Facing challenges in staffing and hiring as loan volumes reached near or above record levels in 2020 and into 2021, mortgage lenders have had to manage evolving perspectives on work-life balances more than 18 months into the pandemic. 

While technology has helped streamline the process for lenders and homeowners, purchase and refinance mortgages still depend on employees at every stage of the process.  

“Towards the end, for sure, people were choosing time over money, more than they were at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Brian Koss, executive vice president with Danvers-based Mortgage Network. “Work-life balance is a moving target, and what you might have said six months ago is different from what you might say now.” 

After processing nearly 237,000 residential refinance mortgages for $88.7 billion in Massachusetts last year, lenders have made more than 176,000 residential refinances through August of this year, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. 

This ongoing activity has come at a time when employees have been voluntarily leaving their jobs. Preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the rate for employees quitting jobs in August, 2.9 percent, was at the highest level since the agency began tracking the figure more than 20 years ago.  

While employees classified as working in financial activities had a lower rate of quitting in August at 1.3 percent, between 119,000 and 141,000 employees have left their jobs each month since April. 

A recent report from Workforce Logiq, a New York-based provider of workforce management services, found that the banking and finance industry was one of the top five industries facing challenges with employee shortages.  

Across industries, workers have quit jobs because of work-life balance, compensation, the desire for flexible options to work at home, as well as loosening restrictions on noncompete clauses, the report said. Those employees who have remained in the banking and finance industry want change, including greater growth opportunities and a more positive work environment, Workforce Logiq said. 

Employees’ Needs Changed 

Because the nature of mortgage banking has always involved fluctuations in volumes, lenders and employees have long had to consider how to balance having job security with their lives outside work, Koss said. 

“We had a variety of people – this was even before the pandemic – taking retirement early and saying, ‘I’m burned out; this business is exhausting,’” Koss said, adding that for others, the job security was more important. 

Hiring was challenging during the pandemic, Koss said, with more roles open than there were candidates for the jobs. Even without taking on more refinance activity than staff could handle during the pandemic, he added, Mortgage Network offered overtime and bonuses to encourage staff to work extra hours, while also hiring employees with no mortgage experience to handle certain roles. 

As the pandemic and the refinance boom continued into 2021, the company listened to employees and adapted to their different experiences and needs, Koss said. Toward the end of the height of activity this year, the company found that people were less likely to seize on opportunities to work weekends for bonuses than they had been in the earlier stages of the pandemic. 

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Salem Five Mortgage Co. employees worked nights and weekends to manage the volumes, said company president Ed McDonald. Having staff working from home helped create efficiencies, he added, noting that eliminating the commute helped people use their time wisely to get their work done. 

Salem Five Mortgage used temporary staff and contractors during the busiest periods, and even found some veteran loan officers looking to move to a new company during that time. Training the temporary staff remotely created challenges, McDonald said, and that process needed to take place in the office, even when most employees were still working from home.  

Volumes have normalized, McDonald said, and the company is continuing to look at how technology might help with managing the influx of higher activity to improve the balance for staff, though he added that some still like having the option to work overtime. 

He acknowledged the efforts needed to get through the past 18 months. 

“It took a lot of good folks  whether youre a loan officer, a processor, an underwriter, a closer  to really be dedicated to help the population take advantage of historic rates to improve their financial situation,” McDonald said. “It took a lot of hours, a lot of dedication, a lot of effort  I cant thank our people enoughand Im sure thats the way in the entire industry.” 

Opportunities to Grow 

Even with the high levels of activity, both Mortgage Network and Salem Five Mortgage gave employees opportunities to grow during the pandemic and take on new roles. Salem Five had some processors move into underwriting, and one became a loan officer during that time, McDonald said. 

Mortgage Network had operations staff move into sales support role, with some looking to become licensed, Koss said. 

Underwriters remain the most in-demand employee in the industry, Koss said. While some processors have moved into that role, others prefer not to have the pressures associated with the job. 

Diane McLaughlin

Mortgage Network has started hiring processors who have an interest in pursuing an underwriting career, Koss said, adding that the company has committed to preparing these employees for future roles in underwriting.  

Even with the current workforce shortages, the company continues to look for seasoned mortgage staff. While most banks and mortgage companies are well-run, Koss said, cultural differences between employers could provide opportunities for attracting new staff. 

“If they don’t see change, they don’t see growth, and maybe they’re stuck where they are,” Koss said. “We may be able to provide an opportunity if they’re looking for that kind of change … and they might fit better in our world.” 

Lenders Look for Work-Life Balance

by Diane McLaughlin time to read: 4 min