MReport February 2021

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18 | M R EP O RT COVER FEATURE Using technology to improve both external and internal communications is expected to dominate much of this year's tech focus. Josh Friend, CEO at Insellerate in Newport Beach, California, pointed out that some lenders are still trying to master online media for sales generation. "Let's say we're going to have a good amount of volume to be turned into purchase over the next two years," Friend said. "Lenders are starting to try to get ahead of that by understand- ing how you manage the digital world. They are either trying to produce leads on social media or through Google AdWords, or by going into LendingTree and LowerMyBills and buying leads from there. And so now they're trying to figure out how to use and interact with these customers digitally. The trend we're seeing is this move to understand how you manage customers digitally or use this for customer acquisition." Angel Oaks' Hutchens noted that his company was plan- ning to devote more attention to automated strategies and solutions for streamlining the origination process. "In our space, one of challenges to non-QM is that it's a pretty manual process," he said. "We are always looking at tools and resources that we can use for ourselves or give to our origina- tion partners that speed up the process, offer surety of execution, and give them quick answers. We've been on that mission since we started and are really seeing a lot of great progress on those fronts. In 2021, we hope to be able to roll out some really great new technologies to help originators." But Joe Dahleen, SVP of Strategy and Sales at FirstClose, warned originators that the 2020 boom in eClosings will expand further this year. "After what happened last year with COVID-19, you'd better be closing with an eNotary," he said. "My wife's in Tennessee, I'm here in Seattle, so we can't meet and sit down for the closing—so, you'd better be able to accommo- date that stuff. And, frankly, there are escrow agents out here in the West and attorneys in the East who are not good at doing that." Are Underwriters Still Wanted? O ne dominant origination trend in 2020 involved the competition to hire as many underwriters as possible. This year, however, industry opinion is divided on whether underwrit- ers will remain a precious and elusive commodity. "The compensation for qualified underwriters has grown tremendously, and it seems to be something that's going to be going on for a while, as long as the huge amounts of refinance volume continues to grow," said Mike Fontaine, COO of Plaza Home Mortgage in Wakefield, Massachusetts. "That has been ev- eryone's biggest struggle: finding enough people to do the job." "Underwriters are certainly the hardest people to get," lamented Jim Bopp, Vice President of National Renovation Lending at Meriden, Connecticut- headquartered Planet Home Lending LLC. Yet Bopp also noted many former mortgage professionals were returning to origination, helping to fill the voids that occurred. "I've had a couple of people who exited the mortgage busi- ness coming back here today," he said. "I had another one who just emailed me the other day and said they were thinking of getting back in the mortgage business." "None of us could hire fast enough in 2020 to keep up with our volumes," recalled Bill Lowman, President and CEO of American Pacific Mortgage in Roseville, California, who believed the peak of the chal- lenge in locating underwriters has passed. "I think we're seeing new applications start to level off. We've seen our ability to fulfill those loans." Stanley Middleman, CEO at Freedom Mortgage Corp. in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, observed that "skilled labor in periods of high volume in a cycli- cal business always drives the price of that labor up, and there's always a shortage of that later labor." He also predicted that as the industry moves further into 2021, more new people will be added for underwriting positions and, thus, prevent another labor shortage. "I think it's going to continue to be an issue, but it'll be fairly short in duration, maybe a quar- ter or two or three," he added. "I don't think it's an ongoing prob- lem that continues forever." However, William J. Tessar, President of Civic Financial Services in Redondo Beach, California, did not see the pursuit of underwriting hiring as a con- tinuing trend. "I actually think exactly the opposite," he said. "I think the underwriters and processors and transaction coordinators have been at a premium because they've done record volume. I think that record volume will take a step down because the refinances aren't going to be there. I don't think that at the end of the year there's going to be hiring challenges. I think there may be some opportunities because of the reduction in business flow to pick up some quality individuals out there." . PHIL HALL is a former United Nations-based reporter for Fairchild Broadcast News, the author of nine books, the host of the award- winning SoundCloud podcast "The Online Movie Show," co-host of the award-winning WAPJ-FM talk show "Nutmeg Chatter" and a writer with credits in The New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired, The Hill's Congress Blog, and Profit Confidential. His real estate finance writing has been published in the ABA Banking Journal, Secondary Marketing Executive, Servicing Management, MortgageOrb, Progress in Lending, National Mortgage Professional, Mortgage Professional America, Canadian Mortgage Professional, Mortgage Professional News, Mortgage Broker News, and HousingWire. "The compensation for qualified underwriters has grown tremendously, and it seems to be something that's going to be going on for a while, as long as the huge amounts of refinance volume continues to grow." —Mike Fontaine, COO, Plaza Home Mortgage

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