First National Financial LP

Why Tyler Kiel chose First National for a career in Underwriting

When Tyler Kiel started with us, he was fresh out of school without previous experience in the mortgage industry. Four years and four promotions later, he is now a Residential Underwriter. This is how he became one of our rising stars.

What did you do before First National?

I was a student at Ryerson doing my Bachelor of Commerce. When I finished in 2018, I started applying for full-time jobs. A couple of my friends at York University told me about a job fair. I saw a list of companies on campus and one of them was First National. I did some research and it seemed like a really big, professional company. Having a minor in Finance attracted me to First National but my major was in Marketing so I also had an opportunity with a marketing company.

Why did you choose First National?

My sense was that First National was more professional and I felt there was a lot more room to grow here.

Has that proven to be the case?

Yes, I started as a Customer Service Representative and did that for about a year or so and then I was promoted to Assistant Supervisor for a team of 10 CSRs doing the night shift from 12 noon to 8 pm. I did that for about a year and a half and learned about leading and engaging a team, doing customer call audits and addressing customer escalations. To be there to help my team was really fulfilling for me because I could see I was making a difference. But near the end, I knew I wanted to get into Underwriting. When a position came up as an Associate Underwriter, which used to be called a Fulfillment Specialist, I applied and got the job. From there, I progressed to the role of Underwriter at the beginning of 2022.

Did you start at First National with a career as an Underwriter in mind?

Not really but what was nice is my managers explained the options that were available for someone in Customer Service – with real life examples of First National people who start as a CSR – and they supported my progression. They made it clear to me they wanted me to stay at First National. It was an honour that they wanted to create opportunities for advancement and that they saw something in me that I didn’t recognize in myself. That’s what got my wheels turning toward Underwriting.

What attracted you to Underwriting?

To me, it is a growth opportunity, an opportunity to learn. Associate Underwriters touch perhaps 15 to 20 mortgage files a day, on average, and each file often has 15 to 20 different documents associated with it so the volume is significant and every situation is different which means life is never boring. If a borrower’s income ratio changes or a down payment is different than what was planned, it’s an Associate Underwriter’s job to manage the situation and find solutions. It requires quick thinking.

What was a typical day in the life of an Associate Underwriter when you did that job?

A typical day as an Associate Underwriter started with logging in and checking in on imminent closings. I made sure all mortgage documents were in order because if they were not, the deal didn’t close. I then started looking into my queue to follow up on closings scheduled for the following week and that led to follow-up calls with brokers to give them a status report. Then it was on to call backs to employers to verify borrowers’ income. In Underwriting, a lot of traffic flows through our MERLIN system but we also get emails so I toggled back and forth to stay on top of broker requests and information. MERLIN is also great because it automatically flags missing items and tells us if ratios are out of line on an application.

What sort of training did you receive to be able to do all of this efficiently?

Training was extensive and involved a mix of courses, in-class learning provided by our training team, and then on to job shadowing with an experienced Associate Underwriter. That gave me the opportunity to see, first-hand, what a day-in-the-life will look like once I started in my role for real. Shadowing allowed me to gain training in how to address complex situations. But even after that whole formal training process was complete, I was encouraged to reach out to experienced people on our team when I had questions. I did that and found there was always great support available. We also have an online tool called Arthur which provides how-to information on dealing with unique or one-off situations. Those resources are accessible 24/7.

Did you operate with career goals in mind when you were an Associate Underwriter?

Yes, one of them was to become an Underwriter, which I’ve achieved and am grateful for that. Down the road, my new goal is to become a Manager or even an Account Manager. Those are two positions that definitely catch my eye today because I enjoyed my time as an Assistant Supervisor in Customer Service. Being an Account Manager seems like a very interesting role. It comes with your own territory and the responsibility to highlight our products to mortgage brokers. I would love to do something like that.

What skills and personality traits are important in Underwriting?

You have to be able to analyze, organize and problem solve. I find Underwriting is more challenging than even supervising a team of 10 and I find it enjoyable because I get to test myself every day. It really helps if you know your products and your mortgage topics because we work with smart mortgage brokers. From a personality perspective, you have to be a team player willing to help out your colleagues and an all-around positive person. Negativity just doesn’t cut it when you are on a team.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being an Associate Underwriter?

Most rewarding is when I’m able to fix a difficult file and make it work so that it closes on time for the broker and the borrower. When brokers appreciate it and let you know they do, it’s very satisfying. The most challenging aspect is volume. During the pandemic, we’ve experienced very high volumes. That’s ok but it did involve a heavy workload at times.

In your mind, what makes First National different or better than other lenders?

We are constantly expanding but the main difference is the culture. I’ve heard really bad things about other institutions in terms of their cultures. Here we are very team and people oriented. How the company treats employees and how we treat brokers and borrowers is great. It’s almost like a family and I see it constantly when someone comes to First National from another lender and remarks on it. First National cares about its employees, cares about how we respond to brokers and cares about how we treat customers and that’s a difference maker. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career at First National?

I would say with emphasis and enthusiasm to do so. This is a great place to work and I’m grateful for all the career growth and opportunities that have been created for me. I’m excited about my future with First National.