A background in banking and finance, a nose for opportunity and a sense of loyalty have served Bob Hanson well

The Loan Arranger

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

The way he tells it, Bob Hanson, the owner of Hanson Mortgage Corp. in Williston, got into the finance business because "there weren't any other job openings advertised in the newspaper that particular Sunday when I decided I didn't want to sell suits any more." That was in 1972, and the newly married Hanson was an assistant manager at a Robert Hall clothing store near New York City.

In April 2000, Bob Hanson brought a long career in banking and mortgage lending to bear in his own business, Hanson Mortgage Co. What began with Hanson and one staff person now boasts a staff of 12, including Hanson, his wife and one of his sons.

A native of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., he had met his future wife, Rochelle Borchers, on a blind date not long after returning from two years in the Army. He followed her to Iowa State University, where she finished her undergraduate work. "I had run on the Army track team," says Hanson, "and went to visit the track coach at Iowa to see if I could get a scholarship there. It was a little late for scholarships, so I did attend school there for a while, but with Rochelle graduating, as we were thinking more about where we wanted to live she was from Iowa and wanting to get married, I decided to stop college. We got married in 1971 and moved to the metropolitan New York area."

The ad that Sunday in '72 was for somebody to do collections for the IBM Credit Union in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "I think maybe before then, I had once been able to balance my checking account," Hanson jokes, "but that was the closest I ever came to finance."

Because of what Hanson calls good luck, within three years he was the assistant manager of the credit union. Having decided he really did like the finance business, he accepted a job as manager of a local teachers' credit union.

By 1978, he and Rochelle were the parents of two sons, Jeremy and Derek a daughter, Marcy, would be born a few years later and looking to leave the "hustle, bustle and congestion" of the crowded metropolitan area. Hanson saw an ad in a magazine for a management position for the startup of the IBM Credit Union in Vermont.

"We had visions of covered bridges and owning vast tracts of land," he says with a chuckle,""so we moved up here."

Hanson has a way of discerning opportunity, and when, about three years later, a chance for a job as manager for Credit Bureau Services of Vermont came along, he jumped. "They were just starting to automate credit reporting," he says. "I was hired to spearhead the operation and go to banks to get them to sign on and provide training to people who used it." The downside, which soon became apparent, was that he eventually had to lay off 80 percent of the staff of 50 to 60 people,""once they were no longer necessary to read all that information on paper."

When the ownership of the credit bureau changed hands, Hanson left to work for Bombardier Capital. He laughs as he confesses that the timeline has become fuzzy.

In 1982, Hanson says, he "worked into mortgages in a more direct fashion" when he took a job as sales manager for Colonial Funding in Williston. "It was probably the second mortgage company in the state" owned by Home & City Savings Bank in Albany."

After several years, the savings bank was bought by another New York bank that decided to close the Vermont operation. Hanson found himself called on by friends to consult, working on short-term start-ups, such as opening a branch in Chittenden County for Eastern Funding, a Manchester firm run by a friend of his, and helping another friend, the owner of Interbank Funding in St. Albans, get into the mortgage business in the eastern United States.

Internet marketing allows the company to also do business outside of Vermont, mainly in Florida, Connecticut and New Hampshire, with rapid turnaround on mortgage approval. Pictured from left are: loan officer Brian Jewell; loan processors Charlotte Farmer and Laurie Littlefield; and loan officers Gray Jensvold and Eric Bacon.

In April of 2000, Hanson applied for a license to start Hanson Mortgage Corp. He opened for business at 76 Pearl St. in Essex Junction on Aug. 1, 2000.

At first, it was just Hanson and Charlotte Farmer, a woman he knew from Eastern Funding who had helped him set things up. In September, he hired Brian Jewell, a Chittenden Bank employee Hanson had known a long time. "The following month, I hired Eric Bacon," says Hanson. "I think I coached him in recreational basketball in Essex Junction when he was in third grade. He was close friends with my younger son, Derek."

Hanson says he has always tried to hire people he knows or has worked with or are well-known to other members of the staff.""We have kept that a tradition through the years," he says. Heather Pearce, for example: Hanson knew her from Franklin Lamoille Bank. George Dean, he knew from Stowe.""Just a side note," Hanson adds with laugh: "He's the longest-tenured employee at the Mount Mansfield Co. teaches skiing there." Dean works from Hanson's Stowe office.

