As the housing market bottoms out, educating the future mortgage pro becomes paramount

By Real Estate News

Many analysts who cover the mortgage industry believe that the worst of the current cycle may be in the rearview mirror. 

In 2022 and 2023, quickly rising mortgage rates and shrinking volumes sent shockwaves through the industry and prompted massive job cutbacks. But analysts anticipate growth in both purchase and refinance originations this year. 

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 343,000 mortgage employees as of May 2023. This figure was down 15% year over year and 18% below the peak of 420,000 employees in July 2021, when the 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged less than 3%.

As interest rates ease and housing inventory stabilizes, mortgage companies are likely to start ramping up their recruiting strategies. 

In this climate of cautious optimism, industry veteran Paul Gigliotti is spearheading an innovative educational venture that’s tailored to the evolving needs of mortgage company executives and recruiters.

In 2021, Gigliotti created Axis 360 Lift, an online academy designed to educate aspiring mortgage and title professionals. Axis 360 Lift strives to offer a comprehensive understanding of the mortgage business by addressing each step of the process. Additionally, the program aims to improve diversity across the industry. Axis has lending and title academies, with an origination academy set to launch in the spring of 2024. 

The program, which accepts five to 10 learners per cohort, has assisted 28 individuals since its inception. Several sponsors, including EscrowTab, Lenderworks, FormFree, MasonMac, CATIC Foundation, CATIC Title, FirstAmerican Title, Qualia, FORTIS Mortgage, Lendarch and Gateless, have allowed the educational opportunities to be made available free of charge. 

Led by dean of education Jerri Herrera, the 90-day program is divided into three segments. Graduates of the program commonly find job placements with lenders, technology companies, fintech and proptech firms, or title companies.

The initial 30 days establish a foundational understanding of mortgage lending concepts. The subsequent 30-day segment, dubbed as the “lab module,” provides hands-on experience with software from companies such as Qualia, Escrow Tab, Calyx and Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). The program concludes with a paid internship, providing real-world exposure to a company.

“Axis 360 Lift stands for bridging the education and opportunity gap in the housing industry by offering a comprehensive solution to the industry, the next generation of consumers and the next generation of employees by providing a hand up, not a handout,” Gigliotti said in an interview with  HousingWire.

Gigliotti noted that Axis recently secured three student internships on the title side.  He expects hiring to pick up again on the lending side in the third quarter of 2024. 

“Not all sides of housing have been hit as hard as mortgage lending,” Gigliotti said.

Many Axis trainees come from sales-based careers in hospitality, retail or insurance, which makes it easier to adapt to the mortgage business. But some are completely fresh to the field.  

Darla Hall was a licensed respiratory therapist before she decided to make the leap to the mortgage industry. Hall joined Axis’ first program in 2021, learned the ropes and landed a paid internship at EscrowTab, a software company, where she now handles sales support.

Hall recalls being excited about diving into a different career path.

“Mortgage was something totally new, something fresh, something that was going to be a challenge,” Hall said. “After a few conversations with Paul, I knew that I wanted to join Axis.” 

Brandon Weiss, CEO of EscrowTab, hired Hall soon after she completed her training. Hall stood out in comparison to other candidates for the entry-level position because she already had experience and knowledge of the industry through her training. Additionally, Weiss knows  Gigliotti and has confidence in his ability to source talented candidates. 

“I knew a background check had been done. I knew personality tests had been done. And I knew that Darla’s characteristics were going to be a good fit for our organization. That gave me a lot of comfort while recruiting her,” Weiss said. 

MBA entry-level initiative

In a parallel effort, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) introduced “Mortgage Banking Bound” in 2023. In collaboration with Lennar Mortgage and Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, the program aims to train novices in the mortgage business. 

The one-semester executive certification program is conducted through a blend of in-person and virtual sessions. It draws content from MBA’s School of Mortgage Banking and School of Loan Origination, including prerequisite coursework.

“I think that many people in the industry might agree that for a lot of entry-level jobs, an undergraduate degree is not required,” David Upbin, the MBA’s vice president of education, operations and programming, told HousingWire. “But to have a baseline understanding of the loan life cycle, the rules and regulations that guide our industry and govern our industry [and] the technology that moves us forward, quality control, quality assurance and fraud [prevention] is immensely important.” 

Prior experience and relationships are often considered key factors for success in the mortgage industry. Therefore, Gigliotti pairs learners with mentors who can then help them thrive in the industry. 

Amy Moses, vice president of marketing and communications at EscrowTab, and Raquel Borras, marketing and social media manager at New American Funding, are among the handful of professionals who’ve been accepted as Axis mentors.

Helping to create new hires for the industry promotes retention, according to Michelle Molina, director of strategic growth at US Mortgage Corp., a New York-based multichannel lender.

“If an employee knows that you believe in them, that you’re sponsoring them and that you’re setting them up for success, they will be excited to come into that company knowing that somebody has invested in them,” Molina said. “They will stick around because they know that they can grow and they have the support that they need to be successful.”

It’s also beneficial for companies, which can tap into a pool of candidates with a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge, Molina added. 

Tearing down trust barriers

Data on diversity in the mortgage space is hard to find. But a consortium of 19  organizations helped to produce this year’s iteration of the Global Real Estate DEI Survey, the only corporate study of DEI management practices and data benchmarking in the commercial real estate industry. 

While this survey does not account for the residential side of the industry, it does provide helpful context to understand the demographics of real estate employment in the U.S.

In 2023, the survey found that 58.6% of employees at commercial real estate companies were men, while 41.4% were women. In executive management positions, 74.3% were men and  25.7% were women. 

Additionally, 68.8% of employees at real estate companies were white, while 29.7% were people of color. In executive management positions, 85% were white and 14.7% were people of color. 

Amber Lawrence, the MBA’s associate vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion,  underscores the importance of education in broadening opportunities for all individuals. The mortgage industry’s historical backdrop, tarnished by disenfranchisement and discriminatory practices, has erected “trust barriers” between unserved communities and mortgage institutions, she said. 

Lawrence argues that a more diverse workforce, reflective of the communities being served,  can help foster a deeper sense of trust. The power of education in that matter can be “limitless,” she said.

“When one thinks about the historical nature of what this industry represents, it represents mistrust, and I think that we’re trying to undo several decades worth of that,” Lawrence said.

“And that’s a slow arch to freedom, as I like to say, so I think that when you have people of color (in the industry), that ability to trust is maybe a little bit easier. It eases the path to trust, which then creates more opportunities for wealth building because that’s what real estate does.”