Alan Jaffa Discusses the Future of Field Services

The December issue of DS News featured an article by Safeguard Properties CEO Alan Jaffa titled Surveying the Field: The Future of Field Services

Surveying the Field: The Future of Field Services

Economists say that although the U.S. has come a long way since the recession a few years ago, we still have significant work to do for the economy to bounce back.  Speaking at this year’s National Property Preservation Conference in Washington, D.C. on November 5, Leonard Kiefer, Freddie Mac’s deputy chief economist, said that the housing market will play a big part in the country’s economic recovery.

Defaulted mortgage volumes are down, the market has seen significant gains, and housing prices are up 20 percent as the economy continues to improve, according to Kiefer.  He predicts that the overall U.S. economy will improve in 2015.

What is difficult to predict is how this new, highly scrutinized era in housing will impact the market in the coming year. Regulations and new legislation have been implemented quickly to ensure borrowers and communities are protected, but we are navigating unchartered waters as the industry tries to regain the trust from borrowers and manage these new directives created by investors and regulators. It is difficult to forecast, without a crystal ball and a little magic, what the future holds for mortgage servicers and the housing industry. What we can do in the field services industry is provide support and implement processes and controls to ensure compliance for our mortgage servicing clients.

As we prepare to enter the new year, the field services industry also is faced with new challenges, all of them centered on the heightened scrutiny from investors and regulators.  Servicers are taking a deeper dive into the operations and processes their field services partners utilize to stay in compliance with these new and expanding requirements.  As we enter the new era in housing, field services companies must stay ahead of the curve by focusing on compliance and quality control, utilizing new technology, ongoing internal training programs, and learning opportunities in vendor management.

NEW REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT LEADS TO INDUSTRY CHANGES

Local ordinances are a big theme in 2015.  Cities are getting more aggressive in passing and enforcing legislation and codes, and investors require that field services companies follow all of these local laws and ordinances.  National businesses are challenged to comply with the thousands of regulations across the country, even when they contradict some of the requirements from servicing clients and investors.

For example, one city ordinance requires field service vendors to use vegetable oil in the winterization process.  The city claims this needs to be done for environmental reasons; however, vendors are specifically instructed by our clients and investors to use antifreeze.  It’s a no-win situation.  Either method field servicers choose to utilize, they will be performing work that is out of compliance.

Bonds are another emerging trend in municipal regulation as cities try to cover the cost of maintaining abandoned properties.  Several cities across the country have implemented these bond ordinances, requiring servicers to pay up to $10,000 up front for each abandoned property in case any code issues arise.  If something needs addressed at the property, cities use some of that bond money to cover the cost of the work.  Once the property is sold, any leftover funds are returned to the servicer or bank minus an administrative fee that varies by city.  This is a great example of cities being unaware of the role of field servicing companies in maintaining these properties.  In 2015, field services companies will be challenged to continue outreach and education of municipal officials across the country.

On the state level, several have created regulations that specifically target property preservation rather than the servicers or banks.  For example, Maine recently passed legislation that requires field services vendors to be licensed as debt collectors.  Again, many of these regulations are created based in misperceptions of the field services industry. Developing a partnership and open dialogue with all levels of government is essential for field services companies to foster relationships and steer appropriate property preservation legislation.

As regulations continue to change, so does the servicing industry and scope of services. For example, field services companies want to see a shift toward servicing abandoned presale properties in “neighborhood-like” condition to help mitigate neighbor complaints and code violations.  This includes the possibility of mulching, weeding, and cosmetic trimming of shrubs, in addition to replacing gutters, power-washing the house, and mitigating other common code issues.

Another shift in field services toward the installation of clear boarding has already begun; however, in the next year or so, it will become more of a requirement.  Products like SecureView will be required for boarding broken windows and doors rather than using plywood or other materials that make the home stand out and cause blight in the neighborhood.

Pre-conveyance inspections are another industry change on the horizon.  These will help to significantly reduce reconveyance and other common presale property issues by identifying discrepancies prior to conveyance.  This will save servicers the extra time and money reconveyances demand.

COMPLIANCE, AUDITS AND QUALITY CONTROLS

Field services companies are inundated with requests for information from their servicing clients as they feel the increased pressure from regulators.  From questionnaires to in-depth onsite audits, requests for information have gone from a security focus to reviewing every detail of the company’s business operations.  It is important that field services companies have the appropriate resources to respond and manage these requests.  A way to mitigate issues before the client sees them in an audit is to conduct internal comprehensive risk assessments.  Coupled with the proper quality controls and checks in place, field services companies can minimize discrepancies identified in client audits.

