Safe haven

For industry expert Sue Woodard, origination was where she took charge of her future

Safe haven

When Sue Woodard started in the mortgage industry, safety was her top concern.

She had been working at a credit union that had been the target for multiple armed robberies, and eventually, she decided that she couldn’t work there any longer. She wanted to move to a safer branch, where the only job available was that of a mortgage processor. And so it began.

Woodard took the job, and although the credit union didn’t offer many types of loan products, she was able to gain a true understanding of the mortgage process from processing to underwriting to closing. She also benefited from the in-house servicing of those loans.

“It was a very narrow experience in terms of the volume we were doing and so forth, but very, very deep in terms of the types of things that we were doing there. And I really just started to fall in love with the origination aspect of it,” Woodard said.

She moved on to become an originator at Countrywide Home Loans, (later bought by Bank of America) and was able to embrace the educational aspect of the role and appreciate the importance that the mortgage and financial services industry plays in the lives of people every single day.

“Their homes, their houses, that’s where their life happens, where they live, where they laugh, where they cry, where they raise their families . . . why I fell in love with originating was the ability to help people through that process that, by its nature, was going to be very personal and very emotional, but also very technical and financial, that they really needed very good guidance. Because unless they buy a business someday, this will more than likely be the largest financial transaction of their entire life, and making the right choices has enormous financial impact on people.”

The theme of safety is one that continued through Woodard’s career. She landed in the industry due to concern for her physical safety, and when she moved into mortgage origination, financial safety was high on her list of priorities. Once she made that move, she found that she was solely in charge of her financial outcomes.

“I actually felt it was safer that I could define what my success looked like. I owned my future, I could work as hard as I wanted to and I could make—within reason—as much as I wanted to,” Woodard said. “To me, that gave me much more safety than I personally felt when I was processing or underwriting. Processing or underwriting, you’re on a salary, to me that didn’t feel nearly as safe to me as originating did. You’ve got to have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

Things were going well for Woodard, and in the early 2000s, she expanded into some speaking engagements and work on the vendor side of the industry, straddling a line between that and mortgage origination.

And then, the financial crisis of 2008. Woodard had to pick a lane because the landscape became so difficult that you really had to focus, she said. And so, she made the move to the vendor side.

Woodard is currently Chief Customer Officer at Total Expert, a software platform for the real estate and mortgage industry. Her focus is on helping lenders and their mortgage loan officers better serve their clients and increase productivity and success, and for those originators looking for success in the current market, there’s no easy answer

One key to her success as an originator was learning to delegate not only professionally, but personally as well. Find ways to outsource the things in your life that don’t bring you joy or improve your business, so your focus can be on one or the other in order for you to maximize your time.

Woodard also emphasizes the importance of both getting a mentor and being a mentor, and having an accountability partner.

“Right now, the actions you take dictate what your successes going to look like. The success with your business and your life is frankly not determined by what you think about or what your intentions are; it is literally by what you do. So I think it is critically important to have partners in that, and be someone’s partner in that,” she said. She credits several female MLOs and leaders who have been an inspiration to her and who are paving the way for other women: Linda Davidson and Louise Thaxton of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp; Cindy Ertman and Jodee Brydges of LendUS, Sally Bucciero of Benchmark Home Loans, Rose Marie David and Natalie Overturf of Homestreet Bank, Pat Sherlock, Ginger Bell . . . the list could go on and on.

It’s also a great time to be a woman in the industry, in spite of origination in particular being dominated by men. There are gender norms that support some of that inequality, she said, but research has shown shows that companies who have a mix of men and women in leadership tend to be more productive, more profitable, and have better growth, than those who don’t have that balance.

“I have not felt like my opportunities were ever limited in the mortgage industry, which is one of the things I love about this industry for women,” Woodard said. “I don’t know what it looks like in other industries; I know in our industry, I feel like women have every opportunity to step up and create their own success.”

In a purchase market particularly, success depends on people connecting with other people, and so it’s worth spending money on automating as much as you can now in order to free up your time to make those connections. Make a plan and put it into action, because the dividends that originators will gain in market position in the long run is immeasurable, Woodard said.

“There is no time to waste. This is a really unique market that we’re in, it’s extremely competitive, the margins have been crushed to just about nothing, so I think it’s about being faster than those people who are smarter and smarter than those who are faster. Now is the time for action.”