Residential Magazine

Benefits Keep Employees Happy

To retain talent, mortgage companies must offer more than a competitive salary

By Joe Ellis

Through the eyes of a client, a mortgage originator who makes a strong first impression can be wonderful to work with. The originator can steer the borrower and their family through the difficult process of financing a home purchase — and help the client find the right deal for that property.

Even after a loan is closed, originators should follow up regularly with clients through e-mails, letters and general correspondence to inquire about their current status. A unique personal touch shows the originator knows and cares about clients as people, which can make clients think of the originator as a friend. If anyone asks these clients to recommend a mortgage broker, they are likely to make a single suggestion.

An originator who is a strong salesperson and an asset to any company, however, may wind up leaving for a new opportunity. Why? It’s possible that the company benefits no longer support the needs of the employee and their family. This employee may shop around and find a new company that offers exactly what they are looking for.

With a new offer in hand, they are likely to leave, potentially taking with them years of experience as well as a large client book willing to offer references and drive their new business opportunity. This is a textbook example of why it is so important for companies to offer an in-depth benefits package, even if that requires your company to change its mindset.

Employees are clients

The mortgage business is just like any other service industry in that the company’s success is tied to the strength of its employees. A mortgage company must retain talented professionals who have many years of contacts and experience, as well as the ability to train new hires.

It takes more than a good salary or commission, however, to keep your employees happy. Benefits play an important role in an employee’s compensation, as well as their happiness. This goes well beyond having a retirement plan with a strong employer match or health insurance with reasonable deductibles. It means understanding your employees’ requests and finding ways to deliver on them.

Think of your employees as clients of your human resources (HR) department. A company must always adapt to the changing needs and demands of its customers. For instance, imagine a couple you worked with five years ago who bought a starter home. Today, with their family growing, they need to find a bigger home that appeals to them in a rapidly changing housing market. An originator who doesn’t understand the couple’s needs and any changes in the market will quickly lose their business.

This example directly relates to the situation of the hypothetical originator referenced above. Their company failed to consider the employee’s needs or adapt to an evolving marketplace by offering various benefits that could have enticed the originator to stay. The old adage is that the customer is always right. In this case, the employee knows what is right for them and moves on.

Identify the right benefits

So, what is the right fit for your employees? Mortgage companies often rely on exit interviews to find out what they can improve on — including benefits — but this approach happens too late. Exit interviews are helpful, but understanding how to keep valued employees should occur before they find a new position.

Emphasizing consistent engagement with employees and using that communication to develop a solid benefits package is critical. Mortgage companies constantly reach out to clients to find out what they can do better and how they can deliver that service more effectively. The same idea is true for employers and their employees. A good company will find out if its employees’ needs are being met.

Focus groups are a great way for employees to share their thoughts and concerns about benefits. It is important to ensure, however, that a neutral third party conducts the focus group and that the session is not recorded or monitored by management. To get honest answers, make sure employees know their answers aren’t personally identifiable. Another way to develop a better benefits package is to issue a “rankings list,” which allows employees to rank the types of benefits they find most and least important.

These types of efforts will almost always open the eyes of management. For example, a common belief is that health insurance is far and away the most important benefit a company can offer. Although there is validity to that thought, employees in their 20s might not rank health insurance as high because they tend to be relatively healthy.

Instead, these employees may find a group plan that offers auto-insurance discounts more appealing. This is because many of them are starting to live on their own, pay bills for the first time and realize how expensive it can be. Mortgage professionals, who work directly with clients who are buying a home, also may wish their company offered a similar deal for homeowners insurance.

Additional considerations

What if an employee had their identity stolen and mentions it around the water cooler? Suddenly, protection against losses from identity theft may become something other employees are interested in. This may be of greater importance in the mortgage industry, where the personal information of clients is commonly shared and these risks are better understood.

Retirement benefits also are important for any mortgage company, especially for those that understand the importance of developing and retaining veteran talent. It isn’t simply a matter of offering a 401(k) program for employees. Today’s employees want to have multiple options within their 401(k) pool and they have increasing demands for obtaining information directly from the 401(k) administrator. This also may include the ability to speak to the administrator as they would a financial planner.

As people age, they may find themselves in difficult situations — such as illness or injury — that require them to miss significant amounts of time from work. These types of events can make employees interested in options for disability insurance.

No matter how large or small your mortgage company is, benefits should be discussed more frequently than when an employee is hired or once a year as open enrollment approaches. Your company’s HR personnel should stay aware of the latest trends in benefits packages. After all, if that hypothetical originator’s company had offered benefits to match the employee’s needs, they and their clients would have been more likely to stay put.


  • Joe Ellis

    Joe Ellis is a senior vice president at CBIZ Inc. and has dozens of years of experience in employee-benefits consulting. Ellis provides strategic advice and support on all aspects of employee-benefits plans. He also has several specialty areas related to health and welfare-benefit planning.

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