Residential Magazine

Reset With 2020 in the Rearview Mirror

The ups and downs of the past year can inform your current decisions

By Kevin McMahon

Like every other business, the mortgage industry saw its strategic plans upended by the COVID-19 pandemic without so much as an FYI email. Last year, decisions were cast to the wind, and mortgage professionals were left scrambling to manage volume and assist borrowers falling into hardship as a result of the pandemic’s effects.

Strategic plans, regardless of the industry, typically don’t change much year after year and often wind up being a modified version of previous plans. The global health crisis quickly wiped out this rather safe and traditional pattern. 

Instead of working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the office, employees were asked to grab laptops, desktop computers, keyboards, phones and other essential items to properly set up a home office. Whether your remote office was your dining room table, breakfast nook or bedroom, telecommuting kicked off early in 2020 and threw a wrench in how employees and supervisors executed their plans. Cybersecurity protocols, operational systems and IT bandwidth were challenged overnight. 

Many mortgage companies are settling into this year’s strategic plans. Let’s take a look at a few areas that were disrupted in 2020, and how they may affect both decisionmakers and rank-and-file employees in 2021 and beyond. 

Manage disruption

Prior to the pandemic, many organizations were primarily focused on recruiting the proper talent, filling technology gaps, and training and development. By the end of first-quarter 2020, however, they quickly shifted their focus to one major task — maintaining employee health and safety, regardless of what plans were needed to meet quotas or goals. 

With an imperative need to keep employees safe, disruption to standard operating procedures, meeting norms, and overall communication and execution became an overnight inevitability. Since human resources (HR) plays a vital role in strategic planning as it relates to employees, 2020 painted a clear picture for HR departments about which jobs could be accomplished with minimal disruption in a remote environment. 

It also ignited conversations around existing policies, flexible work locations and assessing the necessary amount of office space in the future. In the event a company decides to move to a hybrid work environment, employees would split their time between the office and working from home. As your organization works through the employee aspects of strategic planning, give considerable thought to your existing policies, determine necessary changes and roll out updates sooner rather than later to help employees plan for the year ahead.  

Rethink strategy

Now is an opportune time to reassess your strategic plans and how they’ve fared against a pandemic, market disruption, civil unrest and an overwhelmingly busy housing market. This is the time to truly rethink how your organization wants to move forward into this new world. 

Identify any remaining technology gaps that need to be filled. Delve into how you’ve managed shifts in client expectations and experience. Check to see that your value proposition is still relevant and valuable. Ask whether the commitments your company has made to diversity, inclusion, innovation and a strong culture still have room to grow within your 2021 plan.

There’s no shame in taking a step back, reviewing the white board, identifying what didn’t work and making necessary changes to set your company on a path to success. The past year has forced the mortgage industry to think and act differently, but at some point, this high rate of change will level off. Purchase and refinance originations will return to a “normal” level, and forbearances will decline. Don’t let your strategic agility atrophy simply because you feel more settled than you were in the early portions of last year.

Prioritize clients

Many mortgage companies rely heavily on face-to-face interactions. The pandemic essentially wiped these away in 2020, at least for a significant period of time. Employees who previously spent their days working in the field, shaking hands and sharing company news over a cup of coffee or cocktail had to quickly adapt to maintain business relationships in an environment that prohibited in-person interaction. 

This meant a significant ramp-up in the integration of various technology platforms to maintain presence and keep communication flowing among business contacts and colleagues. On the flip side, client experiences of your brand shifted more heavily toward the transactional aspect. 

In losing this face-to-face interaction, your systems integrations, website, social media accounts and email all took on elevated importance for the borrower’s experience. It’s important to note that these tools are expected to work efficiently, and align with the needs and interests of each client. When they don’t, they’re easier to turn off or ignore than a person is. 

With more employers permanently adopting a work-from-home or hybrid model — making these face-to-face interactions more difficult to facilitate — it’s clear that the mortgage industry has to shift its notion of what creates a positive client experience. Rather than holding down the fort until it’s safe again for happy hours and business lunches, build your new strategic plan around the things your company promises to deliver (its value proposition) that were no match for 2020. It’s likely that widespread disruption drove some much-needed innovation in these areas. 

Continue this work to make these aspects permanent fixtures of your borrower’s experience, rather than a Band-Aid for a once-in-a-lifetime event. Likewise, pay attention to the parts of your value proposition that held their own in 2020. You’re either doing these things better than everyone else or they’re the most important ways that clients experience your brand. Both are worth protecting as you develop your strategic plans.

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It’s important to note that while 2020 took a toll on all mortgage professionals, it also did quite a bit to help the industry. Mortgage originators learned how to thrive in a remote environment while juggling other responsibilities, such as caretaking, schooling and other family needs. The industry as a whole has taken a deeper look into the processes, policies and procedures that can be created, amended or terminated.

There is now firsthand evidence regarding the importance of borrower service, as well as how much stock is placed in how other organizations and individuals feel after interacting with your teams. All of these steps on the ladder will help your organization develop an informed and effective strategic plan for 2021 after experiencing the curveball that was 2020. ●


  • Kevin McMahon

    Kevin McMahon is Senior vice president of customer solutions at Genworth Mortgage Insurance. Utilizing his consulting, marketing and operations experience, McMahon develops and evolves strategic direction for Genworth as part of the senior leadership team. His leadership has been instrumental in Genworth’s market positioning, customer experience and operational efficiency. The statements provided are the opinions of McMahon and do not reflect the views of Genworth or its management. Reach McMahon at

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