Alan Jaffa Discusses Adapting to Industry Changes

The October issue of Mortgage Banking Magazine featured a column by Safeguard Properties CEO Alan Jaffa titled Investing in the Forces of Change.

INVESTING IN THE FORCES OF CHANGE

TOO MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN, too many hands in the pot—whatever the saying, it describes the mortgage servicing industry and the multitude of external regulatory and compliance forces that continue to mold the industry.  But these forces are not limited to those coming from clients, the federal government or local municipalities.  They are coming from within the industry as well.
 
In response to the overwhelming and constantly changing compliance landscape, field services companies are proactively developing industry best practices and quality-control procedures to ensure compliance with existing regulations, and to plan for those yet to come.

Evolution of the industry
The volume of vacant and foreclosed properties will remain high for some time.  Yet the frenetic pace has slowed, which offers field services companies like Safeguard Properties breathing room to enhance their focus on technology research and development.

Smart devices, coupled with business intelligence, are changing the industry paradigm and shaping the way technology is used to ensure that vendors in the field operate effectively and efficiently through every facet of the default management process. 

At Safeguard Properties’ annual Vendor Conference this past June, attendees were asked how many had integrated mobile technology into their business practices—94 percent responded positively.  The increased reach of mobile networks and lower costs have helped with rapid adoption of mobile devices among vendors.

Safeguard’s investment in the development of mobile technology is by far our largest dollar spend.  We recognize that it is not going to be the only driver for us as a company, but it is going to be a significant part of what we are doing and where we are headed.

For example, INSPI Mobile®, our proprietary mobile inspections platform, was designed to ensure the accuracy, quality and timeliness of inspections.  The platform uses smart script technology to guide the inspector through the entire inspection reporting process, including the tracking, labeling and time-stamping of all photos.  Because all photos are time-stamped, photos taken during a prior visit cannot be reused, thus further minimizing the risk for fraud.

More than 98 percent of all inspections Safeguard’s inspector network performs are completed through this application, with close to 70 percent of the inspections Safeguard performs in a given month reported in under two hours of completion—a process that was previously counted in days.

Another new proprietary application we’ve begun to roll out to our vendors is PhotoDirect.  Vendors can take pictures of property damage, upload them while still at the property and transmit the photos in real time.  These photos can then be made available for client viewing.
More than 1 billion photos flow through Safeguard annually, along with many millions of data points. We have invested in end-to-end processes and the supporting technology that can help our clients make informed decisions, many times in real time, while we have someone at a property.  In addition, our clients can in turn use this information to document their own compliance with industry and regulatory requirements.

Forward-looking approaches
New and tighter regulations are squeezing an already highly regulated mortgage industry, putting players at greater risk than before.  This scrutiny not only affects mortgage companies, but cascades down to field services companies and their vendors and employees.  But it doesn’t stop there. It cascades even further down to subcontractors who also must comply with all regulatory requirements.

Safeguard has always conducted audits of our vendors, but over the past year we have instituted additional audit procedures to align with the new laws and regulations and the increased level of third-party oversight.

Safeguard’s business process and compliance audits are a proactive way to provide vendor network support to ensure effective operational controls, adequate screening, training and quality assurance.  We firmly believe that just as our client audits have helped Safeguard improve our own business processes, vendors will experience similar benefits.

Background checks of employees and vendors are a key component of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulations.  Safeguard performs background checks on the principals of all of its vendor companies as part of the initial onboarding and credentialing process.

Additionally, as part of our guidelines, we require our contractors to perform background checks on their employees and subcontractors who perform services on our behalf.  As an additional compliance measure, and part of the annual business process and compliance audit, Safeguard audits our vendor’s employee/subcontractor files to ensure that background check information is available for anyone who steps on a property where Safeguard is performing services.

We are in an environment where we have to minimize the risks to our clients and to properties.  By being proactive, and in a sense by self-regulating, we will help our industry comply with the new requirements.

Creative thinking
Safeguard has long been the standard bearer for introducing best practices into the field services industry.  By utilizing the vast amount of metadata collected daily at properties across the country, valuable business intelligence is helping to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the work completed by the vendors who are at properties every day.  This information also is being used by clients to make more effective business decisions about the properties in their portfolios.

By looking at industry problems or situations from a fresh perspective, Safeguard has been able to optimize mobile location and tracking to help ensure the right people are at the right property at the right time.

By utilizing mobile’s GPS functionality and the millions of data points in our system, each property is geocoded, feeding real-time location information to our mobile technology platforms.  This satellite information is used to triangulate where the vendor is, and because it is fully integrated into the company’s secured internal system, it can provide additional guidance through property verification information.

Embedded metadata also is being used as a control when photos are submitted from the field. Technology has advanced to the point where date, time and GPS coordinates associated with a photo can be locked.  By deploying an automated process that looks at embedded metadata, Safeguard is able to identify if work orders are submitted with reused, cropped, altered, fraudulent and other ineligible photos tagged as suspect and block their submission.

To house the massive amount of data being collected and stored, data centers are an integral part of a field services company’s infrastructure and data security strategy. This exponential data growth led to a strategic decision by Safeguard to shift its technological paradigm.

Traditional disaster-recovery models and regional Internet service providers had to be replaced with global Internet active/active data centers as well as be geographically dispersed. This data-center model gives Safeguard the necessary agility and scalability, and protects the company’s technology from environmental threats and regional disasters through its physical construction and service offerings, in line with Safeguard’s geographic-dispersion strategy.

In addition, Safeguard’s investment in technology ensures that the data centers can support the company’s current and future needs by providing real-time disaster-recovery capabilities and scalability options to provide excess capacity as needed.

The next technological evolution that will enhance quality will be the use of real-time video from the property.  For example, the field services industry’s No. 1 risk is determining if a property is occupied or vacant.  With video, if there is a question about a property’s status, the inspector can share the live video stream right from the property and another set of eyes can help with the property status determination.

Or, when a vendor is submitting a damages bid, it can use video to provide a detailed view of the issue and get approval while still on site, potentially eliminating additional trips to the property to repair damages.

Moving forward
As the industry continues to evolve to meet new requirements, the field services industry, whose job it is to protect and preserve vacant properties on behalf of the mortgage servicing industry, has made the business decision to embrace this new world head-on.  We’re proving we can adapt quickly to market changes by looking ahead and using creative thinking to advance industry standards and quality control procedures.

Alan Jaffa is chief executive officer of Valley View, Ohio-based  Safeguard Properties, the largest mortgage field service company in the United States.  He can be reached at alan.jaffa@safeguardproperties.com.

Please click here for the Investing in the Forces of Change column in PDF.

About Safeguard
 
Safeguard Properties is the largest mortgage field services company in the U.S. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and based in Valley View, Ohio, the company inspects and maintains defaulted and foreclosed properties for mortgage servicers, lenders, and other financial institutions. Safeguard employs approximately 1,700 people, in addition to a network of thousands of contractors nationally.
Website: www.safeguardproperties.com.

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CHIEF 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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Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for oversight of the Control, Quality Assurance, Accounting and Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

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.