Adapt, Evolve…and Remember the Basics

Editorial
February 20, 2019

Source: DS News (Adapt, Evolve…and Remember the Basics PDF)

As property technology innovation continues, field services companies must ensure they don’t lose their commitment to the human element along the way.

As the U.S. economy remains strong, some experts predict that the housing market trends experienced in 2018—inventory shortage, rising interest rates, and rising home prices—will continue into 2019. They also predict that the number of people who choose to rent will rise as higher mortgage rates limit affordability when buying a home. Some people will be financially unable or unqualified to buy and will have to continue renting. Defaults are projected to reach record lows, and some industry experts do not believe the U.S. will experience another foreclosure crisis anytime soon.

Economists and housing experts also predict that technology will have a significant impact on the housing market not just this year, but in the years to come. Proptech—short for property technology—will lead to significant innovations in the real estate industry. In the mortgage field services industry, a thriving economy and stable housing market have prompted field service companies to expand and evolve their services to meet the changing dynamics of the default and foreclosure market. Fewer mortgage defaults mean a significantly lower volume of foreclosed properties, and as volumes continue to decrease, field servicers must innovate to survive.

INNOVATION AND CUSTOMER COMMITMENT

The cliché that necessity is the mother of invention certainly holds true, as mortgage field services companies must now work to find ways to keep their businesses afloat. Often, they take this downtime as an opportunity to utilize new technologies to improve processes and increase quality. However, the focus should not be solely on developing technologies. Field services companies need to ensure that they continue to provide optimum customer service and other amenities that foster good client relations to remain successful while default property volumes are low.

Over the past several years, the mortgage servicing industry and its field services partners have significantly benefitted from advances in technology. Mobile devices have completely changed the way field services companies do business, and they continue to help improve timelines and enhance the quality of the data submitted to mortgage servicing clients. Field services companies have taken advantage of the “smartness” of smart devices to build controls into their processes to ensure that work is done right the first time.

Another technological trend that helped propel field services is geo-location technology. When taking a photo with a mobile device, it captures the longitude and latitude of where that photo was taken. Field services companies have created applications to capture that data and apply it to the front-of-house photo requirement to ensure the inspector or vendor is at the correct property. If the photo is taken outside a pre-determined number of feet, it sets off a red flag within the app, prompting a request for additional location information from the vendor or inspector within the app. These apps also can collect date- and time-stamp data to help eliminate the possibility of vendors or inspectors accidentally using an old or duplicate photo.

Video and panoramic photo results to complement photo requirements for high-risk property conditions and integrated workflow systems are the latest innovations from the field services industry. Companies also are looking into using drones, and possibly robotics or artificial intelligence (AI), in the future. The industry has made great strides in using technology to generate more efficient results and improve the quality of services.

Field services companies need to refine and improve their processes as new technologies emerge. Technology has propelled the industry from notepads and waiting days for field results to mobile devices transmitting near real-time information. Some of the most significant advances are the quality and accuracy of the information being submitted and processed. The future of field services will continue to be influenced by emerging technologies. The key is how field services companies choose to employ it.

With all of these innovations, field services companies can get lost in building the most efficient or best systems, expending significant time and energy into utilizing the latest technology to improve their processes. While that, and technology itself, are not bad things, field services companies need to stay true to their roots and remain focused on client relationships. The latest gadgets and widgets that offer efficiency and automation do not provide that human touch that will retain clients and build better partnerships. It is the “family-owned” or “mom-and-pop” mentality, in addition to the one-on-one interaction, customer service, and additional communication that will keep a field services company thriving during the lull.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

The practice of regular communication and providing fast and accurate information to mortgage servicing clients by field services companies is a critical component of quality customer service. With field service companies traditionally serving as the eyes, ears, and boots-on-the-ground for the servicing industry, mortgage servicers have come to utilize their field services companies for more than just property preservation. Being aware of the additional resources companies can provide, servicers are now channeling them for information.

Effective communication and partnership are vital to ensuring clients remain up-to-date on disasters, industry news, and policy changes. Field services companies need to stay consistent in providing relevant, timely, and strategic information to clients, vendors, and the industry as a whole. They need to understand the challenges that mortgage servicers face in staying current, with frequent changes in the industry, investor and insurer guidelines, and a multitude of critical issues to assure compliance and reduce potential out-of-pocket costs.

In addition to general blasts of pertinent information to clients regarding industry news, legislative updates or policy changes, field services companies need to be better partners at identifying information relevant to individual client needs. For example, single vacant house fires often occur in many cities or towns across the U.S. The local news will report it, but how often does the mortgage servicer get that news, especially for occurrences in small towns or rural areas? Even if they receive the news quickly, they may not have all of the property information from previous inspections and work completed readily available. Field services companies should research the news for information on potential property damage and provide a report to the individual client with updated property results. This level of personal service and information is even more critical following a major disaster, such as a hurricane or the widespread wildfires in California near the end of 2018. Long lists of affected ZIP codes are readily available, but taking the next step to research damage at the individual address level provides the servicer with more targeted data and the ability to act quicker and make better business decisions.

Additionally, local governments across the country routinely draft and enact laws that directly impact the preservation industry, and field services companies should consider the importance of actively tracking relevant legislation. While servicers take the lead on compliance, proactive field services companies have an opportunity to serve as a secondary resource for acquiring critical information and taking the concept of protecting their clients’ interests to the next level. This includes not only arming servicers with legislative information but also providing them with insights into the type of environment the legislation aims to effect. If any information brings to light an issue that servicers may speak to directly, an opportunity may present itself for them to get in front of the issue and reach out to that particular government.

Maintaining close working relationships with those government officials, in addition to investors including HUD, FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is also imperative to remaining intimately aware of all new regulations and regulatory interpretations. As advocates for their clients, field services companies must proactively work with investors to develop strategies to improve operational efficiencies. Company leadership should be instrumental in assisting investors in creating rules and regulations that save time and money for both their clients and investors.

Other avenues created to foster constructive dialogue and provide better customer service within the industry include regular conference calls, webinars, and in-person events. Representatives from all facets of the industry, including the HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, VA, mortgage field services companies, and mortgage servicing corporations should be invited to participate, providing attendees with the opportunity to engage in discussions that tackle the most pressing industry issues. By involving all facets of the industry directly through educational face-to-face presentations and outreach, field services companies can position themselves to successfully obtain and share information in near real-time for the benefit of not just servicing clients but the industry itself.

MAINTAINING BALANCE

While remaining innovative and embracing technology is essential for mortgage field servicers, companies need to walk a fine line and refrain from putting so much emphasis on it that it impacts customer service and the valuable relationships that have been built. Technology and customer service need to work hand-in-hand to ensure clients are receiving the highest level of service at all times. An automated system may be beneficial when working an order, but nothing is more critical than adding a human element to a business partnership. The most valuable assets at any company are the employees and, in field services, the inspector/ contractor network as well. Offering additional communications or services that feature those assets will aid any company in remaining an industry leader, even when volumes decrease.

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CHEIF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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VP, Finance

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the vice president of finance for Safeguard. Joe leads the accounting and information security departments, and is a key leader in the management of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets. He also leads the service supply chain including vendor sourcing, field quality control, and delivery, in addition to the quality assurance function for the company.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.