Winning Work Cultures

Safeguard in the News
November 14, 2018

Source: MReport

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the November issue of MReport, out now.

As the business environment becomes more competitive, organizations are looking at ways to change their workplace culture not only to remain relevant to a new generation of employees but also to employ a strategy that improves the productivity and profitability from their human capital. A recent article on understanding and developing an organization’s culture by the Society of Human Resource Management stressed having a culture based on a strongly held and widely shared set of beliefs that were supported by strategy and structure. It emphasized three aspects of a strong culture: 1) employees are aware of how top management would like them to respond to any situation; 2) they believe that the expected response is the right one; and, most importantly, 3) employees know they will be rewarded for demonstrating the organization’s values.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for companies who want to be a great place to work to begin the process by hiring people who are the right fit for their culture.

Welcome to Our World

The book How Google Works discusses an important idea— the only way for businesses to consistently succeed is to attract the best ‘smart creatives’ (people who combine technology, business expertise, and creativity) and create an environment where they can thrive.

But the question is, what can a company do to attract the kind of talent that adds to creating a great company culture?

At Finicity, the hiring managers follow a two-step process. The first is using customized assessments and coding challenges, depending on the position, to determine certain skill sets prior to scheduling an interview, depending on the position and skill sets required for it. Once the company has a match of skill sets, the recruitment team sets up the interview.

“At this point, we are able to explore the cultural fit rather than job fit,” explained Jeff Hutchins, Chief People Officer, Finicity. “We love new ideas that address market opportunities and challenges. And once we have one, we move fast to develop it. But we’re also very family oriented and always look to have fun. We try to fully expose our culture to candidates so they can make their own assessment. We truly believe it’s a two-way interview, and it must be a fit for both of us.”

Being open about what the company is and what it isn’t is also helping organizations pick the right person suitable for the job. This includes communicating transparently throughout the hiring process, setting clear expectations from the candidates, and really listening to what they expect from the company, whether it is a big or a small organization.

“We’re open about what MiMutual Mortgage is and what it is not. This allows both the candidate and the company to effectively evaluate the long-term fit with each other. After all, forcing a square peg into a round hole never works out well in the long term,” said Daniel Jacobs, EVP, National Retail Lending at MiMutual Mortgage, while explaining that communication that always ensured all parties involved knew what to expect next, when to expect it, and what was required of them was the “secret sauce” of the company’s hiring team.

A two-way process doesn’t just include getting the right hires, but also looks beyond the conventional to get the right ones. One such program developed and promoted by Black Knight to get the right fit is a summer internship program in which students from colleges and universities across the country learn firsthand about the variety of roles and responsibilities at the software, data, and analytics provider over the summer holidays. “As valued team members, our interns work side-by-side with full-time employees performing meaningful project tasks that directly impact our day-to-day business,” said Melissa Circelli, Chief Human Resources Executive, Black Knight. “From the start, interns are challenged to demonstrate their strengths and apply their knowledge to help Black Knight achieve its business strategy. Once they graduate from college, many of Black Knight’s interns are hired for full-time positions at the company.”

These Perks Work

If the path to retaining great talent begins with the right hiring process, a robust employee engagement program serves to strengthen it. It ranges from such must-have benefits as competitive compensation, a 401(k) program, and medical insurance to perks like discounted event tickets and employee loan programs. At Carrington Mortgage Services, the former is a popular program that allows employees a shot at owning their dream home. The program includes waivers for processing and/or underwriting fees and a quarter-point discount on their mortgage rate once an employee qualifies for a Carrington home-loan program.

“Spouses and domestic partners are also eligible for this benefit,” said Rick Sharga, EVP, Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “Other offers include $1,000 off closing costs for qualified family members of Associates. And eligible Carrington Associates receive a $500 referral bonus for each referred family member or friend whose loan funds.”

Sharga said that Carrington also offers employees a diverse range of benefits, including access to legal services, comprehensive health and wellness services, discounts on entertainment and gym memberships, as well as savings on appliances and wireless services.

Having existing employees chip in to make the new ones feel comfortable not only engages the new hires but also allows existing employees to lead by setting a good example. RCN Capital employs this method as an important aspect of its onboarding process. Apart from that, the management frequently seeks inputs from employees to ensure decisions are made that keep their best interests in mind. “Employees are involved in numerous parts of the decision-making process within the company,” said Jeffrey Tesch, Managing Director, RCN Capital. “Annual goals are established to create a team environment where all employees come together to work together to a common goal.”

Mortgage Contracting Services (MCS), offers its employees flextime that allows them to choose a work schedule that best fits their life. Full-time employees can arrive at the office anytime between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., allowing departure times between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. “We continue to get rave reviews on flex-scheduling, as it allows our employees to more personally define their work hours – enabling them to maximize their personal time,” said Marti Diaz, SVP, Human Resources at MCS. “We’ve also had many employees share that this flex-time schedule allows them significant savings on childcare because it provides them with more options around pick-up/ drop-off times for their children.”

Creating ‘Giver’ Cultures

In an article for McKinsey, Adam Grant the author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, makes a case for why some of the greatest companies have what he calls a “giver culture.”

