New Special Products Leader Touts Cenlar’s Talent
With a volatile rate environment and the importance of risk-aware culture both in the spotlight industrywide, Pete Johnson has joined Cenlar at a fortuitous time.
Johnson — Cenlar’s Vice President of Loan Operations, with leadership over Special Products — has more than 35 years of experience in financial services, with 20 of those in mortgage servicing. Prior to joining Cenlar in late 2022, Johnson was Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer at First Heritage Mortgage Services. He was also Senior Vice President at Freedom Mortgage, where he was responsible for underwriting, processing, closing and funding, document management post-closing and loan audit, and Vice President at PHH Mortgage, where he led the credit and operational risk divisions.
Officially, at Cenlar, he is responsible for the operation team’s financials, staffing, controls and compliance in Special Products. But he prefers to say that his role is to provide vision, direction and support for his team, driving continual improvement that benefits our clients and their homeowners.
“Always having the client and the homeowner in the forethought of what you do and how you go through your day is critical,” Johnson said. “It's just not pushing paper, it’s just not processing. It comes down to operational excellence. It is a mindset that strives for continual improvement knowing that what we do affects homeowners and clients.”
Due to the rate environment and market conditions, Johnson’s area — specifically Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) and assumptions — has seen a sustained, steady increase in interest. Demand for assumptions, for example, is about four times higher now than it was two years ago.
Both HELOCs and assumptions are unique products that require specialized expertise. Servicing HELOCs requires different care than, say, a 30-year mortgage, and that’s true at every potential phase, from boarding to default. Assumptions also have special requirements. But Cenlar has the experience and the processes in place to be able to offer these products to our clients and handle them on their behalf.
“It really comes down to the sheer skill set of the people here,” Johnson said. “They're extremely talented, and their skill set is extensive. We use our experience and expertise to serve our clients. Clients don’t have to worry about it because that’s our job.”
Johnson’s background is in risk, and he has spent much of his career looking for innovative ways to strengthen operational efficiencies and risk mitigation. At Cenlar, this takes many forms, such as establishing clear responsibilities and channels of communication for the HELOC team or exploring creative uses of technology for assumptions.
He’s begun to encourage a risk culture within his team and the organization as a whole that asks questions, challenges the status quo and not only thinks outside the box for solutions but “gets rid of the box entirely.”
A large part of this can be achieved by the ongoing enhancement of our technology and automation of our processes. But for leaders, he said, it often comes back to something more old-fashioned: having the right people in the right seats, fostering the right kind of culture.
“Technology is a big part of our effort for operational excellence,” Johnson said. “If we can enhance our automation, I think that would be huge. But it also starts with people — without them, the machine doesn’t work. That’s a key part of the culture here at Cenlar — people are important. And our employees want to do their best for our clients and their homeowners, each and every day.”
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