Top Originator: Jason Knee got to $168 million by originating his own way

There's value in throwing out the playbook

Top Originator: Jason Knee got to $168 million by originating his own way

If you’re scouring flea markets trying to find a cherished antique, authenticity matters. For savvy businesspeople, authenticity matters just as much.

Plenty of originators say that they’re authentic but still try to wedge themselves into a particular mold. Jason Knee, a loan officer with Citizens Bank, has figured out that he doesn’t need to fit into a particular mold or even look a particular way. Instead, he’s found freedom in doing business his way.

“People who have access to things today can watch influencers that are wearing t-shirts and flip flops and can still go out there and perform at a level that has people look up to them. I know that that’s made a difference for me; I was, for 12 and 13 years, wearing a suit and tie most of the time, and I realized that that was me trying to be someone else,” Knee said.

He finds that his clients relax and open up to him when he presents his true self, and not a work persona. Knee’s less formal method attracts like-minded people as opposed to casting a wide net and catching anyone who could ever refer him a loan. Seeing people who are successful despite—or perhaps because—they don’t fit the mold can inspire others to do the same.

Knee has found that his approach works as well for partners as it does with clients.

“My approach is really what puts me in having a business with the people that I should be working with anyway, and not trying to impress people that I shouldn’t have a relationship with.”

Strategies and techniques often pitched to originators promise “the best way” to do business and give guarantees that doing X or Y will increase production. But rather than attempting to take a tactical approach regarding a particular piece of software, a new technology, or a specific script, Knee says that going deeper in getting to know someone is “where all the good stuff is.

“I’m telling new loan officers today, I would rather go work with a real estate agent that does $5 million a year and help them grow their business to $10 million a year than work with a $50 million a year producer who I split with three or four other lenders. I’m trying to raise my stock by raising theirs,” Knee said. “There’s less attention on a smaller producer, but if you could show them how to grow their business, then they’re going to stay really close to you and you’re going to grow along with them. I’m only spending time on people like that right now. If I was a young producer, I’d be doing the same thing.”

Knee takes great care to source information that is valuable to his real estate partners and present it to them in a unique, eye-opening way. This is where he sees himself as giving them value, as opposed to giving them leads.

You’d think that someone so intent on throwing out the playbook and forging his own way would be all for generating his own leads. For about a year and a half, that’s what he did. Over time, however, he actually found that this was damaging to his business model.

“It worked well while it worked, but . . . when those leads stopped, so would our relationship, and so I wasn’t interested in continuing that,” Knee said. “I’ve done it all, I’ve played around with all of it and for me, that’s just what works. I’d rather not be involved in Zillow, I’d rather not be involved in generating leads; I like to do it just a little bit different.”

What Knee and others have in common, however, is the attraction to helping borrowers. Knee especially likes simplifying the complexities of the mortgage process and clarifying the possibilities for the borrower. It not only makes him feel good, but makes them not want to call any other competitor.

Knee closed around 325 loans last year for $168 million in volume, and his growth has been rapid. He went from $20 million to nearly $50 million to $80 million to $140 million over the course of a few years, and he got used to the pace. His four-person team supports his pipeline, and without them, he knows he never would’ve been able to scale. Anything over $100 million without a team isn’t sustainable, and burnout is “imminent” at that point, he said.

So where does he go from here? He feels as if he could go “up to $300 million with the right process and technology in place” but isn’t sure if the tradeoffs are worth it.

“It’s tough. . . . I don’t necessarily know that I want all that pressure and notoriety, and that’s just not what I’m after,” he said. “Now that I have a 7- and 9-year old, they’re more important than closing $200 million in business.”

For now then, the focus is to go deeper with current clients, and invest more time in new clients. They’re going to have meaningful conversations, and they’re going to connect with more people who don’t care about suits and fancy branding. He’s going to work with people who like him, and continually engage everyone who comes his way.

“We just always want to keep them engaged. Yes, we’re going to help you close your loan, but we also care about you. So that’s something we’re keeping in the forefront at this point,” Knee said. “It really wouldn’t bother me to do less transactions and have deeper relationships, where people are just going to keep coming and make life a little bit easier.”


For strategies from top originators, come to Anaheim on April 4th for our Power Originating session featuring Shant Banosian, Ben Anderson, and Oleg Tkach.