An interview with Susan Stewart, Chairman-Elect of the MBA and CEO of SWBC Mortgage, San Antonio

Where some see crisis, others see intel and therefore, opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic threw the world a curveball at a time when most were unaware of being in the game. There’s been scrambling. There’s been struggling. And if you’re in the top position of a top U.S. lender, there’s been lots and lots of learning.

That’s because you don’t rise to the top and run a thriving, successful U.S. lender by merely reacting to crises. You get there by asking what that crisis has taught you, and how that intel can make you better going forward.

I offer Exhibit A: Susan Stewart, Chairman-Elect of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and Chief Executive Officer of SWBC Mortgage, San Antonio, who is sharing her lessons learned as part of NEXT’s series of exclusive executive interviews to help top decision makers get – and stay – ahead of the impact.

Here’s what Susan has to say about the three lessons the mortgage industry should learn from the COVID-19 pandemic:

We were capable of faster acceleration of technology adoption

The mortgage industry had already been moving towards more digital automation, such as remote online notarization (RON) and full e-Closings. The COVID-19 pandemic tipped everyone’s hands for the need to accelerate these and other initiatives. The benefits and efficiencies we’ve already gained with technology have become even more apparent during the pandemic, as the industry continues to manage record volume during the current refinance boom.

In addition, the necessity to shelter at home created an unprecedented environment for embracing a remote workforce. The efforts of skilled IT teams combined with collaboration software tools has proven essential for managing this perfect storm of telecommuting and extraordinary mortgage demand.

Business continuity and risk planning will never be the same

No one could have dreamed up the confluence of the challenging COVID-19 situation and the lowest historical mortgage rates. Business continuity and risk planning will now have to include many new ‘what-if’ situations, including the possibility of a reemergence of the coronavirus this fall and winter.

The silver lining is we now have a better handle on how to plan and manage under the most extreme market conditions. Likewise, traditional business cycles in mortgages-such as the ‘spring home selling season’-perhaps will shift. Businesses in the future will have to become even more agile in their forecasting and resource planning. For example, as COVID recovery continues along with a strong market, homebuyer mortgage demand recently spiked to 11-year high, signifying we’re now in an entirely new ‘summer buying season’ based on pent-up demand.

We need to re-evaluate how to help and protect homeowners

The pandemic exposed the incredible lack of a safety net for many individuals and families. The amount of mortgages in legitimate forbearance demonstrates that many homeowners were only a few paychecks away from disaster. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the industry to further promote financial literacy and planning, as well as other borrower education. It’s clear borrowers have gotten the message that refinancing can provide significant savings when rates remain low or drop. So let’s consider turning our ability to market to homebuyers to less transactional activities, such as helping educate consumers on how to better plan, budget and save.

Likewise, we need to continually lobby government to adopt more far-reaching legislation (instead of just emergency packages) that will truly benefit potential and future homeowners. Consider joining the Mortgage Action Alliance (MAA), ( the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) non-partisan grassroots network. MAA strengthens our voice and lobbying power in Washington and in state capitals across America. And, by supporting the MBA’s MORPAC (Mortgage PAC), ( the only political action committee that directly represents the entire real estate finance industry, we can reinforce our strong, collective, and clear message with key policymakers.


Susan Stewart is one of the featured speakers at #NEXTSUMMER20, a live-streamed, online event, August 23-25, 2020. For more information and to register, visit the #NEXTSUMMER20 registration page.

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