Atlantic Bay Mortgage’s Chrissy Zotzmann Brown on secrets to success
Today, HousingWire Daily is joined by Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group’s Chrissy Zotzmann Brown for the Women of Influence podcast miniseries. As the company’s chief operations officer, Zotzmann Brown brings nearly 25 years of mortgage operations and sales experience.
In this episode, Zotzmann Brown discusses her leadership over the past 12 months, which has guided Atlantic Bay to offer a full-stop digital mortgage experience for mortgage bankers and borrowers. She also offers advice to other women who aspire to her level of success.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Alcynna Lloyd: In the past 12 months, your leadership and forward-thinking have guided Atlantic Bay to offer a full-stop digital mortgage experience for mortgage bankers and borrowers and positioned the company as a leader in the e-Closing arena. In order to do this, what has been your main focus – how have you led your team to ensure success?
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: I think a company needs to be on the same page and rowing in the same direction. I talked to a lot of different lenders and one of the challenges they have is where they’re going and how to move forward. Lucky for Atlantic Bay, we are all on the same page and truly believe in future of mortgages. We will be an electronic mortgage, full stop. I truly believe in the next five years, borrowers are going to be able to apply for a mortgage, get approved and close. This is what this generation of homebuyers want. They don’t want to be inconvenienced by going out of their way to take care of a transaction. So, we have really made that a focus and we know that despite market conditions and normal capacity issues, we still need to track forward.
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Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Alcynna Lloyd: Hello, “HousingWire” listeners. Welcome back to another segment of HousingWire’s women of influence. I’m Alcynna Lloyd, HousingWire’s digital media manager and I’ll be taking over the series from HousingWire’s HW+ Managing and Magazine Editor Brena Nath. In today’s episode, I’m joined with ChrissyZotzmann Brown, Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group‘s chief operations officer. Thank you for joining us, Chrissy.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Thank you for having me.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. Listeners, Chrissy has joined us to discuss how she became a woman of influence in the mortgage industry and advice she has to offer other women. Chrissy also touches on news at Atlantic Bay and her perception of this year’s housing market. Chrissy, before we dive in today’s conversation, can you share your background with our audience? I know you leverage nearly 25 years of extensive mortgage operations and sales experience, so I’m really curious on how you got your start in the industry and how the sector has changed over the years.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Yeah, of course. Again, thank you for having me and I’m very honored to be here. So this is a question I’ve gotten before, and I like to ask, does anybody actually set out on their path to be in the mortgage industry? If you find that person, have them give me a call because I’m really curious. Yeah, so you know, just kind of happenstance, you know. Actually it’s a pretty ironic story. My father was in the mortgage industry as a loan officer years before I entered into the working force. And I was still trying to figure out my life. I wanted to be a missionary. I wanted to go over to the third-world countries and build orphanages, and, you know, still kind of at that young stage of, like, where do I want to go? How do I wanna do it? I took a job in a temp agency and I got placed in a mortgage company. And so you know, for their $6 an hour, they taught me how to close and how to process and, you know, then it kind of just spun off from there. And 25 years later, I’m still doing mortgages.
Yeah, so you know, throughout that 25 years, I have a huge desire to learn anything anyone’s willing to teach me. And so I’ve been in, you know, post-closing and shipping, and for those of you back in the good old days where, you know, we had our paper files and had to copy three copies of each file, and the faxes came through and a continuous spiral of paper. And, you know, did processing and took a little stab at sales as a broker in a broker shop. And that was a very interesting segment of my career. And that was before the crash obviously. Then went into retail sales before the crash and then got into closing, underwriting, and processing and kind of really stuck with underwriting. That’s really what I loved. And then from there went into leadership.
Alcynna Lloyd: Wow. So you have an extensive background.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: And a little bit of everything.
Alcynna Lloyd: Yeah, thanks for sharing that with us. So we brought you on the show today because this year you were a recipient of HousingWire’s Annual Woman of Influence Award. There are many reasons why women are recognized for this award and I wanna highlight one of the reasons you were chosen. During the digital environment of this past year, you guided your team to not only continue streamlining processes but shorten turnaround times in many areas. You also advocated and assisted in the implementation of new technologies and automation bots that have continued to improve efficiencies at Atlantic Bay. So needless to say, last year’s lending environment which saw the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for everyone, and I imagine this difficulty was heightened as many companies implemented new technologies. So can you tell us about your experience during this time and how some of that technology you advocated for changed processes at Atlantic Bay?
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Yeah, I mean, I think that we were in a different position than some companies in the sense of our technology initiatives that we decided to implement 2018 through 2019 saved us during the pandemic, right? You know, luckily for Atlantic Bay, we were already previously remote in operations. We just had a handful of employees that came into the office, so, you know, when that moment happened and everyone was programming computers and figuring out how to… You know, managing remote in operation is a whole different challenge you have to learn, right? Luckily for Atlantic Bay, we were already there.
