Brad Cossingham, CEO of National Field Representatives (NFR), grew up around the property preservation business. “My father founded the company in 1989 when he purchased two existing companies and formed NFR,” Cossingham explained. “As a kid, it was not uncommon for me to be sent to the corner drugstore to have the films by the contractors developed. This was the practice before the adoption of digital photography.”
Cossingham left home for Bentley University in 1998 and earned a degree in business administration and management, but returned to NFR in 2003 to begin an extended training process. The senior Cossingham was determined not to treat his son differently than any other employee in the company, and he made that goal clear from the time the young man started in his first formal position.
“My dad made it very clear that I would have to earn a place at NFR,” Cossingham recalled. Earn that place he did, working nearly every position in the company over the following years. Cossingham started out as a property inspections coordinator, spent some time in the fax room, worked in the insurance loss department, had a role in IT, and ultimately “got hooked,” as he put it, on property preservation. “That is where I moved into a management role and ultimately became vice president of property preservation, then senior vice president of operations, and, eventually, president and CEO,” he said. “A lot has changed since the fax room,” Cossingham laughed.
The fact that Cossingham not only remembers getting contractors’ film developed at the corner drugstore but was actively employed in the fax room where companies used to handle much of their “instant communications” is a testament to just how much experience he has in the property preservation space—and how well-equipped he is to lead NFR through yet another evolution during COVID-19. “Things have evolved since I started, and they are changing even more now,” he said. “We have come a long way from when processing just 400 inspections took a week to complete. Today, the same volume takes us only four or five minutes!”
Perhaps the biggest shift since the start of 2020, of course, has been the decline of in-person communications as COVID-19 concerns and health policies created barriers between service providers like NFR and company clients used to seeing representatives in person. Fortunately, communication is a strong suit for NFR and flexibility is a point of company pride.
“From our beginnings in 1989 to today, interactions with our clients have certainly morphed,” Cossingham said. “In the early years, there was less face-to-face interaction and a lot more paperwork. We used to send reams and reams of paper to contractors to place orders, then process the hard-copy results in order to provide our clients with hard-copy reports, photos, and invoices. Then, we transitioned from hard copy to fax, and then to electronic communications. As that happened, we also began to increase our face-to-face interactions. Today, we have adopted technology to aid in the ‘face-to-face’ interactions while travel is restricted due to the pandemic. It’s an entirely new challenge, but we know communication remains crucial.”
Cossingham said that NFR’s determination to communicate with clients and investors clearly and reliably has played an integral role in the company’s ability to navigate other changes in the economy and the industry over the past three decades. “The question has always been, ‘How do we best communicate?’ That is the question whether you are corresponding through a digital platform, over the phone or fax, or in person,” he said. “Our top priority remains staying in touch with our clients and ensuring they know that we value the relationship. We care about them as human beings as well as business partners, and our focus is creating and maintaining long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.”
To some clients, this means that NFR representatives are willing to get on a plane and meet in person (following appropriate safety precautions of course), but for most, it means being willing to talk via phone or video when the client is available—even if that availability takes place outside traditional business hours. Cossingham said NFR frequently contacts clients simply to check in even if the account is not currently experiencing any unique challenges. That, he said, is an indication of how the entire company operates: very much like a family. This mindset extends not only among employees, but outward to clients and contractors as well. Cossingham said proudly that NFR employees model this perspective in all their business interactions.
“We are where we are as a business because of our employees,” Cossingham said. He explained NFR still views itself as a family business despite having hundreds of employees and an extensive contractor network across the country. “Early in the pandemic, we decided to stay the course and worked hard to retain as much of our team as we possibly could. We were successful. I am pleased to say that we have navigated the pandemic with no layoffs.”
The key to this success lies in the flexibility that Cossingham’s father demanded of the organization when he started the company. Cossingham says this flexibility enabled the company to dedicate much of 2020 to working on procedures and systems that will help clients and the company navigate the foreclosure surge most analysts predict will begin when foreclosure moratoriums and eviction bans end in late 2021.
“There is another side to the moratoriums and forbearance plans,” Cossingham warned. “We have to be top notch, prepared, and ready to assist our clients when restrictions are removed and default inventory surges.” NFR dealt with a foreclosure surge of a different nature in the wake of the housing crash in the mid-2000s.
“We have seen large shifts in volume before, and we are even better prepared this time,” Cossingham said. Thanks to a wide base of contractors and two decades of experience in the business in 2008, NFR was able to ramp up operations rapidly and scale the business. However, in the wake of expansion, Cossingham admitted there were some growing pains. This time, he said, NFR is ready for that, too. “There is always an expense that comes with rapid growth, so this year we have dedicated a lot of resources to bolstering our systems and ensuring we will continue with high-quality, timely offerings even when we see another rapid increase in volume.”
“One of the company’s strongest attributes is its independent-contractor network, upon which it strongly relies,” Cossingham said. Many contractors exited the property preservation market due to the vibrant economy before COVID-19, he explained. When the pandemic emerged in the United States, it accelerated contractors’ moves into other in-demand service areas. “A key focus for us is and will continue to be recruiting and vetting quality contractors and making sure we have the right folks in the field,” Cossingham said. “We can’t be successful unless our contractors are successful as well.”
To that end, the company is taking lessons learned as far back as the 1990s and applying them to the present day. Cossingham emphasized NFR’s willingness to pay competitive rates for high-quality work, insisting that a combination of better pay and more intense communication is the key to successful, long-term contractor relationships. Given that some contractors on the NFR team have been working with the company for nearly three decades, the combination seems to be working.
“We offer unparalleled support to our contractors. We make a commitment that their calls, their emails, and their messages will always receive a prompt and timely response,” Cossingham said. “We want to be in this with them for the long haul, and that means treating contractors with fairness, respect, and integrity. The contractor is a critical component in serving our clients’ needs.”
NFR’s clients also understand the long-haul mindset. In fact, Cossingham said, several clients have spent their entire mortgage servicing careers partnering with NFR. One source of a favorite testimonial wrote this just before retiring:
“They do what they say they will do with reliability, dependability and integrity.”
Cossingham proudly observed NFR still handles that particular account’s portfolio, although the individual is no longer actively involved in its management. “The cornerstones of our success have not changed even though we’ve made many changes throughout our history,” he said. “Those cornerstones are accuracy, customer service, timeliness, and technological innovation. My father implemented those values, and they continue to set the tone for NFR today.”
Milestones in Innovation and Transparency
Brad Cossingham, CEO of National Field Representatives (NFR), is proud of the many ways the company has retained its core values and vision since its founding in 1989. However, he is also proud of the ways NFR has evolved, particularly when it comes to promoting transparency across company services.
“It is just one example of a place where we identified an opportunity to do better,” Cossingham said. “We also identified shortcomings in our estimate tracking, and we are very proud of the solution we developed.”
The solution, officially named Bid Milestones™®, is a tracking system that starts with the property preservation bid at inception and follows the estimate through every stage until a final decision is made. “Everyone involved has visibility into what remains outstanding for a property and can track the entirety of the approval process,” Cossingham said. “It has really helped this past year, in particular, by providing simply clarity for clients to make decisions to properly maintain properties.”
NFR uses Bid Milestones to create more effective teamwork between clients, loan insurers, and NFR itself. “It has been an incredible enhancement for our clients and for our internal teams to manage properties so proactively,” Cossingham concluded. “Transparency is achieved with Bid Milestones.”Written by Carole VanSickle Ellis; REI-Inc.com