The origins of an originator

by Kimberly Greene07 Jun 2018

Norah Lile liked her job as an underwriter. She was good at it. But as she morphed into a manager and became less in control? She wanted more control. And as of April 4th, she got it. She opened her own shop, and became the owner and CEO of Integrity Mortgage Co.

Lile wasn’t unhappy with where she was, per se, but she knew her talents could be better spent.

“I was really spending a lot of time getting involved in the minutia and that would pull me off of prospecting . . . so that started me thinking, maybe it wasn’t a good fit for me, but I knew that another company would probably have the same issue or another set of issues,” said Lile. Rather than spending money on having Snoop Dog perform at a company Christmas party, she said, she’d rather return the cost of that extravagance to the client in better rates and fees. “If I wanted to cut my compensation in order to make something right or do something for the client, I wanted to be able to make that decision without having to wait on managers and run that up the flagpole. I knew that I would to do what was right for the customer. I just wanted that flexibility.”

Having spent time on the other side of the loan, Lile knows what she wants to do differently – or, rather, what she wants to set as her top priority. She spent the first decade of her career working for credit unions, and appreciated?how they are focuses more on the member than the balance sheet and income statement, something to which she wanted to return.

“I would rather forego profit to do the right thing, rather than the other way around, rather than penalize a consumer. A lot of companies may start out that way but they lose sight of it as they grow and they start becoming profitable,” Lile said. “Ever since I left credit union land, I have not found a home that maintained that kind of integrity consistently, in all situations. And that is my philosophy, and I do think that that’s a little bit different.”

Lile loves underwriting and gained great respect for salespeople over the years (“instead of being raised by wolves, I was raised and mentored by salespeople,”), and approached loans in much the same way, which is to make the process as painless and efficient as possible. Eventually, however, that changed.

“When I moved into management, I spent probably 30% of my time hiring, firing, coaching, mentoring, and managing underwriters, but 70% of time I was really mentoring loan officers, telling them how to structure loans, telling them how to fix the mistakes they may have made, or the sanfus that inevitably come up during the loan process,” Lile said. “I really felt like I would be better suited to take that skill to the front lines,”

And so the decision was made. But it hasn’t been easy (is it ever?). For one, there’s the move to a commission-only pay (structure?).

“Really, the catalyst would’ve been the birth of my daughter two years ago, and me wanting to have every minute that I spent away from my family to be directly benefitting my family, and not necessarily benefitting a company or another originator. I see so much more of the profit that comes from loans as an originator rather than as to somebody in management or on the operations side of things.”

And the change isn’t just monetary. Lile switched from a female-dominated side of the industry – operations – to a male dominated one – sales. There’s nothing different about the job, she said, but the way she approaches it may be.

“I think women are naturals in the housing industry,” she said. “To be general, we want to have a home, want to have our home be nice, we have that nesting [tendency] – a lot of us do. We also have that care and compassion, so when a client goes through the homebuying process, it’s a stressful process, and we can really show compassion, that’s where I see us being so well-suited for this industry.”

There may be other challenges at play, however, and one of those is security. “My only guess would be that it really is an entrepreneur type of thing and it’s hard to walk away from that salaried position. So if you are a single mother, you can’t take six months to a year and make zero dollars.”

While she said knows everything there is to know about mortgages, she knew nothing about sales and had to start from ground zero – and the boost she thought she’d get from having a background as an underwriter never materialized.

“I thought I’d go out to agents and say, ‘hey, I’m a former underwriter,’ and they’d say ‘I’m leaving my lender, because you’re an underwriter!’ and that was not the case. Reality check. People want to do business with the people they know and can trust.”

Some people were impressed, but other agents and referral partners don’t really know what the function of an underwriter is; they’re established, successful agents who are are good at what they do and they leave the lender to do what they do, maybe not understanding how powerful that was. She’s “hoping that I’ll wear them down,” she said, being consistent and making sure she gets the chance to step in and show that she has a tremendous ability to close the loan and get the job done.

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