Top Originator: Mike Certo just keeps on juggling

by Kimberly Greene13 Dec 2018

It’s the time of the year when everyone’s calendar is booked solid. Holiday parties, family meetings, and other events were put on calendar weeks—if not months—in advance.

Mike Certo, producing branch manager at Fairway Independent Mortgage, says that this type of advance planning is what originators should be doing throughout the year. For Certo, events and activities are the things that keep him and other originators top of mind for all of their partners, and it’s a great way for originators who might not have a deep roster of partners to build their base.

“As far as new originators go, the people that have just gotten in the industry the last year or two, just be focused on staying in front of the real estate community or their core business, and make sure that their marketing calendar is filled with activities that’s going to put them in front of the right group of agents every single month,” Certo said. “You need to be working on the quarter in the future and make sure that you have those events where you want to be in front of real estate agents or your core business every single month, that it’s systematic and methodical.”

Relationships were the reason why Certo got into the business—or at least why he wanted to become an originator. He began his mortgage career working in a call center, although he said he didn’t really realize the nuts and bolts of what he was actually doing for another few years. After being on the phones for a while, he realized that what he liked about the industry was the relationships aspect, and so he went into the retail channel in the early 2000s and started building his business there.

Many people flipped in and flopped out of the mortgage industry around him over the ensuing decade, and even though Certo’s dollar volume was cut by half during the downturn, he was still able to close about the same number of transactions as he had been doing previously. This meant that he was able to maintain his book of business and even grow it as other originators ceded their market share.

Now, at nearly 20 years in the business, Certo has got more to worry about than just his own relationships. He’s a producing branch manager, and that comes with its own set of challenges.

“It’s really about trying to keep a really good balance as a producing manager, of helping not only your team grow their business, but also to helping loan officers in the branch grow their business as well,” he said. “We know when a loan officer comes to us with a problem, we’re in the trenches, so we can be really good problem solvers, but as a producing branch manager, you have to have a really tight control of your schedule, to keep all those balls in the air at the same time.”

When helping other originators grow their teams and businesses, his best advice is to keep the eye on the prize. The compressed margins plaguing the industry are leading to a repeat of the conditions that allowed him to thrive a decade ago.

“We’re going to see a lot of really good people out on the streets looking for jobs (we already have). The biggest thing for originators to do is really to stay on target, continue to build their relationships. There’ll be a lot of market share out there from people exiting the business, who just can’t make ends meet, so right now the focus for loan officers is really just to continue to stay in front of their partnerships, run their marketing strategies,” Certo said.

The marketing strategies for his team include providing continuing education classes to partners and working diligently on consumer acquisition. His team spends a lot of money and time on ways to reach the consumer and take care of their lender needs in order to be a referral source for their partners as well.

“We do a lot to stand on our own two feet and not just rely on real estate agents as one leg of our business, but have multiple legs of our business,” Certo said.

Certo and his team also participate in the American Warrior Initiative, a Fairway non-profit organization that has events across the country to educate real estate agents on how to help and work with veterans. Every dollar raised goes to a local veteran or veteran’s organization, staying in that local community.

People matter, and that’s something that applies to both communities and businesses. Having the best partners and clients in the world doesn’t matter without a team to serve them, and Certo suggests that anyone who’s having trouble really boosting or improving their numbers when it comes to production take a hard look at their staffing needs and how responsibilities can be shifted.

That frees up origination time, but originators have to be fiercely protective of that time, guarding their schedules and protecting the time blocks that are focused on prospecting activities.

For most people, there’s nothing too flashy about building a business. It can be a slow road, but if it’s done systemically and methodically, stone by stone, a solid wall can be built.

And once it’s built, it’s extremely hard to tear down.