By Chuck McKitrick
The vision for our company has always been to help put Canadians into homes, and to help others achieve their financial freedom. While the world has changed a lot amid the recent pandemic, that vision has remained the same — we just deliver on it very differently.
Even before the spread of COVID-19 forced many organizations to close and for staff to work from home, at Alta West Capital, we had been working on an initiative that, without knowing it at the time, helped prepare us for the disruption that was to come.
About two years ago, for example, we realized that growing our business to work with bigger banks and REITs would mean developing an IT plan that would meet the most stringent cybersecurity standards. We began looking at all the ways we managed data, and how using technologies from Salesforce and others could help us comply with industry regulations.
It’s always difficult to transition from old business processes and technologies to new ones. Looking back, I liken our operational leadership to Noah building the Ark. No one could imagine the flood that was to come. It was as if Noah was putting the last spike in the Ark — we were just getting to where we needed to be — and the rain started to fall. Or, in our case, the Coronavirus outbreak began.
We had already been renting space on third-party servers, but that wasn’t enough to ensure we could work from anywhere without fear of being attacked by ransomware or other security threats. Our Salesforce partner helped us find a local IT team with offices across Canada that fit the bill. Because of this, we have been able to move away from manual, time-consuming tasks to providing our team with increased visibility across our business.
All the underwriting we used to do, for instance, had been done on spreadsheets. Every single deal would be a new spreadsheet that was built out over a period of years. There were members of our team that would have little visibility into important information, and we couldn’t conduct the kind of analysis we wanted to do from one year to the next.
Using Salesforce means everyone can now see everything, from what’s in the pipeline to closing ratios.
It’s great for our company because, as the CEO, I can monitor what’s going on across different streams of the business. It means I’m not going to micro-manage anybody, but I can set up the appropriate levels of communication. That might be as simple as, ‘This is the target, this is when we’re going to achieve it, and this is your responsibility in it.”
With this foundation in place, we have been able to quickly transition from working in a regular office, to one that’s tailor-made for a distributed workforce.
Alta West Capital’s key customers and stakeholders include mortgage professionals, investors, and of course, borrowers. The one thing they all have in common is the need for seamless and proactive communication from our team.
While we moved quickly to put up critical information for investors and borrowers on our website, we also took additional measures. This included designating some staff to call every borrower to make sure they have all the information they needed on deferral plans and answers to other common questions.
At the same time, we were able to put a 7,000-person call list of broker contacts into Salesforce and provided Lightning dialers for our staff. As we made contact, the workflows we were able to set up within Salesforce were critical. They allow us to get a notification, for example, every time a commitment letter is issued.
Instead of information scattered everywhere, everyone has the access they need and the right people get information they can act on.
As a result of all this, we’re on track to have one of our best months ever. Where many of our competitors have reduced headcount or closed their doors entirely, we’ve been able to avoid layoffs.
I’ve also come to recognize that there’s a real difference in being able to pop by someone’s desk when you’re on the way to a boardroom and leading them entirely via technology. That’s why, on a day-to-day basis, we’ve assigned managers to go through everyone on the team to check in and see how they’re doing. Some are having difficulties, and others are thriving. It can really go either way, and it’s not always as you’d expect of specific individuals, either. I’ve never given as much encouragement as I do now.
This is the new normal for us. However the present situation plays out — whether it takes one week or months — our business will be irrevocably changed. But many of the changes are for the better. We have become a more well-run group than we ever were.