Lenders On Loan Make Mortgages At Affinity Plus

The Minnesota credit union shifted 45 consumer lenders and others with loan experience to help the cooperative meet a flurry of mortgage activity.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Affinity Plus FCU has posted record mortgage volumes since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • To meet increased demand, the Minnesota credit union redeployed 45 employees to handle different parts of the mortgage origination process.

CU QUICK FACTS

Affinity Plus FCU
Data as of 03.31.20

HQ: Saint Paul, MN
ASSETS: $2.6B
MEMBERS: 211,766
BRANCHES: 28
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 14.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.9%
ROA: 0.77%

The past three months has been the most productive mortgage lending period in the history of Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.6B, Saint Paul, MN). In May, the Minnesota credit union originated more than $100 million in mortgages, says Corey Rupp, chief lending officer for Affinity Plus. That’s up from $92 million the month before. 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused mortgage rates to fall to 50-year lows, in turn causing home loan activity to spike across the industry and stressing real estate departments that are racing to meet increased demand without adding new staff. Lenders like Affinity Plus have implemented creative solutions to meet this challenge. 

Corey Rupp, Chief Lending Officer, Affinity Plus FCU

Upon understanding that mortgage demand was likely to remain high for several months while consumer demand remained low and branches remained closed, the credit union moved 45 employees in one fell swoop from consumer lending roles — including branch and call center staff — to the real estate department in early April.

“It’s been amazing to see our employees’ adaptability and excitement as they jump into a new department and make an impact in a new area,” Rupp says. 

In mid-May, CreditUnions.com profiled Affinity Plus’ efforts to offer curbside mortgage closing in these socially distant times. In this Q&A, Rupp talks specifically about the efforts required of his team to meet mortgage demand, delving into employee shifts, adaptable mindsets, and lessons learned. 

How has mortgage activity at Affinity Plus trended in the past several months?

Corey Rupp: It continues to rock. We closed $92 million in April, which is big for us. In May, we’re going to surpass $100 million with more than 500 mortgages approved. Applications continue to pump in, at 50-60 per day, and we’re closing them. In this rate environment, it’s become a great time to buy or refinance, and, for us, there’s no sign of a slowdown. People are buying houses.

You’ve moved 45 employees into your real estate team. Where did they come from?

CR: I’d say 85% of the employees we shifted are consumer lenders or they work in the branch or the call center. The remaining 15% are from areas like learning and development, training, and vendor management. All of these folks have lending or branch and call center experience, and when things slowed down in other departments, we moved them.

One of our core values as a credit union is adaptability. Our employees understand they need to do different things as volumes shift and members’ needs arise in different areas.

Corey Rupp, Chief Lending Officer, Affinity Plus FCU

What are they doing? How much training did you provide?

CR: We moved employees into different roles supporting mortgage loan officers, processing, and payoffs. We also own our own title company, so we have employees helping within that unit.

We provided a fair amount of training during the first two weeks after the shift. The learning curve depended on their knowledge level and the role we assigned them, but most of these employees had a foundation of knowledge because we operate with a universal model. So, although these employees are consumer lenders, they’ve had conversations about mortgages and reviewed credit reports. They had a baseline understanding, and we offered more detail to help them gain efficiencies. 

How did you convince employees to buy into the shift?

CR: One of our core values as a credit union is adaptability. Our employees understand they need to do different things as volumes shift and members’ needs arise in different areas. So, delivering that message wasn’t difficult. We haven’t had any situations where employees were frustrated or in over their heads.

Working from home has helped some, too. Employees have had to adjust to different circumstances and different needs. They’re happy to stay busy, help members, and help our credit union.

Did anything surprise you about your team’s adaptability?

CR: I was completely amazed about people’s willingness to jump in and help. I thought it would be more challenging and take more time, but, from the start, people dropped what they were doing to help the team. It made me proud to see our employees’ willingness to help and adapt to our members’ needs.

How are employees viewing the real estate experience? 

CR: We have employees who are enjoying this new responsibility and would love to continue in this role, and we believe that having employees learn about real estate is going to be a good thing for them, the credit union, and our members. When people are exposed to other roles and functions, that’s a good thing for everyone involved. 

How long will this employee loan continue?

CR: We’ll begin opening branch lobbies to appointment-only service at some point. We’re going to start at higher volume branches, but even with reduced hours, we know that’ll put stress on support. So, although we’d like to keep branch employees supporting real estate, we’ll have to get creative with branch managers to share support.

We’re not going back to what we had before — this is a new normal. In April, 92% of our mortgage applications were submitted online. We expect that to continue, but support will remain critical. We think activity will ebb and flow, and we might have to pull resources back a bit, but we’re going to make an effort to maintain our dedication to the real estate process.

What lessons or best practices would you like to share?

CR: If we could do it over again, I would move fewer employees at a slower pace. Although we worked through it, I think if we did a phased approach 10 employees at a time, it would be more efficient and less stressful on them as they trained. I’d warn against throwing all employees in there together and trying to sort out who knows what and where the training should begin. 

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