Quality control for national field services companies begins at data collection and is consistent throughout all of their processes and procedures.  Smart scripts currently guide inspectors and vendors completing work at properties across the country.  They will continue to evolve in 2015 to reflect changing requirements and satisfy client needs.

As an inspector or vendor begins the script on a mobile device, each answer he/she gives initiates the next question.  If pertinent information varies greatly from one property visit to the next, the script is designed to flag the discrepancy to ensure that the vendor is at the correct property or is properly completing the script.  For example, if an inspector arrives at a property and states that it has a one-car garage, but in previous inspections it was reported that the property has a two-car garage, that inspector will be instructed to follow steps to ensure he/ she is at the correct property.  These smart scripts allow the field services company to have better controls in place and mitigate issues in the field.

TECHNOLOGY IS KEY IN 2015

As servicers seek assistance from their field servicing partners in complying with new legislation and regulations, they want greater visibility, not only into the work completed by field services companies, but also into who is completing and processing that work.  Field servicers need to continue to invest heavily in technology for 2015 to provide that level of detail and other data to servicing clients.

The best way to give servicers a full-scale look into the work field services companies complete on their behalf is by creating a customized interface with a real-time, two-way feed for data and information.  That level of integration with servicing clients will allow them access to real-time property information and it gives them the transparency they are seeking.

We cannot mention technology without recognizing the huge impact mobile devices have had on the field services industry.  Mobile devices have completely changed the way we do business, and continue to help improve timelines and enhance the quality of the information submitted to servicing clients.  Field services companies are taking advantage of the “smarts” of smart devices to build controls into their processes to ensure the work is done right the first time.

Another technological trend that will continue to change the face of field services is geolocation technology.  When a photo is taken with a mobile device, it captures the longitude and latitude of where that photo was taken.  Field service 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 the request of more location information from the vendor or inspector within the app.  Additionally, these apps can collect date- and time-stamp data to help eliminate the possibility of vendors or inspectors accidentally using an old or duplicate photo.

In addition to mobile and geolocation technologies, field services companies will be piloting the use of video in the field in 2015.  The first steps to utilizing video is to determine its best use and ensure field services companies, servicers, and investors have systems that can handle the larger video files.

Once the red tape is cleared, the possibilities are endless for video in the field.  Inspectors and vendors can video-conference their field services partners to ensure they are at the correct property.  Damage repairs can be authorized on-site and in real-time utilizing video because it can show that damage in more detail than a photo.  Many other decisions can be made in real-time, helping to improve the maintenance of the vacant property, enhance quality controls and decrease the time it takes to relay the property information to the servicing client.

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES AND VENDOR MANAGEMENT

As the scrutiny on the housing industry trickles down to field services companies, they too need to monitor and influence the behaviors of their inspector and vendor networks.  Just like internal field services employees need consistent training to keep up with changing regulations and requirements, inspectors and vendors also need learning management for themselves and their crews to stay ahead of the curve.

Implementing a learning management system for their national vendor networks is a trend that will gain momentum in the coming year.  This will allow field services companies to deliver content and track consumption to ensure the newest policies and requirements are properly communicated to vendors and that they are sharing this information with their crews and subcontractors.

Field services companies also need to ensure that their inspector and vendor networks are delivering the highest quality of work.  To do so, they must audit their work and business processes.  Compliance to licensing and background check requirements is reviewed, along with the vendor’s operations and systems during these audits, often conducted by third-parties.

It is difficult to predict the outcome of this new era in housing.  Heightened regulations are governing how field services companies complete work on defaulted and foreclosed properties across the country.  While borrowers and neighborhoods need to be protected, we are unsure of the effects these new rules will have on the servicing and field services industries in the future.  But field servicers do play a big role in this new era of housing. We must continue to serve as the eyes and ears of the servicing industry and provide the support and compliance our servicing clients need.

Please click here to view Surveying the Field: The Future of Field Services [pdf].

About Safeguard 
Safeguard Properties is the mortgage field services industry leader, preserving vacant and foreclosed properties across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Safeguard provides the highest quality service to our clients by leveraging innovative technologies and proactively developing industry best practices and quality control procedures. Consistent with Safeguard’s values and mission, we are an active supporter of hundreds of charitable efforts across the country. Annually, Safeguard gives back to communities in partnership with our employees, vendors and clients. We also are dedicated to working with community leaders and officials to eliminate blight and stabilize neighborhoods. Safeguard is dedicated to preserving today and protecting tomorrow.  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.