CMB: ‘The Industry Standard of Professional Success’

A talk with four who are deeply involved in the process of helping professionals attain the prestigious Certified Mortgage Banker designation

The Certified Mortgage Banker designation is, in the words of Mortgage Media’s Dave Stevens, “the industry standard of professional success.” He adds: “It symbolizes respect, credibility, ethics of achievement within real estate finance. When you become a CMB, it instantly places you at the top of the industry.”

In a recent panel discussion, Stevens – a CMB himself – spoke with four people who are active in the area of helping professionals on the pathway to attain that gold-standard designation, one that’s been bestowed just over 1,300 times over history. (There are, in fact, only some 730 currently active.) They discussed why the designation is important, what it takes to become a CMB, and what they do to help people earn that title.

On the panel:

  • Brent Green, CMB, Chairman of the MBA Certified Mortgage Banker Society, and Mortgage Sales Manager, Lake Michigan Credit Union
  • Madeline Johnson, CMB, Vice Chair of the Society (and past President of the MBA of metropolitan Washington, D.C., and Executive Financial Consultant for Milliman
  • Seth Sprague, CMB, Secretary of the Society, and Principal, STRATMOR Group
  • Amber Lawrence, Associate Director of Education and Programming for the MBA

The following are paraphrases of Stevens’ questions for the panel, and selected responses:

What does being a CMB mean to you, and why is it an important part of a professional’s career?

“For me, I believe we’re all in this together,” said Green, a CMB for about 10 years himself. “When you talk about the mortgage industry, being a CMB to me is absolutely helping that industry, advocating for the industry, raising the bar for the industry. It’s an important role; I’m glad I did it.”

Johnson noted that the CMB designation allows “immediate talking points” with other professionals in networking opportunities — including about “how you made it through the process (and) how you can help other people make it through the process.”

Sprague — who says he’s probably taught over 2,000 people in the mortgage space, said a large part of being a CMB is being able to use the knowledge base one’s amassed to make the overall industry better — in part through the transfer of that knowledge to others.

Speaking of that knowledge base, how does one get started on that process?

There are multiple avenues to learning the information required — schools of mortgage banking, executive programs, a preparatory course (Green himself did the prep course, he noted) — although he had plenty of industry experience. There’s a point-based system, in which one’s education, industry experience and general work experience within the industry counts toward the total points one needs. And you need a sponsor who will walk you through what’s expected of you.

In addition to the formal sponsor, however, Johnson recommends finding a CMB and informally talking about their experience and path. “It just takes the fear out of it,” she said.

What made you want to get the CMB?

Sprague was advised by an early mentor to pursue the designation as a means of professional development. “As you attend events,” he said, “you find increasingly that the CMBs that are out there, the ones that are out presenting — those are the ones that are at the forefront of issues.” And that kind of active engagement, in presenting the mortgage industry in its best light, struck a chord with him — and rang true in his experience.

“During the financial crisis I think that the CMB was really a group that started to help leverage out a lot of the change that occurred in the industry,” he said. “I think that’s very important as we go through our cycles here in the business world.”

What are your roles in the CMB Society?

As chairman, Green described his role as setting goals for the year — what needs to be done this year, and to continue on; is how best to ensure the group keeps up with industry issues. This year saw a rewrite of the written tests and oral panel questions, for instance. (He credits the assistance of some 50 volunteers.)

Among Johnson’s initiatives has been the social committee — which she renamed the Fun Committee — dedicated to making sure that at every conference or similar event there is an informal gathering for CMBs (a happy hour, perhaps) where they can socialize and network — talk about business issues and the CMB program, and share their knowledge and expertise. “It’s a wealth of information and knowledge, and if you can — every time you go to one of these events, make a friend (and) keep a friend, I think that’s a win for everyone in the industry.”

The testing (an oral panel and a solid six-hour written test) is hard and arduous, requiring extensive study and preparation. How do you motivate and recruit people to undergo this process?

In Johnson’s local (Metro Washington, D.C., MBA/MW) MBA, they’ll send word out through email about forming a study groups — “we try to rally the troops that way” — and run a whole session on becoming a CMB during their local conference. “It’s more getting the word out that they can do this,” she said. She remembers her trepidation in the late 1990s of taking the test, fearing failure and what that might mean for her reputation as a consultant — and remembers being assured by a friend at the MBA that she could handle it. “That’s all you need, is a little bit of information, some support — a pathway to get through the process and you’re not alone. That’s what needs to be communicated, I think, across the board.”

Lawrence added: “You have to have a CMB (person) kind of going through this process with you. Someone who has already been through it, and taken the test, accumulated the points, sat for the exams, someone who’s really been through it. They essentially are the gatekeepers to the exam process. You cannot take the exam unless your sponsor signs off on you taking it.”

Has the CMB designation helped you in your own careers?

“One thing I’ve learned is that our industry constantly evolves and changes,” Johnson said. “Being a CMB adds that layer of trust in expertise for any new clients you may obtain or business relationship.”

Green recalls referring to his designation as “a credibility tool in sales” — noting that only around 800 people nationwide out of hundreds of thousands in the industry can claim it. As well, in the credit union or community banks he’s worked for, he’s taken on the role of advisor to senior management based on his expertise — expertise that continues to grow as he goes to all the conferences and meets with high-level industry partners.

Stevens himself added: “I’ll tell you as someone who’s been in some senior roles in our industry, I always thought that those who had the CMB program showed to me that they were separating themselves in their efforts to advance their knowledge of our industry. There’s a responsibility I think that most CMBs feel about the mortgage finance industry that makes them unique. Whether you’re distinguishing yourself from the sales standpoint or you’re looking at it in terms of recruiting and other aspects related to this industry. The fact that you went through that process is a reflection on how you approach this industry. You take it much more seriously and put much more effort behind it — something that should clearly be championed.”

How do people access the CMB program?

Full program information can be found at MBA.org/CMB, plus people can reach out directly to Lawrence at mailto:alawrence@MBA.org — and she’ll “essentially take all the guesswork out of the process,” she said. That’s the first step — send her a resume or connect with her on LinkedIn. She will complete a preliminary point assessment for essentially anyone, and then walk them through the process, “gathering external information from various activities attended through external organizations as well as what we have on record with the national MBA.”

The CMB pages on the MBA site also list all the people active in the program today, which Stevens noted is a great way for those interested in pursuing the designation to find someone to reach out to for mentoring. Johnson, Green and Sprague all are open to contact as well from those interesting in pursuing the designation.

“Look at who’s come through the School of Mortgage Banking at MBA,” Stevens said. “You have members of regulators, you have members of the GSEs and so many folks from industry … spanning all aspects of the business. So don’t think you’re not eligible.”

“You won’t regret it, for sure,” Green added.