number of disruptive factors driving the commercial real estate industry today. What do you view as substantive challenges and opportunities for the commercial/multifamily lending community?
FRAZEY: COVID-19 triggered a lot of changes in a short window of time that will influence how commercial space is and will be used for many years. There will be headwinds for some properties depending on their location and ability to repurpose functionality as the various markets continue to open up. With that said, there are great opportunities out there. I believe the philosophy SMI has had over the years still rings true when facing challenges and finding opportunities–approaching each deal with a common-sense perspective and a focus on property functionality, location and, of course, the borrower.
From a servicing perspective, I think continuing to build on the agility and adaptability we have been doing over the past few years will continue to provide great opportunities for efficiencies. For example, we are grateful we went paperless a few years before COVID-19, which let us successfully adapt to working remotely. We have continued to focus on streamlining our work processes and using new tools so our team members are focusing on the more analytical tasks and complex matters that affect our portfolio.
NEWSLINK: What’s been your most valuable experience as a member of the Mortgage Bankers Association? How would you recommend others leverage membership to further their own careers and business interests?
FRAZEY: The Mortgage Bankers Association has been a significant part of my professional development over the years. I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve on the Servicer Council, participate in roundtables, attend conferences and participate on industry panels in addition to serving on COMBOG. It has provided a great forum to connect with people throughout our industry, and there are so many educational opportunities that MBA provides, no matter where one is in their career.
I always look forward to the conferences, which provide an excellent opportunity to connect with other professionals in our industry and to share ideas and best practices. In addition, knowing the MBA represents and partners with us on key issues that affect our industry, whether it’s new legislation, life company risk-based capital items or accounting guidance, is extremely valuable.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to become engaged in our industry via MBA membership, including participating in educational webinars, joining one of the councils (great speakers and discussions during those meetings), earning industry certifications, taking part in roundtables and, of course, attending the conferences.
(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 NewsLink Editor Mike Sorohan at firstname.lastname@example.org or NewsLink Editorial Manager Michael Tucker at email@example.com.)