Joe Iafigliola Talks Disaster Response for Mortgage Servicers
Safeguard in the News
July 6, 2021
Source: DS News
The only sure thing is death, taxes—and natural disasters. Whether it involves hurricanes along the east and southern coasts, tornadoes in the Midwest, earthquakes near fault lines, rivers and other bodies of water overflowing after heavy periods of rain, or a more widespread health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, not a year goes by where the industry isn’t challenged to deal with the impact and aftermath of these events—sometimes with the same areas getting hit multiple times in a relatively short span.
Disaster planning has become a core component of mortgage servicing, said Tom O’Connell, SVP of Default Management, Planet Home Lending. “The storms are getting more violent—it doesn’t matter where you live, whether you are in Iowa and having your crops destroyed or in Houston with 70 inches of rains in two days, in Puerto Rico with earthquakes, or wildfires in the West. Preparedness is important. Your customers will be impacted, and when they are impacted, they will want to talk to somebody.”
DS News talked to several industry experts to get their advice on best disaster-planning practices for homeowners and for the servicing industry.
Early Response Is Essential
“It is critical to visit the impacted property as soon as possible after a disaster and once it is safe to assess immediate issues,” said Joe Iafigliola, CFO, Safeguard Properties. “Although the property may already have damage, if we allow the elements to continue to damage the property, it may go from thousands of dollars of damage to a total loss. It is essential to immediately prevent damages from worsening.”
Depending on the disaster, the servicer’s headquarters may also be impacted, so it is essential that staff be able to work from secondary or remote locations, said Steve Schachter, EVP, Market Leader of Mortgage, Sourcepoint.
“We monitor potential threats and actively prepare potentially impacted customers via pre-disaster communication (emails, web notices, push notifications, IVR alerts, etc.),” said David Hughes, Servicing Channel Executive, RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp. “We update our home page and dedicated disaster landing page with important information. We prepare and scale the front and back-office teams that will handle both the resulting loss mitigation and insurance claim activity that is to come.”
The pre-disaster email communication should achieve several objectives, Hughes added. The communications should inform the customer of the impending disaster and provide recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on how to prepare. The pre-disaster communications should also detail the financial relief options available with the customer’s lender/servicer, especially if homeowner’s income is impacted by the disaster, advising them to contact their insurance company to start the claims process. This will help ensure the customer understands the servicer’s role once the claim process is completed and provide information for additional available resources through the government.
“We learned we can’t expect many different departments, groups, and teams to seamlessly work together at the speed our customers need us to in the midst of a disaster or in the recovery phase,” Hughes said. “Having separate and disconnected loss mitigation, insurance, call center, and other teams trying to coordinate efforts and communication with our customers proved inadequate.”
As such, RoundPoint developed an internal group, HEART (Home Emergency Assistance Response Team), which includes trained employees dedicated to guiding customers throughout the disaster event—prepping for the storm, assisting with forbearance plans, educating them on their options, resolving their balance of forborne payments when the plan ends, guiding them through the entire insurance claim process, and providing helpful tips and advice for hiring contractors in the aftermath, to name a few.
After a disaster, it is important to document everything, Iafigliola added. Take photos and videos to capture the conditions. He also recommended photo- and video-documenting properties prior to any disaster event, as well, to help with any claim questions and verify the property’s condition.
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