According to Grant, in giver cultures, “employees operate as the high-performing intelligence units do: helping others, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring, and making connections without expecting anything in return. Meanwhile, in taker cultures, the norm is to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return. Employees help only when they expect the personal benefits to exceed the costs, as opposed to when the organizational benefits outweigh the personal costs.”

Giver cultures also mean those where an individual’s professional development is given high priority, and that’s where some of the best companies in business differentiate themselves.

Apart from its in-house Carrington University, which offers a wealth of classes to help employees learn essential skills and develop their personal and professional goals, Carrington also offers tuition reimbursement from accredited colleges or universities. Through this program, eligible regular full-time employees can be reimbursed up to $5,250 per year, and eligible regular part-time associates may be reimbursed up to $3,000 per year.

Another example that Carrington’s Sharga gives is a program called LeaderSHIFT, a self-mastery program for high potential employees to develop leadership competencies and management skills. “The 2017-2018 LeaderSHIFT graduating class included 85 Associates from across Carrington,” Sharga said.

In addition to paid parental leave, free onsite biometric screenings, flu shots, and diabetes- and maternity-support programs, Black Knight offers its employees to learn and grow through its eLearning portal Skillport that features “hundreds of digital courses and certification programs at any time via desktop and mobile app,” according to Circelli. “These learning opportunities range from company-specific courses to modules on intrapersonal business skills and preparatory materials for technical certifications.”

For employees seeking a more in-depth educational experience, the Black Knight University offers in-person and live-streamed courses covering topics in business and technology. The company has also launched a knowledge-sharing collaboration site called the Black Knight Guru Program, where subject-matter experts act as internal resources for their colleagues. “Our Gurus can help solve problems, explain complex market trends, and demo new and evolving technologies.”

The dress code at MCS might be casual, but the company takes career opportunities for its employees seriously and offers training to get new hires up to speed quickly and a very defined career path for those who are interested in moving up in the company.

Rewards and Recognition

Companies are fast waking up to the power of recognition in retaining employees. Whether it is a policy of promoting from within or having customers and vendors taking part in recognizing an employee’s efforts, organizations across the mortgage industry have some form of rewards and recognition program to celebrate their employees’ achievements. Carrington’s Best Catch program, for example, gives its broker, retail mortgage, and servicing customers the opportunity to recognize employees who provide exceptional service through online feedback to the Associates’ managers.

Finicity’s Hutchins said that team member engagement worked best when individuals felt valued, their work was deemed important, and they felt connected to a company mission that has a meaningful impact on society. The company offers employees unlimited paid time
off, in an industry where, according to Hutchins, late hours and intense commitment to projects is the norm. “Additionally, every year, Finicity recognizes its ‘Most Valuable Finitizens’ from within the company, and treats them to a group trip, with spouses and significant others,” he said.

RCN Capital has embraced the concept of promotion from within. “Numerous employees at RCN have been promoted from within,” Tesch said, giving examples of Erica LaCentra, the company’s Director of Marketing, who started with RCN as an entry-level marketing associate, and Matt Ferrigno, Senior Loan Officer who began his career as an intern with the company. “RCN’s team goals are punctuated with monthly goal check-ins, recognizing company achievements, and milestones, as well as the hard work the employees are putting in along the way,” Tesch said.

“Black Knight’s Champion Award Program allows our senior leaders to recognize employees each month for going above and beyond their job duties to help us continue to provide consummate customer service and technology to the mortgage industry,” Circelli said. “The winner’s entire campus is invited to hear an executive detail the winner’s accomplishments and see the Champion presented with both financial rewards and peer recognition.”

At MiMutual Mortgage, a Team Member Recognition Program allows employees to recognize each other for living the company’s core values. According to Jacobs, “Our President’s Club recognizes top sales production, but we also have a Circle of Excellence recognition program that recognizes key quality achievements of sales and operations, without regard to the amount of production the individual contributed. This allows everyone a path to recognition for their respective achievements.”

Giving to the Community

For many employees, volunteering for social initiatives or giving back to the community is also a rewarding experience, and organizations within the industry have been quick to include them in these initiatives. From helping veterans integrate with the mainstream and giving grants to various foundations to helping in neighborhood and community development, organizations are involving their workers so they can take pride in giving back to the community.

“MCS is committed to supporting veterans’ organizations, as well as organizations for police, firefighters, and first responders. Our employees look forward to the events that we schedule throughout the year where they can volunteer, show their support, or help raise funds for one of these deserving groups,” Diaz said. “We have family events such as our MCS Walk for Heroes, on-site festivals/picnics, fundraisers for local military groups, and special speaking events where our employees have an opportunity to hear from the organizations that we’re helping.”

Safeguard formed the Safeguard Cares Committee in 2011 to centralize and coordinate its fundraising efforts. Made up of employees from Safeguard’s two offices in Ohio and Texas, members are responsible for picking a charity and planning and promoting the fundraising efforts. “Safeguard places a big emphasis on promoting volunteerism in the company’s contractor network as well, supporting monthly volunteer efforts that help to maintain strong and vital neighborhoods, improve quality of life, and provide a safe environment for families to raise children,” said Jennifer Anspach, AVP of Human Capital, Safeguard Properties.

