Robert Leist’s job is to look both forward and backward. As chief accounting officer for RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corporation, his responsibilities include overseeing the company’s accounting group, treasury operations, cashiering, and investor reporting. That means everything from recording and assessing the numbers to getting monthly receipts to mortgage owners and posting loan payments.
To successfully orchestrate this array of functions, Leist reviews monthly financials and agreements, looking at the realities of what has already happened while, at the same time, keeping an eye on emerging reporting mandates and other industry shifts. He imagines into the future to design long-term strategies and possible platform integrations.
As the business and the world change, he continually asks and answers the question, “How do we respond and architect the solution?”
Leist came to RoundPoint, a company primarily focused on servicing loans and securities sold by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, as a veteran in the field with a deep philosophical love of his craft.
“People think you must be good at math to be an accountant,” he says. A huge advocate of the liberal arts, he credits his bachelor’s degree in English, not his later master’s degree in accounting or any math chops, with the core of his skills. “In an English program, you learn to take principles and then evaluate themes and concepts against them,” he explains. “You articulate ideas and conclusions and justify them.”
Analysis, not necessarily arithmetic, is the key. For Leist, accounting is asking what the principles are, what the facts of the transaction are, and then how to measure the transaction using the principles. Comparing his literature classes to his current position, he says that “the only difference is that the outcomes are numbers instead of theory papers.”
Along with analytical thinking, Leist developed another pillar of his career during his college years: clear communication. While many accountants are not trained in writing, he says he sees his ability to clearly convey complex ideas as invaluable.
During a tenure at JPMorgan & Co., one of the largest banks in the world at the time, Leist remembers that “every time there were new rules, we had to create strategies and communicate them across sixteen countries. Being a good writer is critical.” Now, as he guides managers of four teams for RoundPoint, communication continues as a hallmark to success.
“Tech does not change principles. It changes processes.”
Leist stumbled into accounting after he took a post-undergrad back-office job at a brokerage firm, thinking to pay bills while he applied to law school. He started doing some accounting and fell for the profession. Eleven years at Arthur Andersen taught him the profession and then, at JPMorgan, he branched out. His work included designing the tech side of accounting. The company needed a tool to consolidate more than three hundred legal entities on a monthly basis.
When no software on the market fit the bill, Leist took on a user manager role and helped create a system. “It ran for over ten years,” he says. Leist also holds a patent on an electronic billing and payment rules system used to handle complex real estate contracts by, he explains, “filtering everything to make sure terms of orders fulfill rules.” The system, which has since been commercialized, increased efficiency and had a dramatic impact. “Tech does not change principles,” Leist explains. “It changes processes.”
Starting from a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished, he applies the all-important analysis and communication skills to building and employing tech systems that get his team where they need to go. New systems often offer enhanced analytics, he explains, providing a clear vision of problems. According to Leist, much of the value in the tech systems he introduces comes from the fact that, with such systems, “people can spend their time solving problems, not running numbers.”
“Human capital is the only asset I have.”
This engagement with tech continues to be a central characteristic of Leist’s work. When he arrived at RoundPoint in 2014, he came aboard a burgeoning company with a small accounting department that mostly worked manually. Leist implemented many systems to improve capabilities, such as a treasury system software that sends and receives transactions and reports from all banks, he says. Maturing tech like this means that, while the company has grown substantially, staffing for the accounting department has remained lean. Leist is happy to look at where his department sits and say, “We now have scalable corporate accounting functions.”
Forty-six years into his career, Leist appreciates the tech his team uses, but never underestimates the importance of the people running the tech and analyzing the numbers and the principles. “Human capital is the only asset I have, besides maybe some chairs and tables,” he says with a laugh. “I must manage and develop it, or I don’t have anything.”
For Leist, as he looks forward and backward, a constant goal is that his employees are supported to be better in the future than they were in the past.
BBVA USA ranks among the top 25 largest commercial banks in the US based on deposit market share. We are honored to have Bob Leist and RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corporation as a commercial client. We look forward to creating more opportunities for their continued success in the years to come.