The ideal motivation and skills required to manage a successful branch may not be what you expect. In fact, many people think making more money is the main motivation behind wanting to become a branch manager. But Kenny Hodges, founder and managing partner of Assurance Financial in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, thinks that earning more is only one of the many rewards of starting your own branch. A big benefit, he says, is the opportunity to have a leadership position and the challenge of being responsible for more than your own personal business development.
“The ultimate success is when a manager can create and provide value for his or her team members by helping them achieve better results through great leadership,” says Hodges. “In some cases, great producers do not make great managers because they only know what has worked for them personally. Phil Jackson didn’t coach Michael Jordan the same way he coached the third guy off the bench. Good managers know how to motivate people in different ways and adapt to the different personalities that are in that office.”
Hodges believes that mortgage loan officers (MLOs) are actually better off staying where they are if their goal is simply to maximize income.
“Being an MLO is a great career in which you don’t have to work crazy hours, you can make time for your family, be involved in the community and have a long lasting career,” Hodges says. “Very often you could just continue as an MLO and make just as much money without the additional responsibility of running an office. Becoming a branch manager isn’t for everyone, even though many top producing MLOs feel that it’s the next step.”
Qualities of an effective leader
To be effective as a leader, you have to genuinely care about your team and be a resource to help them maximize their individual potential, Hodges told MPA.
“Effective leaders gain loyalty from their team by being compassionate, good listeners, creative, sincere and always erring on the side of fairness to the employee,” says Hodges. “Lastly, an effective leader is going to know that people have different ceilings, and motivating and managing to those ceilings is a balancing act.”
Additionally, successful branch managers must utilize the same sales skills that enabled them to become high-producing MLOs in the first place.
“The branch manager must first and foremost be a business developer,” says Hodges. “Exceptional business developers need to be competitive, financially driven and not afraid to hear the word ‘no.’ This can be said for high-producing salespeople in any industry, but for a start-up mortgage branch, it’s even more imperative to possess these qualities.”
Why? In most new branch setups, there may only be one or just a few loan officers there, so for the branch to excel and become profitable quickly, someone has to start generating revenue from day one. Thus it typically falls to the new manager to lead the branch early in personal production and set the pace for the new team.
Home office support is crucial to success
But the branch manager and the MLOs can’t be expected to succeed on their own. They must get a great deal of support from the parent company, both from the outset and on an ongoing basis.
“Any successful company that is trying to branch out has to provide support at every stage to their field offices, not just at the start-up phase,” says Hodges.
Hodges explains how his company sets up and supports new branches. “At Assurance Financial, everything from A to Z is supported by the corporate office until the branch manager is on solid footing, ready to focus on developing business and building a team. Our company has an on-boarding committee at the start-up stage to handle everything from ordering the phones to signing the leases and providing recruiting support,” he says.
But even after the branch is up and running, the national or area sales manager is typically in daily contact with the local manager, according to Hodges.
“We want our branch managers to focus on developing business,” he says, “so we have found that giving ongoing support in all areas – accounting, marketing, HR, compliance, processing, underwriting and closing – helps managers and their teams feel confident that we are going to close loans on time, every time.” That consistency is critical in developing unshakable confidence among all team members in the field office, Hodges notes. “Bruce Springsteen once observed, ‘Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.’ It is precisely the same in developing a high performing branch team,” Hodges says, “and Assurance Financial provides all the support needed to create sustainable success.”
Recruiting sales talent
Hodges says the same business development skills that help one succeed at originating new mortgages also help the manager attract and develop sales talent. But that can be challenging, he says, as there are many branch models and individual branches that are structured differently.
“From our experience, a common structure is to have a branch manager and maybe one or two mortgage loan officers,” says Hodges, “and that setup can be very profitable.”
Based on his experience, Hodges prefers that the branch manager start off growing the office and being a leader in terms of production, then go out and recruit, train and develop new talent so that the branch can grow and become a bigger part of the community it serves.
But once assembled, how do you hang on to those employees? It’s not necessarily what you think.
“In our experience of recruiting and establishing new offices, MLOs and branch managers don’t leave their current company solely to make more money. They leave because they are not getting the necessary support to deliver an exceptional customer experience,” says Hodges. “The best in our industry are more concerned about their reputation and delivering a great experience than making a few extra basis points.” They understand legendary sales guru Zig Ziegler’s philosophy that you can have everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want. “MLOs get the success they want when they help borrowers and referral partners obtain what they want, and that requires exceptional experiences that customers will rave about,” Hodges says. The successful branch manager will want to personally exemplify these lofty service levels in order to attract the best sales team.
“For MLOs looking to start a branch, one thing is certain,” concludes Hodges. “With the right mix of motivation, skills and company support, long-term success will follow.”
Are you looking to make the professional leap from mortgage loan officer to branch manager? Ever wonder if you have what it takes?