Dawn Douglass: Lenders Must Focus on the Borrower Journey

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PERSON OF THE WEEK: Mortgage technology firm Volly aims to reshape the future of mortgage lending. 

Offering CRM, marketing automation, portfolio retention and point-of-sale (POS) solutions, along with advanced integration and data capabilities and premier marketing creative services, the firm’s goal is to deliver technology that empowers mortgage lenders to improve the customer journey. This requires an innovative approach to combine such technology with marketing automation and artificial intelligence so that an ongoing dialogue between the loan officer and hundreds of borrowers can occur continuously and more effectively. 

Volly’s corporate tagline, “Power the Journey,” refers to how the firm’s solutions help lenders support their borrowers during the long mortgage “journey” – and identify opportunities for repeat business along the way. 

The recently rebranded company is born of the merger of LoyaltyExpress, a provider of customer relationship management (CRM) software, SoftVu, a provider of marketing automation and lead conversion, and Lending Manager, a provider of mortgage point-of-sale (POS) solutions. And the firm’s expansion is just beginning. 

To learn more about how Volly plans to help mortgage lenders attract and retain business in this highly competitive purchase market, as well as how the firm’s integration efforts are going, MortgageOrb recently interviewed Dawn Douglass, chief information officer. 

Q: It has been more than a year since LoyaltyExpress acquired SoftVu and Lending Manager, how are things progressing in terms of integrating the three products? 

Douglass: We’re achieving our technology objectives and executing our roadmap strategy that will bring the Volly products all under one platform. Currently, we are launching Volly Portal, which will allow our clients to have a single landing page, or portal, to access all the different components – all the functionality that we deliver – with a single sign-on. That’s the first step of our evolution from three different products, three different companies, into one single entity, one shared vision, one strategic platform.

Everyone on the platform will be able to access the products as they have existed, to date. Starting in the first quarter of 2020, we’re going to start blending the products together into a single platform. 

Q: Are you re-coding the products to get them on a shared code base? 

Douglass: From a technical standpoint, the way we’re executing is by implementing a single sign-on solution across all the products and platforms. We are relying on a RESTful API strategy. The integration platform we have today was originally part of our POS solution, but we are expanding that across the platform, so, we’re consolidating integration. 

The Volly products have integrations with similar third-party partners, so, it’s nice to be able to consolidate them, to make it more streamlined and based on industry standards. 

Our API strategy facilitates a self-serve integration marketplace – and within that marketplace our clients can log in and administer their own third-party integrations. That makes it much easier for them to add new integrations and change providers. 

Regarding a shared code-base, we had a lot of discussion at the technical level on whether we should have the entire platform redone so that it is in one language. I think that’s very costly and very disruptive for our clients. REST is great technology – and our integration marketplace and all the work we do with our partners depends on it. So it’s very logical for us to leverage that same methodology and single sign-on technology – to make it seamless for our users, in terms of moving between the systems, without the disruption of re-coding the platforms. 

From a philosophical perspective, one of the things that CEO Jerry Halbrook and I both learned, at Black Knight and at other companies, is that the ultimate goal is to make technology easy for the user. They don’t really care what the underlying code base is, as long as it is stable and gives them what they need to run their business. So, that’s our approach. 

We will be doing a refresh of the products – to bring a nice modern look. It will bring consistency to the look and feel across the platform. 

At the end of the day, we’re going to focus on building new features and functionality, as opposed to trying to standardize on a code base. Because we feel that with the RESTful API and single sign-on technologies and with the amount of third-party partnerships we have that it just makes more sense to focus on Volly product suite and delivering new feature functionality that adds value to our clients. 

Q: How much duplicative functionality across the three solutions have you had to reconcile? 

Douglass: There is some overlap among the products. For example, the marketing automation and CRM products both do email campaigns. But, as we started to look at them, what we realized was that they each do different things really well. So, it’s a matter of taking the best-of-breed features and functionality of each product and using that as the go-forward component, so we can leverage the best of each world, and where it makes sense, to consolidate. 

From a data perspective, we are standardizing the data layer across the platform, making sure that we are following the MISMO industry standard, where it applies. It is important to leverage the big data strategy which is so prevalent across the industry today. 

Q: With today’s POS, a lot of borrower information can be readily collected on the front end of the mortgage process. How can this collection of data on the front-end help mortgage lenders in terms of their CRM efforts? 

Douglass: In the POS space, there is a growing number of data providers that can help lenders rapidly pull data. The most prominent example is in the area of asset verification and income verification. There are a lot of vendors in that arena that are streamlining data collection and allowing borrowers to focus on validating data instead of having to key it in. 

What we’re doing is leveraging that same data to also help with marketing automation, lead collection and other areas of the platform. 

The data collection streamlining space continues to quickly evolve. We’re seeing a lot of improvement with partnerships in that area – and we’re staying far ahead of it. Recently we launched version 1.1 of our mobile app for our POS – we had version 1.0 out there already – and with the new version we are leveraging some of those pull-rate features into the new version. 

Q: Why is the ability to share data across the platform so important? 