Both Black Knight and Carrington have robust programs to help veterans integrate with the mainstream. While Black Knight has a special hiring process for veterans, Carrington has supported housing for veterans through its Carrington Charitable Foundation (CCF). “CCF’s Veteran-focused Signature Programs focus on providing mobility, stability, purpose, and prosperity for veterans returning from post-9/11 conflict battlefields,” Sharga said.

Carrington House is one such program which provides housing near key military hospital centers for families of injured servicemen and women during the difficult post-injury recovery process. Through this program, donated homes from Bank of America are remodeled and readied for veterans and their families by the Carrington Companies, while other homes are new builds. “The Carrington Companies repair, renovate, and build custom, adaptive homes in communities across the United States to meet the unique needs of wounded Veterans so they can live independently and comfortably,” Sharga said. “Since 2011, proceeds from the annual CCF Golf Classic have raised more than $16 million to support veterans. So far, Carrington House has built 19 homes for deserving veterans.”

Black Knight’s veterans-only career fair and its support for Operation New Uniform helps veterans make the transition to private-sector work.

It All Begins At The Top

The transformation to become a great place to work, like any other change in a company, must begin at the top. The latest Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) CEO survey revealed how important it was for CEOs across the globe to hire and retain top talent to compete in an increasingly digital world.

“But they’re not just improving compensation packages, it’s crucial to create the right employee experience too,” the survey indicated, with 86 percent of the CEOs saying they were modernizing their working environment and 77 percent saying they were implementing flexible ways of working to recognize how today’s top talent wants to work. The same survey found that 67 percent of CEOs agreed they had a corporate responsibility to retain employees, especially those whose jobs were automated.

Whether it is best hiring practices or fostering a culture of giving back, employee engagement begins with the top management. From something as simple as sharing the company’s vision via live video feed to all employees nationwide on a regular basis, to actively interacting with employees every month, leadership is driving employee retention from the top.

“We use a variety of communication tools to ensure our team members are never in the dark,” MiMutual Mortgage’s Jacobs said. “Semi-Annual Corporate Rallies help via live video feed to all employees nationwide. This is our opportunity to share our CEO’s vision, our current corporate goals, our outlook on the industry and the company, make important announcements, and to celebrate our successes together through various forms of recognition.”

Steve Smith, Finicity’s CEO, takes an active role in making sure all employee voices are heard. “One example of this is that every month he holds a ‘birthday’ lunch, where team members whose birthdays are in that month meet with him,” Hutchins said. “He answers their questions and solicits their input for the company culture, as well as discussing business initiatives.”

At Black Knight, its mentor program matches mentors and mentees based on common interests and potential for knowledge transfer. “These relationships are cultivated through regular meetings, formal networking, and community service events,” Circelli said.

Listening to employees is also an integral part of leadership engagement. According to Anspach, the company’s Connecting With Respect initiative was born from Safeguard’s employee-satisfaction surveys which showed that, although Safeguard has a solid corporate culture foundation, more could be done to support Safeguard’s corporate value of “Respecting our employees and contractors.” Today, the Respect Initiative class is mandatory for all employees.

“The Connecting With Respect initiative spurred several spin-off initiatives, including the leadership team’s Code of Cooperation and Safeguard’s Culture Code. The Code of Cooperation guides leadership’s interactions with one another and with all staff,” Anspach said. “The five points of the Culture Code were voted on by employees and promote behaviors, attitudes, and approaches important to defining the company’s corporate culture and creating a great workplace.”



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.


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.



Sean Reddington

Sean Reddington is the new Chief Information Officer for Safeguard Properties LLC. Sean has over 15+ years of experience in Information Services Management with a strong focus on Product and Application Management. Sean is responsible for Safeguard’s technological direction, including planning, implementation and maintaining all operational systems

Sean has a proven record of accomplishment for increasing operational efficiencies, improving customer service levels, and implementing and maintaining IT initiatives to support successful business processes.  He has provided the vision and dedicated leadership for key technologies for Fortune 100 companies, and nationally recognized consulting firms including enterprise system architecture, security, desktop and database management systems. Sean possesses strong functional and system knowledge of information security, systems and software, contracts management, budgeting, human resources and legal and related regulatory compliance.

Sean joined Safeguard Properties LLC from RenPSG Inc. which is a nationally leading Philintropic Software Platform in the Fintech space. He oversaw the organization’s technological direction including planning, implementing and maintaining the best practices that align with all corporate functions. He also provided day-to-day technology operations, enterprise security, information risk and vulnerability management, audit and compliance, security awareness and training.

Prior to RenPSG, Sean worked for DMI Consulting as a Client Success Director where he guided the delivery in a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 enterprise client account. He was responsible for all project deliveries in terms of quality, budget and timeliness and led the team to coordinate development and definition of project scope and limitations. Sean also worked for KPMG Consulting in their Microsoft Practice and Technicolor’s Ebusiness Division where he had responsibility for application development, maintenance, and support.

Sean is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts and received his Masters in International Business from Central Michigan University. He was also a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force prior to his career in the business world.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.