So we had a couple of challenges that I know some of my peers had to overcome, but, you know, we were kind of business as usual on that. But as far as you know, technology goes and the implementation of it… You know, again, going back to, you know, 2018, 2019, you know, I would go to roundtables and different conferences, and I love learning, right? And I love learning, you know, what our peers are doing that were successful and what they did that was a complete failure, right? And what not to do, if you will, right? And so we started on our path towards the e-mortgage, if you will, probably about 2018.
I did the three schools for MBA and school mortgage banking, and I remember one of my instructors said, and I thought it was very interesting, “We are at the death of the traditional mortgage and we’re at the verge of the electronic mortgage.” Right? And you know, at that moment, you know, I went back and we discussed as an executive leadership team that we’re not gonna be left behind, right? And so we started those initiatives back, you know, prior to the pandemic. And luckily, when that happened, those things were already in motion. So kind of my advice to anybody, and I say this every time I talk about technology, because I’m not a tech person, I’m an underwriter, but is… You don’t have time not to, right? Because you never know when that is going to be the thing that saves you.
Alcynna Lloyd: Wow, I love that. So I want to continue discussing some of your success within the last year. In the past 12 months, your leadership and forward-thinking has guided Atlantic Bay to offer a full-stop digital mortgage experience, from mortgage bankers and borrowers who positioned the company as a leader in the E-closing arena. In order to do this, what has been your main focus? How have you led your team to ensure success?
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Yeah, I think it goes back to, you know… Your company needs to be on the same page that this is where we’re heading and we’re all… You know, everyone has to be rowing in the same direction. You know, I talked to a lot of different lenders, and one of the challenges is they know this is the future of mortgages, and some of their other, you know, either their executive leadership teams or some of their other, you know, key players are still apprehensive. And so, until you’re rowing in that same direction, it’s gonna be very difficult to move forward. Lucky for Atlantic Bay, we were all on the same page, like I said, back in, you know, ’18, ’19 that we all truly believed this is a future of mortgages. We will be in the electronic mortgage, full stop. I mean, I truly believe in the next five years, you know, you’re gonna be able to apply for a mortgage, get approved, and close on the soccer field, right? And, you know, that’s kind of what this generation wants. They don’t wanna be inconvenienced by going out of their way to take care of a transaction.
So, you know, as we really made that a focus and we knew that despite the market conditions and, you know, your normal capacity issues, we still need to track forward. And then obviously had an amazing VP of closing that really embraced this, took this on as her passion. And she really adopted that e-closing experience and ran with it. She’s incredible. And, you know, I remember sitting at Fannie Mae conference five years ago when they were talking about the e-closings, and I came back. I was all excited, and I was like, “We gotta do these.” But it wasn’t the time. It was expensive. Maintenance were like, “Nope, not having it.” And prior to the pandemic, you know, we had all of our approvals set up. We had our eNotes set up. We were ready to rock and roll. We had like seven loans that closed. Really having that adoption, you know, is a change.
And I talk a lot about e-closings, and, you know, the e-closing is a very interesting technology advancement because there is… I truly believe there’s more value at that closing table and at the closing experience than there is throughout the whole entire process. And so people are very apprehensive to diminish that value, right? That’s all people remember when they walk away from closing, or mostly what they remember, is what happened and whether they’re happy the day that they got their keys or they signed their papers. And so we, you know, had set up some initiatives January of 2020 of how are we going to get adoption on this. And we set up roundtables for May and we were gonna get all these people together and we were gonna really try to drive home, because, you know, until the industry starts adopting, it’s very difficult to be that pioneer, right?
Then the pandemic hit, right? And everyone’s like, “We can’t leave our houses and we have to close loans.” And we’re like we got the solution, you know. And luckily for us, you know, during a very, very unfortunate time, but we were able to really increase our adoption and, you know, that moment where they needed, it was necessary to do their job, that’s when they experienced like, “Well this isn’t so bad, right? We actually kind of enjoy this.” And from there, you know, we were able to do a lot more. But really just forward-thinking, and then, you know, after we did our first run. Luckily, they used my loan as a guinea pig, and I’m happy to share with anybody what not to do for their first remote online notary and closing because it was quite the experience. I’m glad it was me. But, you know, we did our first run and then, you know, now we’re rocking and rolling with eNotes and got the whole Fannie and Freddie approvals, and then, you know… It’s not stopping there, and that’s kind of one of the mentalities of Atlantic Bay. We’re not satisfied, right? Like, what’s next? And then that’s how we rolled into the Ginnie Mae.
