Caltabiano: Keeping the mortgage business personal

Joe Caltabiano is one of the top originators in the country. Since 2001, he’s originated more than $2.5 billion in loans. A perennial entry in “top originators” lists, for the last decade Caltabiano has been synonymous with Guaranteed Rate. But he recently left Guaranteed Rate to join a brand-new company, bemortgage, as senior vice president of mortgage banking. MPA recently chatted with Caltabiano about his decision to move, mentoring other originators, and the importance of personal service.

MPA: You were with Guaranteed Rate for a long time. Why the change?
Joe Caltabiano:
I had a great 10 years at Guaranteed Rate, but of course companies evolve in their business plan, so I felt like it was in my best interest to pursue other opportunities. Some companies have designs on being a Quicken Loan model – call this number, fill out this form. But to me, the mortgage business is much more intimate than that, and much more relationship based. I wanted to be a part of a business where we could utilize technology to help me do more loans – not eventually replace me.

The other reason for my move is that this gives me an opportunity to be a mentor to other originators. I’ve closed $2.5 billion in loans; I’ve been one of the top 5 originators in the country. I really want to take on a leadership role and help others succeed. I want to help other people achieve goals that they haven’t thought about except in their wildest dreams. bemortgage has given me the platform to be able to do that.

I can’t help someone based on a 45-minute coaching call; it’s an ongoing process. A lot of loan officers who work for companies that pay thousands of dollars to go outside the company for that. But here I can literally sit down (with loan officers) and break down their business model. I can go with them to client meetings if need be. That’s something I’ve never seen at another company, but bemortgage has given me the opportunity to do that – and we’re getting incredible results with the people who’re coming on board at the company.

MPA: Do you think the industry is becoming too focused on technology at the expense of relationships?
I think technology is a wonderful enhancement for a loan officer. It helps you do things efficiently. But I do think that the homebuying experience is an incredibly personal one, and ultimately technology can’t replace that relationship between a homebuyer and their loan officer.

I think that the focus of a company should be on the interaction and the personal nature of somebody buying a home. It’s not a one-size-fits all situation. I think the average consumer wants to be able to explore information. You certainly need to have a web presence and secure forms of communication, but I think the focus of the industry needs to be on loan officers being able to communicate to their consumers why they should work with them.

MPA: So what attracted you to bemortgage?
It’s loan officer first. What I mean by that is the design of the company, from a marketing and branding standpoint, is to take a secondary role to the loan originator. To put it in perspective, it’s like the difference between playing for the NBA and playing in college. In the NBA, your team name is on your jersey, sure – but your name’s on the back. In college, your name’s not on the back. I wanted to work at a place where I could build out my own brand and image.

The other nice piece is how technology does come into play. A lot of companies try to create and design their own internal technology to create some perceived value of the company. But there are already plenty of mortgage-technology companies out there. If you’re a mortgage company, you should do mortgages. If you’re a technology company, you should do technology. It’s hard to marry both.

When you’re starting a new company, you realize that there are people out there, and all they do is design CRM systems and loan application software. So you can get out there and implement them at light speed.

MPA: After 10 years at Guaranteed Rate, did you worry that leaving would cost you some referral partners or clients?
I’ve done a lot of speaking both at Guaranteed Rate and national events. My message to everybody has always been: Develop friendships, don’t develop referral sources. The people I work with are friends. By design, these are people I’ve enjoyed working with. They’re people who were at my wedding, at my kids’ birthday parties. I’m very comfortable in those relationships. I’ve built these longstanding relationships by design, and they’ll continue to flourish no matter what the name on the front of my jersey is.

But I understand how some loan originators could be nervous about changing companies for that reason. The message I have for them is, “These relationships are yours, not the company’s. If you treat your customers right, people will follow you to the ends of the earth.”

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Caltabiano: Mortgage industry presents more opportunities, challenges than ever

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