Jason Ellis is the president and chief operating officer of First National. As such, his daily activities have a direct bearing on First National’s performance and competitiveness. In this interview, we ask Jason to elaborate on his responsibilities.
How did you end up at First National?
In 2004, I received a call from a recruiter who described First National as this small but growing entrepreneurial business engaged in prime mortgage lending. I didn’t know the first thing about securitization or the mortgage broker industry but I had the basic finance tools and I was looking for a change. Among other things, it was an opportunity to get back to trading and reconnect with my friends in the capital markets. Fortunately, my interviews with Stephen Smith went well and here I am.
How much has the Company changed?
When I joined, we had fewer than 150 employees and origination volumes were a tiny fraction of what they are now. Mortgages under Administration had just reached $5 billion. So it was smaller, but the basic culture hasn’t changed. It still has that entrepreneurial spirit to it. Many of the people who were here when I started are still here giving us that continuity of culture.
How have your responsibilities evolved?
When I started in 2004, we originated around $3 billion a year. Now we’re originating in excess of $16 billion plus another $6.7 billion or more in renewals in 2020. That growth has required us to stretch our funding strategies and grow our securitization vehicles. Back then, we worked largely with balance-sheet investors who took on mortgage commitments at the time of origination. We managed relatively little interest rate or credit risk. Now, because we use securitization so extensively, there is more to manage. The nature of the job has evolved every year, which definitely keeps things interesting.
Working in capital markets, and with other large institutions, you must gain unique insights into the economy as well as real estate and mortgage markets. Do you share your insights?
Actually, one of the things I really enjoy is going out to talk to commercial borrowers and residential mortgage brokers. I try to make our business less opaque and share our thoughts on marketplace trends. I think that kind of dialogue is important and I’m happy to share what I know. Unfortunately, what I don’t know is the one thing people like to ask most. What direction are mortgage rates going? Alas, your Magic 8-ball probably knows better.
Of all the things going on in the capital, real estate and mortgage markets today, what’s the one thing you think borrowers and mortgage brokers should know?
The rate of change has been furious but managing through change is First National’s specialty. The tremendous growth we’ve enjoyed hasn’t altered our entrepreneurial spirit but it has given us the depth of experience and financial tools to continue to server our borrowers and broker partners.