Mortgage Man

Matt Harms Cleveland State Bank in Cleveland, Wis.
Matt Harms
Cleveland State Bank in Cleveland, Wis.

Matt Harms takes the time to serve people and fulfill financial dreams

By Kelly Pike

When there is a need at Cleveland State Bank in Cleveland, Wis., Matt Harms, vice president of consumer and mortgage services, steps up.

When another lender left the $103 million-asset community bank, Harms picked up her client load for months without complaint and then trained the new replacement staffer. If clients need to be walked through a credit report or have a challenging credit situation, Harms is there to listen and guide them. And even as new regulations make the mortgage environment increasingly challenging, he just smiles, adapts quickly and gets back to business.

“Matt is very much an optimist,” says Tim Schueler, Cleveland State Bank’s president and CEO. “When he comes into the bank, he’s the person that brightens that room, makes your day feel better.”

Since he joined the bank in 2002 after graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Harms has grown his portfolio to more than $51 million and serves more than 500 clients. Residential mortgages make up about 90 percent of his portfolio with other retail lending and a few small commercial loans making up the rest. Overall Cleveland State Bank retains $39 million in mortgages in-house and retains servicing rights for another $60 million sold to the secondary market.

For Harms, mortgage lending isn’t just about regulations or underwriting—it’s about people and their financial dreams. That’s why he’s ready to have tough conversations when he welcomes clients into his office.

“The worst thing we can do is meet a want today knowing the need is really putting money in a Roth IRA today or saving money for a future down payment,” offers Harms, who grew up thinking he wanted to be a financial advisor.

In a way, he is. Although he doesn’t offer investment advice, he takes the time to learn everything about a clients’ financial health and what is important to them. He looks for mitigating factors and puts them in contact with people who can help—whether inside or outside the bank. Clients are often delighted, he says, because they had no idea that a lender can help them get their finances and credit report in order.

“I don’t like to say sorry, so I will exhaust every opportunity I can think of,” says Harms, who might ask parents to cosign a second mortgage on their property for a year or two to back up a mortgage for a child, until the child’s equity or credit is firmly established. “After all, the current opportunity may not be available in two years.”

While many homebuyers come in asking how much they can borrow, Harms often asks them about a comfortable monthly payment and works backward from there—especially if someone has never had a monthly payment before. He finds that many of his clients are comfortable with a housing expense ratio around 20 percent or less.

There is no typical client, Harms adds. He deals with everyone from first-time homebuyers to clients buying a second home in Arizona or Florida. And he gives the same time and attention to everyone.

“He treats every client coming into the bank with the same level of respect and enthusiasm,” Schueler says. “He has the innate capability of making that person be his focus at that point in time.”

Kelly Pike is a freelance writer in Virginia.