Bill Austin has a unique word to describe how to run a branch network.
“Branchise,” says Austin, a regional manager with Integrity Mortgage Group in Indianapolis, Ind. “You don’t have these layers of corporate bureaucracy, and it reminds me of something that we used to call ‘branchise.’ You are how you perform – just like a franchise.”
Austin says that a network is only as successful as the support it receives from head office. In his case, being a part of the IMG team has helped his “branchise” flourish.
“The biggest support system comes out of the corporate office,” Austin says. “To make an analogy, they are the mother ship, and we are all extensions from that – the smaller ships. They handle all the closing, underwriting, funding – every aspect of the processing of the funding of a mortgage.”
Setting the tone for the underwriting comes from the top of IMG: Dean Wolfe.
“Dean, who is the co-owner, is also the head underwriter. He is absolutely invaluable – to have someone with expertise and the conviction of his decisions,” Austin says. “I would say well over 50% of underwriters today underwrite scared. And they are protecting their jobs instead of the homebuyers.”
Ultimately that leads to an industry in which it is still difficult to get a home loan, Austin says. And that can be a problem, because skilled underwriting is crucial to an originator’s success.
In large part, that ultra-conservative underwriting is a relic of the 2008 financial meltdown, Austin says.
“Where I was five years prior to coming over here, I was running into the exact same kind of issues,” he says. “Before that, they were underwriting too loosely. We had the natural reaction over the other way, and it was needed for a while, no question. But that time has since passed; we’re not in a deflationary environment with houses anymore.”
But being able to make a mortgage work can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and something that borders on the religious for the client, he says.
“I just got off the phone with a client – I work with a builder and I am one of their preferred lenders – and this gal had a struggle getting her mortgage approval,” he says. “I told her that I got her mortgage approved by someone who was at a mortgage bankers’ association conference.”
Austin told the client that the person at the conference took the time to push it through because he understood from Austin that the deal was closing fast, and he gave the green light to go ahead and clear the conditions on the mortgage.
“When I got off the phone with her,” says Austin, “it sounded like she was in church.”