First National’s Excalibur program was created two years ago to serve business-for-self and other creditworthy borrowers who fall just outside traditional prime mortgage parameters. Over that period, the market has spoken: mortgage brokers have made Excalibur a recommended choice for their clients. Now as 2020 winds down, it’s time for Excalibur Exchange to check in with Elena Robinson, National Sales Manager for First National, to talk about recent progress and what lies ahead.
Excalibur ended 2019 in strong fashion; what’s happened so far in 2020?
Like the rest of First National, we had a high level of originations and new mortgage commitments, so largely a continuation of where we left off in 2019. Naturally, there have also been challenges to overcome due to the pandemic, but we’ve created effective workarounds and continue to push ahead. In fact, we are quite happy with our most recent numbers. We believe in the Alt-A space and we are here to stay.
Other lenders compete in the Alt-A space. How has Excalibur managed to gain such a strong foothold in the market?
A combination of product features and good service provided by a dedicated and expanding team. Our broker partners tell us they like Excalibur’s repayment and early payout options, and the fact that it’s available for home purchases and re-financings and with loan maximums that enable borrowers to purchase high-value properties. When brokers endorse Excalibur as being competitively superior based on their market analysis, it tells us we did something right in product design.
You mentioned service levels. What’s the goal?
Before First National brought Excalibur to market, the executive team here said that the program had to achieve the same standard of service excellence that brokers have come to expect from the rest of our residential business. No compromises. The ability to employ both Merlin and Merlin Mobile gave us a leg up when we started and really enabled fast response times. But it’s the growth and quality of our team that make the service difference.
Let’s talk about the people behind Excalibur.
My favourite topic for sure. Excalibur now employs 35 people, up from just eight when we started two years ago and we’re adding regularly with a focus on recruiting people with drive and a passion for service. To achieve our ambitions, we’ve been very deliberate and thoughtful in making management appointments and I feel really good about what the team can accomplish with leadership from people like Szilard Kolozsvari, Anne Regan and Candice Endacott who came onboard to drive growth and service.
Tell us about Szilard.
Szilard is a First National veteran who joined in 2007 as Senior Underwriter and worked his way up to a Team Manager role in our third-party residential underwriting business. In October 2019, he was appointed to the newly created position of Excalibur Director. Szilard sets the tone for excellence and has a deep appreciation for our broker partners because earlier in his career, he was one.
What about Anne?
Anne is our Manager, Residential Underwriting and is newer to First National but not to the mortgage industry. She started her career over 13 years ago at a bank while at university and worked as a mortgage specialist and a mortgage underwriter at two Alternative lenders. She has a wealth of experience in prime/insured and uninsured lending and really knows how to get things done. When Anne joined the Excalibur team last fall, I asked her to define her service philosophy. I remember what she said because she invoked Barak Obama’s name and a quote from him. I’ll paraphrase. She said it’s about communicating promptly and professionally, keeping brokers informed about their applications every step of the way, and showing broker partners how important they are to First National by engaging and interacting in a positive and helpful way. And, this is Obama’s quote she referenced: “There’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion.” I think that speaks volumes.
And what’s Candice’s background?
Candice is also Manager, Residential Underwriting and she joined us in December 2019 after 11 years in the industry. Most of that time was spent at an alternative lender where she held various roles including funding, fulfillment and underwriting. I would say Candice has an iron-clad grasp on the mortgage process in its entirety. Although she’s a newer member of our team, I really like the fact that she has embraced the First National philosophy of going above and beyond to serve brokers and borrowers by offering quick and efficient application review and providing updates throughout the origination process to ensure a seamless transaction from submission to close.
So you feel you have the team in place to succeed?
With people like Szilard, Anne, Candice, Natasha Alli who is our highly accomplished Account Manager, and over 20 others, now including our newest Team Manager, Sydney Burnett as well as Luca Quintieri and Anthony Scimeca, who serve as our External Account Manager and Internal Account Manager, respectively, there is a great mix of talent, experience and enthusiasm. It’s the perfect recipe for performance.
The mortgage industry has changed a fair amount this year. What changes would you like brokers to know about within Excalibur?
We’ve made a number of modifications. To name a few, we now accept modified appraisals in light of restrictions brought on by physical distancing requirements and accommodate e-signatures on legal documents. But from the perspective of loan-to-value parameters for refinancings, they remain unchanged at 80% so that’s a good non-change.
Another change of note is that you were recently promoted to National Sales Director for First National. Will you still be involved in Excalibur?
My role is broader in the sense that I work with the entire First National team now including folks in our Prime business. Having said that, however, I’m really pleased to say that Excalibur remains in my portfolio. This is a product I believe in and one that we’re going to grow.
Stay positive, keep your communications channels open and remember that First National and the Excalibur team are always available to work with you to create solutions and identify different options for borrowers. Excalibur is here for good and when there is a deal to be done, you can count on us for support.
If you have an Excalibur question or are ready to do business, you can reach out to Szilard Kolozsvari (firstname.lastname@example.org | 416.596.5458), Anne Regan (email@example.com | 416.597.3684), Candice Endacott (firstname.lastname@example.org | 416.597.6434) or Sydney Burnett (email@example.com | 647.361.2018).