No other credit union department sees such swings in its needs for people.
Over the last decade, staffing Ent Credit Union’s loan department has been our biggest operational challenge in lending. Ever since the financial crisis caused the yield on the 10-year Treasury Bond to plummet in late 2008, we have struggled to keep various departments in lending adequately staffed. As I have shared with our senior management team, no other department in the credit union can experience a 50 percent decrease in new business or a 100 percent increase in a matter of a week. Yet when the 10-year Treasury has moved by as little as .25 percent to .50 percent, that’s exactly what we have experienced in our mortgage department.
Several other factors also impact our ability to attract lending talent to our credit union. Colorado Springs is a mid-sized city of 550,000 people with a solid pool of well-educated citizens. Yet our town does not host any significant national or regional banking operation centers. Those seem to be clustered in cities like Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Charlotte. As a result, there are not a lot of people with mortgage experience in processing and underwriting to recruit.
In addition, banks are not known for their prowess in consumer lending. Mortgages and business loans are large enough and profitable enough to garner most of the attention from local, regional and national banks. Consumer loans are too small and too costly to originate at the bank branch level and when a loan is made, the decision is likely to be automated and the processing handled by a regional loan center. Even indirect auto loans have been “commoditized” and are serviced by a regional center that has virtually no knowledge of an individual dealer’s needs. The bottom line: Even when we find a banker with consumer lending experience, he or she often has been trained to look at consumer loans differently than our philosophy.
Not that Ent has everything figured out, but a variety of ideas have helped us weather the staffing storms. First of all, we have a fairly robust lending development program in cooperation with our branch operations group. Since some of our branches don’t have a dedicated lender and our bigger branches need backup lending skills, many of our member service representatives are designated as lending resources and get some valuable exposure to consumer loans. Those employees serve as a source for talent for our future lending specialist needs.
Our consumer lending group has also served as a feeder for our mortgage staffing needs. We have about 10 employees in our mortgage department who first learned the ropes in consumer lending. While the knowledge base for consumer lending doesn’t translate well to mortgage lending, general attributes like organizational skills and attention to detail do carry over well to our mortgage department. In addition, several years ago when the 10-year Treasury spiked to about 3 percent, refinance activity slowed down and we were able to redeploy some of these employees back to consumer lending for a short period.
Finally, Ent is ready to kick off a new initiative in lender development called the Entrance program, a two-year training program we developed. We will rotate successful applicants through all aspects of consumer and mortgage lending, with the goal of mentoring and identifying career interests during the program. Ultimately, we will place the employee into a key mortgage or consumer lending position (the positions determined to be most difficult to fill externally) with career tracks in sales and business development, analytics including underwriting, and management. The Entrance program will be used to attract talent by recruiting on college campuses, but also to attract high potential internal talent into a career in lending.
Bill Vogeney is the chief revenue officer for $5.4 billion Ent Credit Union, Colorado Springs.