Alcynna Lloyd: Okay, yeah, definitely. I see that Atlantic Bay you guys are approved for Ginnie Mae eNotes, and that allows your team to seamlessly integrate e-closing into all transactions, which kind of touches on your point of why e-closing has become so important to the industry. The borrowers want it, so that’s great.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Also, I mean, there’s a huge lift, and even the borrowers don’t want to… I want them to want it because, you know, the accuracy. Anytime you implement technology, you’re increasing your accuracy, right? So gone are the days, when I have a e-closing loan, are the days of, you know, somebody missed their signature, or they signed their wrong name, which I still don’t understand how that happens, but it happens, right? Like, what? That’s not even your name. But yeah, so you know, the accuracy is a huge lift for the post-closing department, and, you know, I think that’s one of the largest benefits as well as obviously interest, arbitrage, and delivering to warehouse banks and things like that.
Alcynna Lloyd: So outside of your work with Atlantic Bay, you’re an active advocate to government agencies on behalf of the mortgage industry. And recently, you spoke with the White House on the effects of the recent PSPA amendments. Can you touch on that discussion and your sentiments about the amendments?
Alcynna Lloyd: Sure. It was a very, very interesting experience for sure. I was asked probably in February or March of this year if I wanted to join a trade group, CHLA. And I was like, “Sure, I wanna learn, right?” And, you know, being an underwriter, the regulatory side of things is a little bit outside of my wheelhouse and not really my strong suit, so I thought, “Well, I’ll just kind of be a fly on the wall and listen and learn kind of what’s going on in Capitol Hill and what’s coming down the pipe.” And, you know, that’s when the lovely PSPA amendments hit. And, yeah, that was a pretty… For an IMB, that was a very, very tough challenge to navigate through, you know, especially… Atlantic Bay is on the East Coast and more on the southeast area, and we have a lot of second homes. I mean, we have, you know, Rehoboth Beach all the way down through, you know, the Outer Banks and to Florida and Georgia. And it was a very difficult environment, and I think that really helped kind of spin-off that passion for this cannot happen, right?
You know, obviously, understanding a little bit more of how things work at Capitol Hill and how things come down the pipe, it just wasn’t right, you know, in my own personal opinion. This is my opinion, not the opinion of Atlantic Bay. And so those amendments, you know… So I became very passionate about that, passionate about the fact that these are very low-risk loans. You know, the whole premise of these PSPA amendments was to mitigate the risk of the taxpayer dollar, right? And, you know, I did a bunch of research and data and found that these are actually not risky at all. They actually perform a lot better than a lot of the primary residences. Shockingly enough, they do. You know, and so I really started taking on that voice and the passion for, you know, advocating for this.
And the next thing you know I’m meeting with the Department of Treasury and the White House and FHFA, and then, you know, the C-suites of Fannie and Freddie, and, you know, it just kind of happened. But again, you know, just in the search for learning, I stumbled upon this trade group, and, you know, having that passion and not being quiet in my opinions and my thoughts on it kind of led me to those experiences. And it was a very, very neat experience and the best experience is when they suspended them. I’m such a mortgage nerd, I felt like I got a new car that day, right? So it was a really cool experience.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s really amazing. Not a lot of people are able to have an opportunity like that, so congratulations to you.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: My favorite part in that was I was able to meet with Director Thompson of the FHFA a couple months ago, and my assigned segment of that was to defend second homes with affordable housing. I was like, “Come on.” No, but it was just a really neat experience, and it’s neat to hear kind of how those things come about and the kind of the thought process from those leaders that are making these decisions.
Alcynna Lloyd: Definitely, definitely. So I wanna continue discussing outside of your accomplishments. We focused a bit on some technology and regulation concerns. I want to take this time to discuss your perception of the mortgage market right now. Do you have any concerns or focuses for this year and heading into 2022?
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: I mean, I started off 2021 saying this is gonna be a wild card, right? There were so many different moving parts that, you know, the projections of what we thought would happen, especially Q3, Q4. I mean Q3, Q4 of this year were supposed to be a complete loss. You know, business was supposed to drop off. We were supposed to see this massive… you know, the pendulum swing again, right? For those of you that have been in the business for ever, you know that it happens, and then it didn’t happen. And then you introduce the PSPA issues into the arena, and so, you know, the focus was kind of preparing on that and how are we going to begin to stand up a lot of private liquidity for some of these products that, you know, historically can go to Fannie and Freddie. And then, you know, just recently that was suspended. And we’re still advocating for that because it is a suspension, not elimination.
