“Esprit de corps provides people with a desire to focus their attention on creating success for their profession as a whole, rather than just doing their work in a corner.”
The mortgage origination industry has been taking a lot of shots lately. Big company settlements for consumer abuses make big headlines, and each day more mortgage broker fraud cases are made public. All of them reflect on the mortgage business in the perception of the public—our customers. Even though the bad apples comprise an appallingly small percentage of the origination community, the taint rises odiously from the bottom of the barrel and touches all in the industry. From the 5,000-foot view, it seems to come down to a sense of cohesion. The mortgage origination industry needs more esprit de corps to keep itself glued tightly together.
By definition, esprit de corps is a military concept, forged by those who faced death together on the battlefield. Leaders throughout history have understood that esprit is the intangible spark that enables people to prevail over seemingly impossible odds. How else could Caesar’s 55,000 legionaries triumph over almost 300,000 Gauls at Alesia, or Alexander’s 40,000 Macedonians defeat 250,000 Persians at Gaugamela? Tactics play a role, but esprit de corps makes a tremendous difference.
The mortgage origination industry’s sense of esprit is in the development stage. The industry is fairly new, only two decades old, really. But there are other factors slowing the growth of professional pride. For one, the industry is somewhat fragmented, with originators working for banks and mortgage bankers, as well as independent mortgage brokers. Among the brokers, there are also many working under the shingle of a net branch provider, sometimes co-branded with their own name and sometimes not. There is also vigorous competition from retail and Internet-direct lenders who are certainly mortgage originators, but are well outside the realm typically associated with the term. It’s tough to build a sense of community, of “brotherhood in arms” when there are so many component members. Another factor is the level of activity that is required to be successful in loan origination. It’s beyond a full-time job when you’re building a company; it’s absorbing to the point of leaving little room for other activities, no matter how constructive.
These impediments do not diminish the importance of esprit, given the current climate of suspicion and rhetoric about originators in general and mortgage brokers in particular. The NAMB is working hard to build solidarity among its members and to grow its membership. They understand there is strength in numbers and are doing much to increase those numbers—and along with them the odds of maintaining dominance at the all-important point of sale. The education initiatives are also headed in the right direction, but more people need to get with the program NAMB has put in place, which calls for a “drive for designation” on the part of management. Oftentimes, this sort of aim needs to be driven at the grass roots level, which happens locally if the esprit factor is to exceed the hassle factor when there are loans to be funded.
Creating esprit de corps in an entire industry has to start somewhere. The central value, according to military leaders, is integrity. “Integrity is the foundation of leadership and the key to building organizational esprit de corps,” according to comments by Air Force Wing Commander J.R. Tillery. “At the heart of integrity is a consistent value system that promotes respect and trust.” This is certainly a good place to start when it comes to your own shop. If you are a leader in your business, you can readily demonstrate this value. Col. Tillery steers us to “The Art of the Leader,” by Maj. Gen. Bill Cohen, who advises, “If you want to build esprit de corps, you must demonstrate integrity and if you do, it won’t be long before everyone in your organization knows that you can be trusted, that you say what you mean and you mean what you say. The members of your organization will demonstrate integrity in dealing with you, and each other, and the esprit de corps in your organization will soar.” If this is too simplistic for the industry at large, it certainly carries huge validity for your organization. As a core value, integrity is, well, integral.
What are some other ways to add esprit de corps within your business and within your industry as a whole? Consider some of these suggestions:
The NAMB could have even more name/image recognition success for a simple reason—their members have more access to consumers by virtue of controlling the point of sale. As the association’s prestige increases, so does the esprit of its members.
And what, exactly, would the benefit be of increased esprit de corps for the business of mortgage origination? How about additional consumer confidence, less government persecution, decreased competition by virtue of obsoleting those who can’t deal with raising the bar for admission to the business, and increased market share. The other big gain would be increased respect among regulators and Wall Street, along with a place at the table when decisions are made that affect the business at street level—product design, as an example. It’s not a small thing.
By James Hennessy
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