Ask the Experts: Featuring Ann Gibbons

Effective Technologies for 2023

~ Lenders will need tech that squeezes every ounce of efficiency. ~

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine November 2022 issue.

Considering lenders just experienced two massive market shifts from historic-level refi volumes and swift increases in rate hikes, what technologies will be most effective in the coming year?

From boom to bust and back again, the mortgage industry is no stranger to economic cycles. This cycle, however, has been a seismic wave of uncertainty due to rapidly rising home prices, increasing mortgage rates and low inventory of homes. Through all this, technology is playing a new role for companies across the board.  While mortgage companies are being forced to cut back on their budgets, some are keeping technology investment at the forefront.

Remote work, for example, has become a talent recruitment tool for all businesses, including mortgage companies. As this trend continues, lenders will continue to need automated communications and processes to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It means creating queues for each milestone that let the consumer and the operations teams know when action is needed, or a file is ready for review.  It means integrating CRM systems with loan origination systems with telephony solutions.

In a higher rate environment with tighter profit margins, lenders will need technologies that minimize the number of touches on a loan file and squeeze every ounce of efficiency from origination to closing to reduce per loan costs. For instance, optical character recognition is a maturing technology that could help the industry start automating some underwriting decisions, speeding the process and reducing costs.

Lenders with technologies that help loan officers continue producing will also have an advantage in today’s more challenging environment, especially when it comes to recruiting. Loan officers are fighting for every loan they can get and are demanding better access to data and lead information, and many are actively looking for innovative lenders that can provide them with an edge.

Because mortgage companies are minimizing their spending in some areas, there is a renewed effort from hackers and cybercriminals to try to find companies with weaker security infrastructure. While the ROI might be difficult to quantify, all mortgage lenders continue to need cybersecurity protocols to prevent system downtime and data breaches. The risks—both reputational and legal—are always going to be there.

Proactive lenders recognize the opportunity technology provides to improve communication, increase efficiency and reduce risks to scale their businesses for the future. So, I’ve asked other mortgage technology professionals what technologies they see that will benefit their companies and clients into the next year and beyond.

Julia Curran, Senior Director, Product & Client Solutions, SitusAMC

The refi boom and the recent rate hikes caused two different problems in the mortgage industry. The historic refinance volume we saw early in the pandemic required lenders to process, underwrite and close loans at a volume no one was staffed for, resulting in massive hiring pushes and signing bonuses to meet demand. The subsequent rate hikes dried up loan application pipelines, forcing lenders to reduce the staff they worked so hard to hire just months earlier. The resulting shift from an incredibly robust market to a near standstill has put budgeting restrictions on mortgage lenders, forcing them to be more selective with where they are spending their dollars—technology and human capital alike.

As the industry finds a new normal, we have an opportunity to become less reliant on manual processes and embrace automation to be able to better handle these market shifts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner and cause less disruption to staffing levels. Implementing tech to automate certain processes will also free up staff to focus on their best use and overall deal making.

In the rising rate environment, originators have had to get more creative with their loan products. This variety helps with volume but puts a strain on the underwriting team to be familiar with multiple guideline nuances. Technology that can absorb data and run calculations and test thresholds in accordance with guidelines will prove useful. These rules engines can be used independently or in conjunction with data that is sourced electronically from primary sources and fed directly to these engines. This automation reduces the need for human capital while minimizing errors and increasing efficiency.

This coming year, technologies that allow for the automated review of applications to varied guidelines and technologies that support HELOC lending will be a smart investment. People who currently have very low rates on their homes will not want to refinance, but in the coming year, HELOC volume will likely increase dramatically.

As the market shifts from closed end, high interest rate products, origination systems that manage the necessary documentation for HELOCs and correspondingly servicing systems that can handle draws and repayment on these products are two forms of technology that will be in high demand. We’ve seen our own offering in this area – BRES AUS – help support numerous lenders.

Ann Gibbons, Managing Director, Evolve Mortgage Services

When volumes decrease rapidly, companies are faced with “rightsizing” personnel and reducing expenses to stay profitable. Taking advantage of the slowdown in loan volume to make important shifts in operations can set companies up for success today and tomorrow. When production levels shift, however, it’s the perfect opportunity to adapt digital processes.

A MarketWise Study recently reported that lenders transitioning from paper to hybrid eClosings saved $211.97, or 37%, per loan. Additionally, lenders who closed with a fully paperless remote online notary (RON) eClosing saved an average of $444, or 91%. A full SMARTDoc loan package (not just the eNote) also creates a secure, immutable data set that can be held in an eVault and accessed by warehouse lenders, buyers, and investors to deliver electronic proof of compliance for both the data and the docs.

Shifting costs from fixed to variable also makes sense when volumes have decreased. For this reason, outsourcing origination processes, like underwriting, allow them to be done more efficiently and at predictable costs. In addition, a quality diligence provider can integrate their services with a client’s LOS, allowing for loan files, data and results to be easily transmitted with less risk of error. The use of customized automated underwriting systems created for non-QM markets can also help originators manufacture alternative types of products with certainty while providing users an “agency-like” experience.

Any lender or investor taking advantage of this unique opportunity to expand product lines and aim for a true digital end-to-end solution should partner with a trusted, experienced vendor. This vendor should provide an insurance policy that protects investors against diligence errors and mitigates risk. However, it’s important to shop around for the most effective partner and solutions that provide for more efficiency, flexibility, and scalability and utilize state-of-the-art technology platforms and services.

These market disruptions are an opportune time to review current operating methods and take advantage of the changing environment to adapt new technologies. If now is not the best time to invest in operational efficiencies for the future—following some of the most robust years in mortgage financing—then when?

Maria Moskver, CEO, CloudVirga

For lenders to succeed, they must get back to the core principle of our industry — people. Both 2020 and 2021 were a constant race just to keep up, so everything was about managing volume. Moving forward, that paradigm needs to shift to the individual experience of both the borrower and the loan officer if lenders want to be successful long-term and effectively manage the ebbs and flows of our industry. To make that shift, technology should have two key areas of focus: user experience and maintaining existing relationships.

Rates come and go, but lenders will always win with a good experience. A positive experience, and the technology that supports it, will create customers for life and retain the great talent all lenders need to succeed. The focus needs to shift from how we have been doing it to what our people expect and need. The largest lenders have been successful not because they can momentarily manipulate rates, but because they create a seamless experience and assist loan officers in a way that their competitors have not. In fact, the loan officer experience is the core principle behind the design of our new TPO Platform, which helps lenders level the playing field and compete on a higher level.

The second technological focus should be on managing existing client portfolios and ensuring that the original relationship remains strong. It’s no secret that servicing and past clients are a lender’s strongest hope for continual success, but most have not focused on this as diligently as they should. The past two years have been about managing the moment and not the future. By properly leveraging technology that serves to keep those relationships fresh by alerting loan officers to new loan opportunities, lenders will be able to improve customer and LO satisfaction and set themselves up for success even in the toughest of markets.

Our industry has always been about people, which is easy to overlook during both frantic and slow periods. The key to success is to recognize the importance of people by implementing technological solutions that help create the experience borrowers and loan officers deserve, while maintaining relationships that will carry into the future.

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About the Author: Lorie Helms, CTO, Cherry Creek Mortgage

As CTO, Lorie leads Cherry Creek Mortgage’s IT operations, software development, customer relationship management and security teams. She brings more than 20 years of experience in mortgage technology, as well as a passion for empowering her teams.

Link to the full November edition of Mortgage Women Magazine: Accelerating Women’s Mortgage Careers Digital Edition | Mortgage Women Magazine (nationalmortgageprofessional.com)

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