FRESNO, Calif.–The $470-million Fresno County FCU here has been able to process greater mortgage lending volume while cutting expenses and reducing the burden on its staff, thanks to a new partnership.


EVP/COO Jeff Bassill told Credit Union Journal that FCFCU has previously been dealing with two real estate lending “concerns” that dated back several years. First, it wanted to move away from a business model that required cyclical staffing levels based on market conditions and demand, and second it was seeking to cut overhead while retaining the in-house mortgage operation.


“Inevitably in mortgage lending, you are either short-staffed or over-staffed,” Bassill said of a scenario that has faced many lenders. “When there is a large demand for refinance and purchase transactions, staff can be difficult to recruit and retain. Processing times extend and service levels suffer. We have some long-term key staff members who were outstanding at many aspects of the process, but each could only handle so much volume.”


In addition, he continued, the ever-changing regulatory and secondary market guidelines were draining resources from other departments. Management felt it had to find a way to leverage what Fresno County FCU was good at, serving members, and partner with a provider that had the infrastructure and size to handle all of the backoffice demands.


After a four-month review of program options, the result was a partnership with CU Members Mortgage.


Long Time Staffer Is Key


That partnership has meant ensuring that real estate loan officer Ruth Sterry, who has been with the credit union for more than 25 years, remains integral in its process. “Our members clearly associate her with getting a credit union mortgage loan,” said Bassill.


He said CU Members Mortgage helped set up a workflow and loan process that leveraged Sterry’s connections with members to the loan officers and processors that handle all of the nuts and bolts of a transaction.


“Ruth now focuses on guiding members through the process rather than being backlogged with paperwork and loan files,” said Bassill. “By using CU Members Mortgage’s loan products, rates and website, we were able to seamlessly transition from our own internal loan application process to theirs. Most members did not even notice the difference.”


Additional Benefits Cited


Other benefits of the relationship, Bassill said, include increased flexibility, closer connections with members and eliminating approximately $40,000 in monthly expenses. These expenses included fees for salaries, document services, compliance consulting, market rate management and quality control reviews.


“It also allowed us to fully leverage what some of our employees do very well, which bodes well for our member service and earns additional income for the credit union,” he reported.


Since June, FCFCU has booked $9 million in loans, keeping approximately 40% on its portfolio. Bassill said the important development is never having to turn a member away.


“Even if the volume of loans exceeds our appetite we can still help members by leveraging our relationship with CU Members,” he said. “It did not hurt that we were recently designated part of the Elite Partners Club for CU Members Mortgage.”


CU Members Mortgage SVP Linda Clampitt said Fresno County FCU is a “perfect example” of what many credit unions are experiencing today, with fluctuating staffing levels, clogged workflows and the constant deluge of regulations to manage.


“It can be overwhelming, and negatively affect profitability,” she said. “Providing Fresno County with the necessary resources to help streamline its processing and navigate the new regulations has ensured its mortgage lending practices remain as efficient and productive as possible–which ultimately creates highly reputable service members can count on for their mortgage needs. Subsequently, Fresno County has experienced extremely positive results both in member service levels as well as the profitability of its mortgage program.”

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