Champion Closer

Arlene Schwerzler Merchants Bank in Winona, Minn.
Arlene Schwerzler
Merchants Bank in Winona, Minn.

Arlene Schwerzler is an extraordinary mortgage-making machine

By Michael Blankenheim

Over the past three years, Arlene Schwerzler, a loan officer for Merchants Bank in Winona, Minn., has closed more than 1,025 residential mortgages. By any standard, that’s a ton of loans for one person to handle.

Not surprisingly, Schwerzler leads the $1.5 billion-asset community bank’s nearly 370 employees in the sheer volume of loans she closes, and she is typically near the head of the pack in total value of loans generated, too. She also holds an internal referral rate of 75 percent for other services customers may request or need.

Schwerzler’s extraordinary success stems from caring enough to closely listen to her customers and learn their needs, says Susan M. Hovell, her supervisor. “Arlene does an amazing job of tending to her customers’ technical needs and also their emotional needs,” says Hovell, the bank’s senior vice president, director of retail banking performance.

Merchants Bank operates branches in 19 communities in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. As a vice president, Schwerzler works at the bank’s main office in Winona, a city of 27,000 with a solid local economy where she lives and has raised two children. She has worked as a loan department officer for the bank for 17 years. She says that longevity has allowed her to uniquely know the community where she works and calls home.

“I see the folks at the grocery store, out to dinner and at church,” she says. “I feel extremely connected. You can’t really take care of people as well if you don’t really understand what the majority of people in your community need.”

More than 90 percent of her mortgage business comes from referrals from people who already know her. These include professionals such as Realtors and attorneys. But more often, her business is from referrals from people she has already helped, their friends or their families. Many of the children of homebuyers she first helped 29 years ago have come to her to buy a home, and now so are their grandchildren.

“I am honored to have helped three generations of folks with their homes purchases,” Schwerzler says.
Her success, however, comes from knowing a lot of people. Schwerzler is, of course, an expert in the products she offers, which include conventional, Veterans Administration, Federal Housing Administration and Minnesota First Time Homebuyer mortgage loan programs. She makes a priority of educating clients about finances and credit.

And there are no shortcuts to wonder about here. Schwerzler takes the concerted steps to conduct a cash-flow analysis and crunch the numbers multiple times. But those moves are standard, she says. “The main thing is that you can’t go into this with preconceived notions,” she offers. “You have to listen to the borrower and learn what is right from them.

“Sometimes it means there is a program for them, and sometimes it may mean I have to say ‘I can’t do this loan for you today, and here’s why.’ I’m not all about what’s easy, I’m all about what’s right.”
Schwerzler, in addition to the home-fire encouragement of her husband, also praises her colleagues for their help in processing her torrential volume of mortgages. “I have an awesome processor and a great underwriting staff. Without them, I wouldn’t succeed.”

Michael Blankenheim is a freelance writer in Maryland.