So kind of at this point, I feel like it’s still a little bit of a wild card. There’s some very… You know, those that are following kind of what’s happening in the industry, there’s a lot of pretty serious balls in the air that really haven’t been sorted out, one being the PSPA suspension. You know, that’s under review now. Like, that still is not eliminated and that’s kind of the unknown, if you will, for 2022 as well as there’s a lot of fair lending, fair housing regulation. I feel like there’s a lot of different balls in the air regarding kind of the requirements on the IMDs to have the same requirement as a depository without, you know, per se, the protection and the benefits of being a depository. So, you know, I think we’re all just kind of preparing and watching and listening and trying to be ready when those regulations hit, but I honestly… I still think it’s a wild card,
Alcynna Lloyd: It is a wild card. We really didn’t even know how 2020 was gonna behave, so it’s kind of hard to imagine what 2022 is going to be like.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Well, after 2020, like, okay. That’s it. That was, you know, an incredible year, and my poor operation staff is like, “Whew, it’s over. Thank God. I’m so tired.” Right? And we do believe in balance, but it was a really intense year. And, you know, going into 2021, we’re like, “Okay, now, I mean, is it gonna be Q2? Is going to be Q3?” And you know, we’re still, you know, kind of chugging along. So, at this point, I’m kind of tired of guessing. Just roll with it. Trying to make sure that we’re set up and protected as best as possible.
Alcynna Lloyd: Yeah, yeah, you’re definitely not alone on that. Before we wrap today, I wanted to know if there’s any advice you can offer to other women who aspire to your level of success.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Oh, man, I could talk about this for hours. Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a couple of key things that I really speak to my staff about, and, you know, women in particular, potentially not, you know, just in general for those that want to, you know, continue the path to success is… You know, one of my big philosophies is, you know, start to really get comfortable and learn what you are and what you’re not. I think that there’s a lot of power in being confident in the things that you’re just not, you know, skilled at, or you’re just not born to be good at, right? And, you know, we all have them. Every single person has them. And I think once you establish that confidence, you’re able to then kind of mitigate and compensate for that and really be able to deliver your best work and your best, you know, efficiencies, etc., without, you know, a lot of the struggle in that.
And then I think, you know, I think that… What I speak to my group about a lot is permission. You know, give yourself permission to be human and give yourself permission to be the things that you’re not, and I think within that confidence comes success, right? When you start truly being confident in what you are and what you’re not, that’s where you can give permission, and it ends up netting into success.
The other thing is, you know, I’m very fortunate, and this is not another shameless plug for Atlantic Bay, but I’m very fortunate to work for an organization that, you know, truly does… I mean, I’ve never in the 10 years that I’ve been at Atlantic Bay ever felt that I was at a disadvantage for being a woman, right? So ensure that you’re working for an organization that accepts that and believes in that and promotes that and, you know, doesn’t really see the gender issues or equality issues there. I think that I’ve been just very blessed to… You know, I remember being at a conference years ago, and somebody said, “What does it feel like to have a seat at the table?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” Like, it’s just normal business for us, right?
And then I think that the last thing is we’re not superheroes, right? And I think that’s still, you know… Although we’ve come a long way in gender equality, and, you know, having women in business, etc., I think we still have a long ways to go. There’s still, you know, I think less than 20% of women hold C-suite positions. And, you know, there is that struggle still of what does it look like to be a successful businesswoman, and a successful mother if you choose to take that path, or successful wife or partner if you choose to take those paths, and how do you do it all? And the answer is you don’t. And it really comes down to, again, that permission, giving yourself permission to be what you are and be what you’re not and then compensating for those.
I mean, I’ve really struggled with that myself. I’m a mother of a five-year-old and trying to find that balance, but too often we are pressured still by historical society labels of what we should be and how it should all look, you know. And I think that just even in a social environment right now everyone’s just looking for permission to be their authentic selves, right? And so how does that look? And how do you start to learn to give yourself permission? I tell the story about Valentine’s Day. My son goes to school and he comes home with all these beautiful bags of candy and ribbons, and I sent him to school with, like, cardboard Valentine’s, right? Like, the whole school had… And I felt kind of bad for a moment. I was like, “I can’t be it all and that’s okay. That is okay.”
You know, and so I think that we just all need to start supporting each other. And, you know, I’m focusing on the mamas right now because that’s a real struggle in my life right now with a five-year-old, but, you know, mom guilt is a really intense thing. But you know, just as women we give each other permission to not be those things that we think we should be, right? And it’s okay to be a businesswoman and it’s okay to want an awesome career. I mean, that is okay. So I think the tone of everything is just permission.
Alcynna Lloyd: Wow. I love that advice, and that’s definitely something I know more women in the industry need to give themselves is definitely more permission.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Yeah.
Alcynna Lloyd: Definitely. Well, Chrissy, thank you so much for joining us today. I really loved what you had to share with our audience.
Chrissy Zotzmann Brown: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me.
Alcynna Lloyd: Listeners, thank you for listening and join us next Tuesday for another great interview with a woman of influence. Until then, tune in tomorrow for an interview with our host Matthew Blake, HousingWire’s senior real estate reporter. You won’t want to miss out. Have a great evening, everyone. Thank you.