Elizabeth Squires Shares Insights on Technology, Compliance within the Industry

Safeguard in the News
November 2, 2021

Source: DS News

As 2022 approaches, property preservation companies are navigating through challenges presented by low foreclosure/REO volumes, navigating regulatory challenges posed by maintaining properties and preparing for an upswing in those volumes as moratoria and homeowners exit forbearance.

As with every other sector of the industry, the long shadow of COVID continues to stretch over both daily tasks and long-term planning, demanding that prop preservation companies attend to immediate needs while also anticipating where things will be headed in the new year.

Amid this daunting landscape, DS News spoke with industry experts from companies including Carrington, MCS, MSI, and Safeguard to learn how to maintain focus, balance, and productivity.

A Matter of Numbers
The issues facing the property preservation sector are familiar to anyone who has been watching the housing and mortgage markets over the past two years. Insufficient housing inventories were straining the system even before COVID-19. The arrival of the pandemic has tightened the screws on multiple fronts, ranging from the decrease in foreclosure volumes (and thus REO inventories) to ongoing labor shortages and supply-chain issues with such needed supplies as lumber and other crucial materials.

These issues have become stressors that have forced many vendors to rethink how they do business and strategize how best to weather the storm until relief appears. Unfortunately, for some, that wait has proven too long. Baker Breedlove, President and CEO of Mortgage Specialists, International (MSI), said, “It’s driven a lot of vendors out of the property preservation business and into new construction, renovations, or other more lucrative areas.”

“The moratoriums on evictions and the forbearance plans were all put in place to help homeowners who were negatively affected by COVID,” said Chad Mosley, President of Mortgage Contracting Services (MCS). However, he added, “That has a downstream impact on the field services industry and the property preservation business.”

According to Breedlove and several other experts, the lack of qualified property preservation vendors is felt most pronouncedly in rural areas.

“By definition, if there are fewer people, there are fewer people to get to the different properties.” Among other issues, this means it takes the existing companies longer to get through the available workload. “It takes more ‘windshield’ time,” Breedlove noted.

Nor are the property preservation sector’s challenges limited to the impacts of the COVID-mitigating policies such as foreclosure moratoria or forbearance. It’s not just about volumes, as Breedlove explained. Like countless other industries both nationally and globally, property preservation is suffering from labor shortages combined with an ongoing increase in the cost of materials.

Although the price has moderated in the last few months, for example, Chicago lumber futures traded at $707 per thousand board feet in late October. That’s less than half of a record high of $1,711.2 hit in May, but still well above pre-pandemic levels of around $400. A tight labor market and wildfires in western Canada have only worsened things, especially when combined with supply-chain issues. The cost of other building materials has also increased significantly since 2019, although without the dramatic price swings of lumber.

For instance, one of the large chlorine plants in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was damaged during Hurricane Laura, resulting in a shortage of chlorine, which then impacted property preservation companies that handle pool maintenance. For property preservation companies, 2021 has presented a mosaic of broad economic impacts alongside more localized issues that may spider-web out into more widespread consequences.

“Typically, when there’s an increased cost and goods, whether that be through materials or labor, that’s passed on to the end-user, whoever that is,” Breedlove said. “We see that in new construction, remodels, etc. However, on the property preservation side, most costs are fixed.”

Although there is a process in place that allows vendors to submit allowable increases to the Federal Housing Authority, Breedlove noted that “when inflation is hovering around 5%, it’s unrealistic to request that on all services, even though [costs of] inflation, materials, and labor impact all services.”

Since the low-volume environment results from issues beyond any property preservation company’s control, Mosley told DS News that MCS has used this slower period to ensure it is ready for when volumes do return to more normal levels.

Further complicating matters is a trend toward consolidation that has been at play throughout the property preservation sector. Mosley pointed out that decreased volumes, after all, are not solely the offspring of COVID-19. Those volumes have been well below the heights seen after the 2008 financial crisis for years. When combined with a robust economy in 2018 and 2019, the property preservation sector was already experiencing a consolidation trend well before the word “pandemic” became a staple of the evening news last year.

