From the Ground Up

Lori Murray | American Riviera Bank | Santa Barbara, Calif.

Creating new customer options, Lori Murray built a mortgage department from scratch

By Howard Schneider

Early last year, Lori Murray joined American Riviera Bank to develop a mortgage lending department from scratch. To get the department going, she did everything from selecting processing software to writing policies and procedures at the $175 million-asset community bank in Santa Barbara, Calif., explains Jeff DeVine, the bank’s president and CEO.

Murray, the bank’s vice president and mortgage lending officer, established relationships with wholesale lenders to allow American Riviera to sell its conforming loans. She also developed underwriting and pricing guidelines for the adjustable-rate mortgages that the bank holds in portfolio.

Once the development and compliance activities were complete and approved by American Riviera’s board, Murray devoted herself to originating loans and produced almost $25 million in volume over the last six months of 2012. That stellar output continues in 2013; her production volume through April already totaled $14 million.

A veteran loan officer, Murray spent 17 years at a regional bank that was acquired by a larger international financial institution in 2007. The 45-year-old says she fully appreciates the opportunity to work for a community bank like American Riviera. “You become truly part of your community and can take the time to build relationships with your customers,” she says.

Finding mortgage borrowers hasn’t been a struggle in this market, Murray relates. “When people receive a good product and outstanding service, they are generally eager to refer their friends and neighbors to our bank.”

In some cases, another institution has turned down a borrower before he or she works with Murray, she adds. “At American Riviera, we have a bit more flexibility in our portfolio program to extend loans to responsible borrowers and get them closed quickly and efficiently.”

Murray says her focus is always on matching customers with the best loan available. When a business owner with a cyclical income asks for a 15-year home loan, she might encourage him to take a 30-year mortgage with payments that won’t be problematic even when his business is slow.

She also considers listening to borrowers and educating them to be among her primary responsibilities. “I don’t tell them what to do,” she notes, “but I’m happy to give sound advice so that my customers can make good financial decisions.”

American Riviera’s portfolio products are hybrid ARMs with rates that are fixed for five, seven or 10 years. Borrowers who need a jumbo loan, or who don’t completely meet conforming loan underwriting standards, benefit most from these products.

DeVine notes that the bank’s overall earnings have jumped dramatically by adding its in-house mortgage department. “Lori is now helping our existing clients gain home financing, and we no longer have to refer them to one of our competitors,” he says. “Better yet, her external marketing and business development efforts, coupled with her superior service, are bringing new customers and depositors in the door.”

Howard Schneider is a writer in Ojai, Calif.