The Path To Cost Containment by Safeguard Properties Vice President of Operations Michael Greenbaum

In the October issue of Servicing Management, Safeguard’s vice president of operations Michael Greenbaum discusses how field services companies can achieve sustainable cost containment amid costly burdens stemming from new and tightening industry regulations.

The Path To Cost Containment

The cost of doing business for field services companies has increased due to rising regulatory oversight – so what can they do to find new efficiencies?

As the housing bubble burst, field services companies were tasked with meeting the avalanche of demand from their clients, while banks and servicers worked to manage the growing inventory of default properties.  When the crisis continued to spin out of control, more and more companies got into the field services arena as the demand for services continued to escalate.  Now that the market is moving back to normal, or the “new normal,” field services companies are seeing their workloads flatten or even decline, causing some to decide to get out of the business altogether.  The companies that remain have made the business decision to continue to invest in quality processes and manage the costs associated with new and tighter regulations.

While these regulations were designed to afford greater protections for consumers and homeowners, and address large volumes of vacant, defaulted and foreclosed properties, they also have created enormous and costly administrative burdens.

Similarly, technology advances, the sophistication and proliferation of mobile communications devices, business intelligence and the increased level of security that come with these advances have forced companies to dedicate larger portions of their budget to technology.  Field services companies must look at all paths that will lead to sustainable cost containment results without negatively impacting critical business outcomes.

Driving down costs with technology

Supporting vendors in the field with technology, systems and processes that help them do their jobs more efficiently and that provide timely and accurate property data is critical.  Mobile technology has changed the way the field services industry manages its day-to-day core functions – protecting and preserving neighborhoods.  With smart devices, property preservation processes that could take days and were once done using a pen, note pad and camera can now be completed using a single device and in a matter of hours.

By providing vendors with the systems to securely access current property information, such as occupancy status, roof and siding color, number of outbuildings, etc., the risk of costly errors can be minimized, as can multiple trips to a property.  These systems also are robust enough to allow vendors to assign, track and manage the work of their crews for greater efficiency.

One cost benefit of mobile technology is that it changes the vendor work order submission process from a backend process to a front-end process.  Because vendors are able to upload results and photos from the field to their back-office in real time, the back-office is able to spend more time focusing on quality and less time on data entry and other less-profitable tasks. 

Operational cost containment can come in many forms, but in the field services industry, much of it comes down to providing vendors with the resources to run a more efficient operation in the field. There are several ways this can be accomplished, and much of it centers on good old communication.

Sharing best practices is one way field services companies can add value to what they bring to the table. By studying good vendor behavior – what they are doing right – the field services company can share their observances and foster dialogue by providing opportunities to engage.  This can be accomplished through video resource libraries, daily updates, educational opportunities and vendor advisory councils, for example.

One example of how the sharing of best practices can improve cost savings and efficiency is with activity-based cost analysis on services, such as real estate owned maid services.  By studying and analyzing the best practices of the most efficient vendor – including cleaning chemicals, crew composition and structure, and detailed time studies – a process map of the optimal workflow can be developed.  This analysis can help create best practices, like starting the cleaning activity at the highest point in a room and pushing dirt down to the floor; completing detailed pre-soak chemical processes by room; and tracking total time at a property to optimize labor usage.  Vendors can improve the quality of work, completeness of work and crew utilization by implementing the best practices determined by trends identified in the data collected.

Long-term cost containment

Many times, it is easier to take a reactive approach to cost containment when looking internally. Picking off the low-hanging fruit, such as hiring freezes and expenditure deferrals, yields short-term results that can be difficult to sustain.  A more thoughtful approach, on the other hand, can help a company maintain long-term cost control.

Field services companies can analyze the data collected from each field visit to identify trends and make better business decisions – ultimately, streamlining internal costs.  For example, when a property is being conveyed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it must meet certain guidelines.  Field services companies can evaluate a property up front based on trends they identified using data that they already collected:  Is the property in a state with a high re-convey rate?  Are there known or reported damages?  What is the age of the inventory?  What is the quality of the vendor performing the work?  With these weighted risk factors, a field services company can isolate properties that need a high-risk review.

Finding network efficiencies

For the field services industry, the vendor network is the critical element to completing work efficiently. Daily, tens of thousands of contractors are in our communities inspecting, maintaining and repairing properties.  Efficiencies can be realized by analyzing how they spend their day.  A majority of their time is spent getting from one property to another – or “windshield” time.  UPS pioneered cost containment through route efficiency by finding a creative way to decrease windshield time.  It found that it could save money on gas and time by optimizing delivery routes so that drivers don’t have to make as many left turns.  It seems silly, but when you scale it to the tens of thousands of UPS trucks on the road, sitting in the left turn lane and waiting for the turn arrow or traffic to clear is a big waste of time and gas.

Field services companies, including ours, have taken notice and developed mobile applications that will, among other things, create a route schedule based on the addresses of the vendors’ work orders.  As the largest field services company in the nation, we have found that we can service more properties more effectively by using predetermined route schedules to decrease time spent in transit.

One thing the field services industry has a lot of is data.  Data from inspections, grass cuts, lock changes, debris removal, vandalism, secured pools and leaky roofs, for starters.  But data is only as good as what you do with it.  By looking at the billions of points of information, field services companies are able to slice and dice the information a thousand different ways.  Many are using this information as insight into their vendor network performance.

Once analyzed, data can be used to create a “heat map,” identifying with designated colors the areas or regions in which the contractors are meeting the requirements and standards or where additional focus is needed.  Heat maps also can be used to determine where to issue work orders and to which vendors.

When overlaid with vendor quality results, the distribution process can be further optimized.  Data analytics and heat maps can reduce time loss, leading to faster response times, improved compliance and higher-quality work.  They also can pinpoint areas where there is inconsistent or incomplete work, as identified through specific performance measures, allowing for additional resource focus.

Ultimately, the goal is to predict trends and patterns to reduce costs.  For clients, this efficiency also translates into a higher return on their investment in the form of lower field service costs. 

Like the mortgage industry, the field services industry will forever be changed by the housing crisis.  The industry as a whole has been challenged to improve the quality and delivery of services, while, at the same time, looking at ways to contain costs.  By performing all aspects of inspections and field services to the highest possible standards, while looking at operational costs, field service companies can improve their top and bottom lines and assist their vendor networks in successfully managing cost containment.

Michael Greenbaum is the vice president of operations at Safeguard Properties.  He can be reached at michael.greenbaum@safeguardproperties.com.

Please click here for The Path To Cost Containment article 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 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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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.