Ben Miller: User Adoption is the Key to Mortgage Software ROI

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PERSON OF THE WEEK: How do mortgage lenders know they are getting the promised – or at least anticipated – return on investment (ROI) on their digital mortgage infrastructure?

Two words: User adoption.

As Ben Miller, president and chief operating officer of mortgage point-of-sale (POS) platform provider SimpleNexus tells MortgageOrb, all users in the mortgage process – including borrowers, loan officers, mortgage brokers, real estate agents – must be able adopt and use technology proficiently in unison – otherwise, the mortgage process cannot be fully simplified for the borrower.

As Miller explains, it’s one thing for all parties involved in the mortgage process to be able to share information and data via a common platform – but another for all these parties to have a seamless user-friendly software experience that is tailored for their unique role in the process.

Q: What are the top challenges for lenders in delivering an end-to-end digital mortgage experience for both loan officers and borrowers?

Miller: You said it: “end-to-end” is the most challenging part. The mortgage experience involves so many stakeholders, each of whom has a laundry list of tasks to complete.

In the first wave of the digital mortgage era, the market exploded with tools that make specific tasks easier and more efficient for the individual stakeholder, whether that’s the loan originator, the borrower or the Realtor.

Of course, new technologies can be costly, and implementing them can be a further drag on resources. Multiply that by the dozens of tools in use by the typical mortgage company, and it’s easy to see why lenders are asking themselves, “How many vendors do I really want to manage?” and “How do I know my investments in technology are delivering a return?”

Now the industry’s view of the “digital mortgage” is maturing. Lenders are thinking about the mortgage experience more holistically and asking themselves how technology can improve not just individual tasks, but the entire process, for everyone involved.

The challenge now is to make the process flow from beginning to end without creating more work for any single stakeholder in the process. There is so much value in taking all the individual tasks involved in the mortgage process and turning that into an elegant flow that is easily navigated by all.

Q: Are lenders concerned that honing their digital mortgage strategy to address the needs of more than one stakeholder will distract them from their core competency?

Miller: That is not a concern that we hear. Manufacturing loans is lenders’ core competency, and that already involves more than one stakeholder.

But lenders are concerned with making sense of all the moving parts in the mortgage process and getting them to run smoothly. That’s where integration flexibility within and between technology offerings really becomes valuable.

In our experience, lenders are excited when they see the capabilities of a single-platform solution. They recognize that a strategy that brings different people and tools together in one place actually strengthens their ability to deliver on their core competency of manufacturing loans.

Q: A lot of fintechs are jumping into the mortgage POS space right now. Some of them are bundling product pricing engines (PPEs) and lead-gen systems with their solutions, but few are looking to get into the LOS space, which is both complex and entrenched. Some fintechs are taking an “everything but the LOS” approach. Do existing LOS providers that also offer an integrated POS have an advantage over the pure-plays?

Miller: I can’t speak for other fintechs, but I can say that developing an LOS has never been on our roadmap. There are distinct competencies that various parties contribute, and our desire is to integrate with and work together with the best offerings to deliver an optimal experience for those using our tools.

We strive to be the digital mortgage platform that flexes to each lender and the way they want to work – not the other way around. We put that goal into action not only by integrating to as many third-party providers as possible, since that allows lenders to continue working with the vendors they like, but also by giving our customers a great deal of control over the workflow and user experience within SimpleNexus.

Q: The mortgage POS space is quickly getting crowded. What do you predict is going to happen next? Will some of the pure-play POS providers get acquired and get bundled into larger solution suites? Will some be acquired purely to put them out of business and narrow the field? Or is the POS market “pie” big enough so all can have a slice?

Miller: We have been in this space for eight years. In that time we have seen new solutions come and go. If all you do is offer a POS, it may feel crowded. Our response to that pressure has been to extend more value to more parties.

For instance, we see opportunities to engage with buyers earlier in the home buying process, before they ever fill out an application. And we also want to add value to borrowers beyond the home purchase.

In short, we are focused on creating value and solving problems anywhere we can, without being distracted by competition or concerned about acquisition.

Q: The core functionality of most digital mortgage platforms is the same, with regard to the process, because it has largely been standardized through regulation. Given this, what are the main ways that POS/digital mortgage platform providers are differentiating themselves in the market? Is it the sophistication of the AI and the “Jeeves-like” concierge experience? The “look and feel?” Are there any major differences in terms of how these systems guide borrowers through the process?

Miller: There are certainly major differences in the user experience and “look and feel” of each solution. Some are designed “mobile first” in deference to the on-the-go lifestyle of the modern LO, but most are at best “mobile-friendly.” Some are designed with a single end-user in mind, while others offer different tools for different stakeholders. Some are designed for ease-of-use and offer a friendly, conversational user experience; others are honestly pretty clunky and require a lot of training to master.

There are platforms that are customizable, and there are platforms that are static and require LOs to change the way they originate to conform with the technology. We also see several technology offerings that are only looking at the customer experience during the application phase. We want to add value to the user experience the borrower has during the entire homeowner journey, not to mention the user experiences of the LO and real estate partners.

It’s important to look at where and how the customer interacts with the lender throughout the entire process and leverage this data to create new solutions. For instance, our data shows that when given a choice, the majority of borrowers prefer to complete a loan application on their mobile device. It’s no secret that the smartphone is the device people always carry with them and interact with on a daily basis.

Q: It has been said many times that automation and technology are the key to helping mortgage lenders reduce operating costs. But at the same time, we keep hearing that technology and automation should really be used to leverage existing staff and make them more efficient, not replace human workers. If the latter statement is true, wouldn’t technology investment actually increase a lender’s operational cost, as opposed to reducing it?

Miller: There’s no question that the right technology can increase the throughput of existing staff. The concern is whether the increased profits from high staff throughput exceed the amount lenders are spending on technology.

This is where we see the industry heading. Companies are going to keep the same headcount, or even hire more people, because they will operate so much more efficiently they’ll be able to take on more production. Companies that don’t adopt automation and technology are not going to be able to compete with the increased efficiency of teams that are using tech to their advantage.

However, lenders will never realize a technology’s promised ROI without user adoption, and you can’t expect high user adoption if the technology is too disruptive to the way lenders and LOs are comfortable with working. That’s why flexibility and ongoing refinement of the user experience are so critical. Technologies that excel in these areas don’t just have an easier time gaining traction with users, they actually become an essential part of how top producers operate and turn into retention and recruiting tools for lenders.

Q: Can big data and predictive analytics make it possible for loan officers to determine when a consumer is about to become a home shopper? What tools do loan officers need to contact these prospects to convert them quickly?

Miller: Capabilities in this area will continue to grow. There is potential for combining public data sources with macro trends, such as seniors wanting to downsize their home in retirement, to inform LOs when there is an opportunity to reach out. Overall, we are excited about the potential of disparate data sources coming together to create a more informed picture with actionable insights the loan officer can capitalize on to create relationships.

As progress in this area continues, loan officers will benefit from giving prospective borrowers a branded engagement tool that helps with activities leading up to home shopping.

A borrower can use a native app to search for homes and run various payment calculations without exposing these prospects to competitors.

All the while, the LO is being informed of this activity and is better equipped to begin engaging with this potential borrower.

The LO is now in a prime position to form a relationship earlier in the process and establish themselves as a trusted advisor to this prospect. 

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