Underwriting: An Under-tapped Opportunity
Why underwriters are well-positioned for a long and successful commercial real estate career
Is being an underwriter less appealing than being an originator ? Not at all. Underwriting is an excellent opportunity for those looking to get a big break in a career in commercial real estate finance. Perhaps more exposure to a diverse skill set than any other industry roles, underwriting provides opportunities for career growth, greater responsibility, and valuable experience. In fact, an underwriter who deeply understands the inner workings of a transaction and the real estate industry as a whole is invaluable to employers.
The Role of Underwriters
Underwriters work closely with originators to ensure that borrowers receive the best possible financial products based on their needs and lenders receive investment opportunities that meet their risk profile. Originators provide advice about which type of loan best suits their clients’ needs, but ultimately it is up to the underwriter to ensure applications are in accordance with all loan requirements, applicable laws and regulations.
Want to know more about the overlooked opportunities available to you through a new career in underwriting?
We caught up with Jon Veerman, Canada ICI’s newly appointed National Director of Underwriting, to learn more about the often untapped opportunities that a career in underwriting holds.
Jon speaks about three key ingredients to give every flourishing underwriter a head start: Significant deal volume, broad skill development, and a supportive team.
Understanding the path: Jon’s perspective
Jon began his career as a commercial real estate agent right out of post-secondary. Curiosity drove Jon to dig deeper. He got his mortgage license and took on a new role where he closed deals for a private lender. Jon’s career experience gave him a rare knowledge of both the equity and debt sides of the commercial real estate industry
Moving through his career, Jon saw two fundamental differences between other companies and Canada ICI.
#1 Key Difference: The first was Canada ICI provides exposure to a large volume of transactions, ranging in variety. Prior to ICI, Jon was exposed to only a handful of deals each year and focused strictly on one or two asset classes at a time. Canada ICI’s business pace is expeditious. The company transacts nearly two deals every single day. Jon and his team have in-depth exposure to hundreds of transactions every year, across all asset classes. That builds serious financing and business acumen.
#2 Key Difference: The second was limitations. In previous organizations Jon was advised to “stay in his lane.” He was limited to either specific transactions or asset classes, in accordance to how others thought best and this stunted his ambition to expand his skillset.
Historically, most commercial real estate organizations foster an in-house culture of competition. Canada ICI has gone against predominant industry culture by intentionally creating a supportive workplace that shares in success, thereby removing limitations to personal and company growth.
Underwriting is a complex role
Many people assume that underwriters require only technical knowledge, such as the ability to analyze financial data and assess risk. In fact, the underwriter’s role is much more complex. An effective underwriter possesses an almost intuitive sense for business and a thorough understanding of how emotions motivate people within real estate.
Jon explains, “It is true that everyone can learn the analysis and financial aspects of underwriting, but what sets an underwriter apart is the ability to move beyond those skills and to understand the perspectives and motivations individuals bring to each deal.” This understanding develops over time with exposure to a broad range of scenarios.
Education, mentorship, and opportunity
As the newly appointed National Director of Mortgage Underwriting, Jon gives us a glimpse into how new underwriters can gain a significant head start on their commercial real estate careers. Three elements that Canada ICI uses to support underwriters are education, mentorship, and opportunity.
Jon and his team are assembling the fundamentals of underwriting in what he calls an “underwriting handbook.” This bootcamp of sorts examines each type of lender, their needs and motivations, and how they assess risk.
Additionally, the handbook provides a comprehensive overview of different loan structures and asset classes that underwriters encounter during the first couple of years of their careers. The handbook covers the technical aspects of underwriting and details what makes a loan successful, as well as any special circumstances that could impact the decision-making process.
Jon believes underwriters must develop necessary people skills through mentorship. “From the top down, Canada ICI has an internal network of leaders, who make time for you,” he added.
The mentorship model at Canada ICI strongly encourages underwriters to sit in on meetings, review relevant documentation on deals, and ask questions.
Canada ICI also has both an open-door policy and information-sharing sessions which new underwriters can take advantage of to build essential people skills.
Canada ICI is developing a new data and analytics initiative that provides underwriters with great opportunities to expand their roles. The initiative will give brokers and underwriters predictive information based on historical transactions and it offers more assurance and decision-making advice. It’s early days, but this substantial undertaking (think thousands of real estate transaction data!) will give underwriters a wealth of spin-off opportunities to drive the industry and consequently, their careers.
A bright, diverse future for underwriters
Underwriting opens up opportunities for career growth in commercial real estate. Successful underwriters are well-rounded. This attribute makes them especially appealing candidates for higher positions or when they explore lateral moves within a company. Jon’s own experience is proof of the value of underwriting as a career foundation. Even Rick Bachalo, President of Canada ICI, has a background in underwriting.
Jon ends our interview with one last piece of advice for new underwriters or anyone new to a commercial real estate career at Canada ICI.
“Don’t worry about the final outcome. Instead, focus on the next two steps.”
He encourages new underwriters to be proactive and take advantage of the open-door policy and team aspect of Canada ICI’s mentorship culture. Additionally, Jon suggests leveraging mentorship to decipher the next move. Your colleagues have been there before and are willing to share and invest in you.
A career in underwriting has the untapped potential to widen your career horizons and build your aptitude for an exciting future. These days it might seem like originators might get more of the spotlight, but a career in underwriting is like a vast and luminous landscape where the limit is only your potential.