Reflections from the rearview mirror.

AuthorHuff, Phil


An industry executive distills some essential lessons learned from a career in the mortgage industry.

Later this year, I'll be winding down my tenure as chief executive officer (CEO) of a fantastic technology company in the collateral valuation space. It's been a great four years at Platinum Data Solutions. I feel good about what my team and I have accomplished, and I know that I'm leaving the company in trusted hands. [paragraph] After selling eLynx, the electronic document delivery company I cofounded in 1994, I spent a few years with a Midwest private-equity firm as well as a non-mortgage tech firm on the West Coast. I was lucky to get those years away from the mortgage industry before I came on board at Platinum in 2012. [paragraph] The time away gave me space to gain some added perspective, and those experiences were a good antidote for the myopia that tends to develop when we spend a lot of time in any one area. It didn't take long for me to regain connection with all of the things I've always loved about this industry: its people, its idiosyncrasies, its desire to repair itself, and its boundless opportunities for innovation and goodness. [paragraph] A lot of folks have asked me what I plan to do once my time with Platinum winds down. The truth is, I don't know. When I return to work, will I return to the industry? I don't know that, either. [paragraph] What I do know is that it seems only appropriate to pay homage to the industry by passing on the lessons I learned along the way.

Remember why we're here

There's been a lot of talk lately about the future and longevity of the mortgage industry. The survival and success of our industry is reliant on the participation of current and future generations. We need to remember that. We all want meaningful work, but perhaps none as much as the current generation. If profits and blind ambition were the themes of the 1980s and 1990s, the themes of today are collaboration, doing good, and finding meaning in what we do and where we spend.

With all of the challenges our industry faces, it's easy to forget how much good and how much meaning is intrinsically woven into the fabric of our industry. At the end of the day, we're responsible for supporting the unique financial product that enables millions of people to own homes that they otherwise couldn't buy.

I think back to when I bought my first home. 1 was 22 years old and it was so much of a stretch that my Realtor[R] loaned me $2,500 to get that deal closed. It never would have happened without the trust and kindness of a stranger, and it never would have happened without access to a mortgage.

Today when I think back to that first purchase, I don't think about my mortgage. And if we do our jobs right, that's exactly the way it should be. While our jobs within the industry are paramount to us--whether we're lenders, technology vendors, outsourcers or other service providers--we should be the silent conduits. Success is when we do our jobs so well that people can forget we're part of the process.

We're facilitating a fantastic moment, particularly for first-time buyers. A mortgage isn't just financing. It's the entryway to the next stage of life.

When I think about my life in that first house, I remember building a family and those first few years of watching my kids grow in their own backyard. As members of this industry, we open the door to those experiences.

It's easy to get wrapped up in our objectives and forget about the great strides this industry has made. In truth, we are part of a grand history. Prior to the Great Depression, most mortgages required a 50 percent down payment and were amortized over five years. Today it takes considerably less to get into a home. That's the beauty of this industry. It's supported by a government that works to keep our industry aligned with the values on which this country was founded--focused on consumers, which is exactly as it should be.

If it wasn't for the efforts and foresight of our country's leaders after the Depression, the $2,500 loan I received--a monumental sum to me at that time--would not have gotten me any closer to living in that home. It was because of the government's efforts to stimulate the economy after the Great Depression that we now have programs like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which provide individuals and families access to affordable mortgage funds that...

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