That consolidation meant fewer companies to choose from—a challenge for servicers, according to Candace Russell, VP of Post-Sale, Carrington Mortgage Services.

“There’s good and bad in having the industry consolidate,” Russell noted. “New companies can bring new ideas to the table, and they have different ways of sourcing their boots on the ground.”

When confronting these numerous challenges and figuring out how to do more with less, property preservation has turned to the same resource as countless other industries over the past 18 months. When in doubt, turn to tech.

Leveraging Technology While Maintaining the Human Element
Breedlove told DS News, “We focus on the end-user experiences as much as possible to try to find efficiencies to help our vendor network out.” For example, Breedlove noted that because vendors’ team members might need to spend more time getting from property to property,” properly leveraged technology can hopefully help release some of the pressure by allowing those workers to spent “less time with some of the administrative tasks.”

Ensuring that communications are swift and efficient can help streamline processes, perhaps requiring only one trip to a property rather than several, thus saving the contractor or other vendor valuable time.

“We want to make sure we have those strong relationships with our vendors as well,” Breedlove said. “It’s not a ‘rep code,’ it’s a person named Phil or Fred or Susan. It’s not a number; it’s a property. It is imperative that you do not get too disconnected to the end-user experience in our situation—from the vendors.”

MCS’ Mosley echoed that sentiment.

“We see our vendors as our lifeblood and treat them as business partners,” Mosley said. “We have a lot of tenured vendors in our network that have worked with MCS for a number of years. So those vendor relationships are deep and strong.”

Mosley said MCS’ average employee tenure is strong as well, at six years, with the management team in place for nearly a decade. “It’s very much about people, whether we’re talking about our team members, our clients, or our partners in the field. Making sure our vendors are successful is one clear key to success.”

A 30-year staple of the property preservation sector, Safeguard Properties offers a mobile app for inspections, enabling inspectors to check boxes for specific items and take and upload photos when prompted, rather than returning to an office before doing that work.

Safeguard’s Safeview Inspect Mobile is a real-time, mobile inspection application designed to provide full-service field support. Smart scripting enables customizable survey forms for different work types, which combines with industry-first multimedia capturing technology and built-in risk mitigation features such as location-based services.

“We want to decrease the barrier to entry to use our apps as much as possible,” said Elizabeth Squires, Director of Client Account Management for Safeguard.

Also on the tech front, MCS utilizes a proprietary technology system and integrations with various third-party systems of investors, insurers, and other business partners across the country. The proprietary MCS technology is a workflow management system featuring three modules. Employees and associates use the internal system—MCS 360—to issue and review work orders, helping drive quality performance. Second, the Vendor 360 module allows vendors to see what work has been assigned to them, deadlines, and other relevant info. Finally, Client 360 enables clients to place and review work orders, view results, look at photos, or run reports.

“The vendors rely on our system,” Mosley said. “We pride ourselves on our technology; we want it to be very, very user friendly. Most things come back to process, people, and technology, which are the three core focuses for us. You have to have the right vendors, good relationships with those vendors, and the technology in place to be able to transact and work with those vendors on a day-to-day basis and wrap that around sound processes.”

According to Mosley, the adaptability and flexibility provided by these tools give MCS a significant advantage in maintaining those relationships and tackling the headwinds facing property preservation.

“We want to make the vendor experience as flexible and nimble as possible,” Mosley said.

According to Breedlove, MSI also uses proprietary and third-party technologies that work together to provide users with the information they need in a concise, informative, and intuitive matter, regardless of the technology used at the front end.

 

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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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CHIEF 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 and oversees the legal, human resources, training, and compliance departments. Linda’s responsibilities cover regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human resources and training initiatives, compliance, litigation and claims management, and mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans over 20 years, and Linda’s experience covers 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 the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & 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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Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.