This week’s HW+ member spotlight features James Polinori, chief marketing officer at Geneva Financial. Below, Polinori answers questions about the housing industry:
HW Media: What is your current favorite HW+ article and why?
James Polinori: “Applying lessons learned to adapt to a competitive market” by Aaron Davis. I enjoyed Aaron’s approach in communicating to panic-stricken originators. Those of us that have been around long enough have a touch of PTSD from the “Implode-O-Meter” days. What we are experiencing right now is absolutely not a 2008 scenario.
Originators need to be better prepared for the ebbs and flows of our industry and this article serves as a great starting guide. I forwarded it to all our originators internally.
HW Media: What’s your favorite benefit from your HW+ membership and/or why are you enjoying the HW+ community?
James Polinori: The LendingLife newsletter is my favorite and most utilized benefit. The structure of Geneva Financial minimizes middle management in order to pay originators higher compensation. This requires leaders to be in the trenches more than a traditional structure might. The LendingLife newsletter helps me stay on top of the industry efficiently and rapidly. Doom scrolling news isn’t productive for anyone.
HW Media: What is your most useful tech tool?
James Polinori: Our Customer Data Platform. Proper data marketing is incredibly overlooked or underutilized in our industry. The base functionality of our platform has allowed me to build a robust data marketing strategy encased with automation.
We’ve created a hands-off system for originators to know instantly when there is an opportunity in their database — from rate monitoring to credit pulls, MLS listing, likely to move and more — when a borrower opportunity arises, by the time the LO gets the alert, their prospect already has received communication and a deal is generated.
Our goal is to generate two to three more deals from every transaction an LO closes. Our data marketing plus automation of client reviews, referral requests and listing agent marketing helps us hit that target.
HW Media: If you could pick a different career, what would it be?
James Polinori: A rock singer or producer. I trained vocally for 12 years and had big dreams. Life had different plans for me and marketing was definitely the path I was meant to be on. I have, however, always tried to work music into my brand strategy for every company I’ve represented.
For Geneva Financial, one of the first things I went to work on was crafting the company culture – which brought about our BE A GOOD HUMAN initiative. That culture journey led to the song “Good Human” that I wrote and produced. We released it to all streaming platforms with low expectation but managed to hit #83 on iTunes pop charts in the UK and over 150k streams across all platforms in the 4 months it’s been released. You can hear it here.
HW Media: When do you feel success in your job?
James Polinori: I had just completed the first phase of data marketing plans, integration and automation when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. As we know, rates sunk down to the 2s, and our system was generating so much business the originators were drowning in applications. Good problems. The amount of emails I received from LO’s at how impressed they were with the amount of deals we created for them was too many to count. Happy LO’s is the best ROI tracking a mortgage CMO can hope for.
HW Media: What do you think will be the big themes for the housing market in 2023?
James Polinori: I think diversification will be a primary theme next year. Lenders, particularly IMB’s, should always be looking at ways to stay ahead of the curve beyond the usual “We have non-QM” approach. A company, regardless of industry, should always be evolving. I’ve been in the real estate and mortgage sector for 15 years, but in my 32-year career I’ve experienced multiple industries and the biggest difference I’ve noticed is the disconnect between marketing and product teams in our industry. Product offerings should be a creative process. A marketing team worth their salt can offer angles, white labels and strategies that can make a product fly.
HW Media: What’s one thing that people aren’t paying attention to that you think they should be paying attention to?
James Polinori: A deeper relationship with their borrowers. We’ve been a traditionally transactional industry and that can have a negative effect on business during downturn periods. A deeper relationship starts with that first conversation.
I coach our LO’s to use the data marketing and automation we’ve built for them as a value-add when trying to land a deal. “Mr. Jones, you have a lot of options of companies to do a mortgage transaction with. I’m more interested in our relationship beyond the transaction. We’re going to help you manage your mortgage as an asset, not just a monthly payment. If you close your loan with me, we’ll be monitoring the market hourly against the terms of your mortgage. The second we see an opportunity in rate, equity or other areas, we’ll set up a consultation to determine if there’s a move you can make.”
Marketing teams can help their LO’s deepen those relationships by focusing on sticky factors in post-close marketing systems. We’ve created an HGTV style ecosystem for our borrowers — DIY, design, recipes, home management — all things homeowners want to engage with. The mortgage industry standard open rate for email is 14% — our weekly Home By Geneva newsletter has a 45% open rate.
We are fostering real relationships with our borrowers. They buy our BE A GOOD HUMAN t-shirts, they cook our original recipes and they send us photos of their DIY projects. Long-game: they remember who did their original mortgage loan and are far less apt to work with anyone else.
HW Media: If you could change or implement one piece of housing regulation, what would it be and why?
James Polinori: Personally, I’d like to see some regulations catch-up with the times. Solid black and white advisories on working with non-English speaking borrowers, especially marketing in various languages. The industry is now more diverse than ever and subsequently, their clients. Regulations around social media and video marketing need to be updated as well.
To remain competitive in the modern social marketing environment, LO’s and companies need to be able to move fast. Waiting a week for marketing and compliance to agree on a social media piece that conforming loan limits changed is ineffective. My initiative to my team is we hit the streets within 90 minutes of breaking news.
We’re able to do that because I’ve acquired the compliance knowledge necessary to move quickly — but I think a deeper dive is needed from agencies as more and more LO’s are grabbing their phones and hitting records instead of waiting — and who can blame them?
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