MReport March 2020

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M R EP O RT | 31 EXPERT INSIGHTS ON: LENDING 'We Have to Help Them Make It' Plaza Home Mortgage's new SVP of Treasury and Finance, Michelle Richardson, said more needs to be done to help millennials and the youngest buyers achieve homeownership. M ichelle Richardson is the new SVP of Treasury and Finance for Plaza Home Mortgage, a wholesale and correspondent lender. In this role, Richardson oversees the compa- ny's Treasury department includ- ing warehouse relationships, cash management, and the corporate funding department. Prior to joining Plaza, Richardson was the VP of Treasury for loanDepot, where she established the company's enterprise treasury function and supervised all settlement and fund- ing activities for the organization. Earlier, Richardson held finance positions with Icon Residential, T-Force, and IMPAC Mortgage. Richardson spoke to MReport on her new role with Plaza, chal- lenges facing the housing industry, and what can be done to help millennial and Gen Z buyers. M // What are you most excited about in this new role? RICHARDSON // I'm thrilled to be here. Plaza is a successful or- ganization and I'm honored to be part of their journey. I've known the leadership team here for a while, and there's a shared passion of helping borrowers achieve the dream of homeownership and de- livering the best possible customer experience to our clients, so this is a good fit. I'm most looking forward to working alongside the team here. They're pillars in the industry and I'm excited to be learning from them and help- ing them achieve their mission. Hopefully I can add value quickly and contribute to that. M // What are some of the biggest challenges housing faces in 2020? RICHARDSON // Probably the biggest challenge in terms of lending is whether or not the refi boom continues into 2020 and how deep into the year will it go. If, as some economists believe, it drops off, will purchase pick up the slack? One of the headwinds for purchase has been lack of in- ventory. I think this struggle will continue into 2020. As a group, lenders made some significant progress in terms of margin compression and profitability in the second half of last year. This should be an area of keen focus continuing in 2020. M // Do you believe that rising incomes will result in more home purchases this year? RICHARDSON // Potentially. But, so far, I haven't seen a drastic rise in income, even though unem- ployment is at an all-time low. If incomes do rise, and the high levels of consumer confidence continue, this should bolster in 2020. But, on the other side, hous- ing costs are also increasing and so are healthcare prices, childcare costs, etc. So you have to look at both sides there. However, there is a good chance that purchase, as a percentage of overall originations, will increase this year. So, I think it will be an opportunity for lend- ers, like Plaza, who specialize in purchase, to grow market share. M // What can be done to help Millennial and Gen Z buyers achieve homeownership? RICHARDSON // We have to help them make it. We have to help make mortgages more ac- cessible to these potential buyers. As a group, millennials are very smart and very resourceful and if there's information out there they will find it. It's up to us, as an industry, to share this information and help younger buyers make informed decisions on what their options are. They're used to all these apps. They're used to being able to have instant information. So the more that we can provide them those options the better. At the same time, we have to expand the array of products that help it make sense for them and get them into homes. Here I'm thinking of first time homebuyer products, ARMs renovation prod- ucts, and even non-QM for self- employed Millennials. There was a small uptick in the last quarter of 2019, so I'm hopeful that will continue into 2020. M // What do you think will be the biggest trend for the housing industry over the coming year? RICHARDSON // If all the econo- mists are correct, 2020 is supposed to be a fairly flat year. But keep in mind that 2019 was supposed to be a down year and now some observers are saying it might surpass $2.4 trillion, making it one of the best years on record. Overall, however I tend to agree with the GSEs and the economists on 2020. But there's the potential for volatility due to global turmoil and political uncertainty, which could affect rates. Being an election year, it is in the Administration's best interest to keep the economy strong and rates steady, if not low. So if the rate mini-boom con- tinues, Plaza can pivot accordingly. But I think 2020's going to be more about purchase market share growth. At Plaza, we're going to be focusing on continuing to invest in technology, continuing to serve the industry and helping to get borrowers into homes. Recession has been a hot word for quite some time, but it hasn't happened yet. As I said, this year there is the potential for volatility, but over the last few months with the things that have occurred in politics and Brexit, there hasn't been a drastic move in rates or consumer confidence. So, I was impressed with that. But again, anything can happen. "It's up to us, as an industry, to share this information and help younger buyers make informed decisions on what their options are."

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