He mentions others who came into the company through friendships or connections.'"Justin Martin is a friend of my older son, Jeremy. He's a UVM grad and had been playing minor league hockey. He worked for us two years, but his heart was in hockey. He's now the hockey coach at Rice." Laurie Littlefield, a loan processor, was someone Hanson knew at Interbank Funding. Two recent hires, Aaron Rich, a friend of Jeremy's, and Gray Jensvold Hanson knew his father have kept the tradition going.

Hanson speaks of his employees as family, and some of them are. In 2002, Rochelle left her longtime IBM job to come with the firm. She does the bookkeeping, advertising and marketing, and is responsible for all compliance. His son Derek became a full-time loan officer in 2002.

The connection to friends extends outside the staff. CPA Michael LeBoeuf of Essex Junction is Hanson's accountant. "I've known Bob probably five to seven years," says LeBoeuf. "I first met him going to a UVM ball game. Owen Jenkins introduced us. We started talking, and Owen said he should come and see me because he needed accounting help getting his business established."

Established it is. On a typical day, Hanson is in the office between 7:30 and 8 a.m. He checks his calendar, then logs on to the Internet to see if any loan applications have arrived from marketing the firm does in Florida, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

"In our first year of business," he explains, "during the wintertime when it was 30 below zero and people couldn't buy houses because you couldn't see them through the snow, we said, 'Gee, in Florida they buy houses there all the time,' so Florida was our first target."

The firm handles financing for "a fair number" of vacation homes for people who come to Vermont, often from Connecticut. "They say, 'Gee, great job. How about if you finance my house in Connecticut?' so we got licensed to do that." The New Hampshire licensing came about because of work with the many Realtors with dual licenses along the border.

The company works through Internet marketing sources to drive people to a website that helps them determine where their best resource might be to get a mortgage, says Hanson, "and most often, when our name would come up, they would fill out an abbreviated application online and we would get that and contact them." Hanson Mortgage is recognized nationally as a preferred broker with Bank of America.

Bob Hanson tends to hire people he knows or people who can sell, saying that product knowledge can be learned. From left, Hanson; loan officer Aaron Rich, a former schoolmate of his son Jeremy's; Hanson's wife, operations manager Rochelle Hanson; and his son, loan officer Derek Hanson; and loan officer Heather Pearce, whom Hanson knew from earlier work.

Over the years, the process has been refined, so that now, an applicant submits an inquiry and receives an instant message. "Sometimes, we contact them by phone before they get off the Internet," Hanson says. "We take the rest of the application over the phone and e-mail them. In theory, now I could take your application over the phone, ask your permission to pull up your credit report, which I would do, then point and click to an automated underwriting source, get that underwritten and e-mail the loan to you so you can sign and either mail or fax it back to us all within 45 minutes."

It made sense, he says, once they discovered they could do that with people from out of state, they could do the same thing here, which means the company can write a loan for an applicant in Brattleboro in the same manner. "If you had been working on a house and it had been accepted, I could have contacted an appraiser to get that done; if you had an attorney or title company to use, we could have contacted them; if you hadn't picked one out and wanted help, we could help you pick one out," he says. "We would have set up an automated system to update the selling Realtor, listing Realtor and you as the borrower, so as landmarks take place with your loan and it is moving toward closing, you'd be updated by e-mail or fax, your choice.

"We have experts on our staff to handle just about any kind of circumstance," Hanson says. "We do a lot of work with construction, and work with folks that have had credit issues. We look at how we can help them repair their credit, to get them to a place where it is possible for them to save for a 5 percent down payment."

In 2004, Hanson's lease was up in Essex Junction, and Rochelle started looking around for larger quarters for the growing firm. She found it at 380 Hurricane Lane off of Vermont 2A in Williston. They moved in September.

The Hansons' year isn't all work. He and Rochelle enjoy gardening on their Jericho land and both get outside as often as possible, hiking and snow-shoeing. "We have a favorite organization we try to work with," says Hanson, "and every loan we close, we dedicate some money to Camp Ta-Kum-Ta. My daughter is a counselor there, has been for some time, and was actually a camper there as a child who had cancer."

The bottom line is that Hanson has grown to love this business he found in a Sunday want ad and has turned out to be good at it. As LeBoeuf says, "He's come a long way."

Originally published in April 2005 Business People-Vermont