Douglass: It helps on multiple levels. Once we have the data layer – including all the information provided through third-party integrations and technology partnerships, as well as the data a consumer provides – a loan officer or broker has access to everything we know, across the platform. So now when they’re working with a consumer, they don’t have to go ‘hunt and peck’ through different systems to get the required information. 

As such, it makes it possible for us to streamline the loan officer or broker’s day-to-day work, as they don’t need to collect data manually, it’s all centralized. 

Q: Do you think the amount and scope of information that borrowers are asked to provide via online portals will become broader or more detailed over time? In other words, will the data collected go beyond that standard 1003 information? Could this be the key to gaining better insights into borrower behaviors and habits? 

Douglass: In my previous life, when I was focused on a big data product, I had started seeing that – and I think we’ll continue to see it. 

Today, a lot of lenders are looking to leverage data from social networking sites and other sources that can help them do a better job of serving the borrower. Part of the goal is to communicate more effectively with the consumer in the format that makes the most sense. Loan officers and brokers need a CRM system that communicates effectively with the borrower. Today, borrowers communicate via text, email, social media and mobile phones – so, it’s important to have a system that keeps all communication data in the same place. 

By leveraging social networking data, a loan officer can learn more about what’s going on in a borrower’s life. This is particularly important in the marketing automation space. Obviously, we get 1003 data – but we get other data along the way that can help us understand the borrower’s journey more deeply. Social networking data and other forms of data help us learn the best way to work with borrowers and the best way to market to them. 

Q: A lender’s CRM system is potentially a prime target for hackers. How are you approaching data security? 

Douglass: For one thing, we’re very careful about how we handle the issue of consent within the platform – making sure that lenders have a mechanism in place to gain permission from consumers to use their data. 

Beyond that, moving to a cloud-based solution has brought us really good modern technology that allows us to make sure data is secure at rest and managed properly when in transit. 

We are adhering to the industry standards and policies, in terms of encryption and authentication, which will always be part of our roadmap. 

Security is a constantly evolving space. As a result, we are establishing new relationships with software vendors in the security space. 

Q: On the front-end of the POS, there are opportunities for integrations with lead generation solutions – for example, the opportunity to connect home shoppers directly with lenders by way of real estate agents. Is that something that could be on the horizon? 

Douglass: One of the key features in our new POS mobile app is the ability to work with partners including realtors and allowing them to participate much more closely with the loan officer in the process. 

Also, when you enhance lead data with other data sources, it becomes more valuable, without necessarily adding a lot more cost. And it can help lenders give consumers more choices. 

Q: How rapidly can this suite of solutions be deployed? What about LOS compatibility? 

Douglass: We have integrations with most of the major LOS providers. With the POS, in particular, it’s a critical path; obviously, keeping the data in sync between the POS and the LOS is really important. We’re really fortunate to have great relationships with large LOS providers, as well as many at the mid-tier. 

Most everybody in the LOS space has moved to the REST-based API methodology. It allows coordination and the implementation timeline to move much faster. It also makes it much easier for us to partner with the LOS providers. 

As far as time to implementation goes, it varies. It depends on how much custom data a lender has – and how much customization they’ve done within their LOS platform. It also depends on their website; we have some clients that have a totally custom website design. As far as POS implementation goes, this can change the timeline, depending on what needs to be done. 

Q: What, in your opinion, are the main weaknesses of the CRM and marketing automation solutions that are available today in the mortgage industry? What are Volly’s strengths in this area? 

Douglass: The mortgage industry was a little late to the digital revolution – but now it is starting to focus on it. The goal now is to streamline the borrower experience and make it as easy as possible for a consumer to get a mortgage – but also to maintain that mortgage as part of their financial life. 

That’s where we are focusing our efforts, in terms of technology development, helping lenders to support borrowers throughout the entire loan lifecycle. 

In the mortgage technology space, we talk a lot about the front end – right now we are focusing a lot on the 1003 and data entry – and are seeing it improve. Also, as part of marketing automation, a lot of lenders are looking to have better communication with their borrowers, day-in and day-out, helping them, and offering better products to help them throughout the life of their mortgage. 

Improving communications with borrowers is an area where marketing automation and a lot of the capabilities of our platform can help lenders. The goal for lenders now is to maintain a relationship with the borrower – and offer new products to them. When a lender can leverage data and technology to help borrowers achieve better outcomes, that is the direction to go in. 

Q: Why go with a CRM system that is tailored for mortgage? Why not go for an enterprise solution like Salesforce? 

Douglass: It’s interesting you mention that because currently we’re working within the Salesforce community to provide mortgage-specific content. 

The main difference is that the large-scale platforms are industry-agnostic – they are trying to handle all industries – whereas all of the functionality in our platform is industry specific. 

It’s an important difference. Mortgage is complex. It is one of the most complex transactions a consumer will conduct in their lifetime – and it’s scary. There is a lot of documentation and regulatory compliance in the process of getting a loan and the process extends for a significant time period requiring lots of touchpoints between the lender and the customer. Mortgage is a product where consumers desire the educational aspect. So, working with an experienced lender who can answer questions quickly and effectively is very important. 

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