MReport May 2021

TheMReport — News and strategies for the evolving mortgage marketplace.

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18 | M R EP O RT COVER FEATURE "Our industry did a great job in quickly pivoting to working remote, but the burnout factor is real," said Anthony Galiano, VP Mortgage Solutions, SLK Global Solutions. In addition to the simple strain of an increased workload, remote work has re- moved some of the perks of office life that could help offset the stress: everything from face-to-face social interactions to amenities such as in-office gyms, cafeterias, and the overall sense of corporate culture and community. "There are definitely things that companies can do to keep that cul- ture going," Galiano said. He cited examples of seeing companies that had implemented reward systems where employees can earn points that you can use to order items from a catalog. It's a small thing, and while it doesn't necessarily offset the loss of community and perks an in-office position can pro- vide, but he suggested that this or similar systems could help "keep employees engaged and wanting to continue to perform. It's about cre- ating a family environment within your organization." Automation Advantages E ven though the industry adapted quickly to embrace remote-working and other solu- tions mandated by the pandemic, Galiano suggested that the pain points were amplified by signifi- cant areas of operational processes that could be automated—but simply have not been yet. Indeed, most of the experts we spoke to pointed out that, while the mort- gage industry has been quick to embrace technology, automation, and innovation on the customer- facing front end, those upgrades have often not trickled down into the day-to-day operational processes and manual tasks. Galiano suggested that a hesitan- cy to outsource work to third par- ties may also be further exacerbat- ing the areas where automation is possible but lacking. "Our industry is one of the last to buy into out- sourcing as an option, but I think companies are starting to recog- nize that," he continued. "It's about identifying where you can pick up efficiencies, where you can take processes that, as an employee, it's a redundant task that continues to happen. As an example, I'm going to order payoffs; that's what my job is, to order payoffs. That process could be automated, or it could be outsourced." STRATMOR's Jim Cameron suggested that front-end innova- tion gets a lot of attention and attracts eager fintech providers who are keen to share their tech solutions. However, at a certain point those solutions run into the limitations of workforce capac- ity due to insufficient back-office automation and innovation. "Lenders' ability to take applica- tions efficiently, interact with bor- rowers efficiently, and get those loans in more efficiently than we used to has been good," Cameron continued. However, "As those loans migrate into the core opera- tions, I don't think that we have had the same level of investment, attention, and focus." Part of that, Cameron suggests, is simply because the application processes are often more straight- forward than what comes later in the game. "It's easier to focus on that and get that shored up, but as soon as the loan gets out of the application process and into the fulfillment process, it tends to fall apart," Cameron said. "It's because of the complexity. It's because of the lack of readily available tools to plug in and solve those problems." Jennifer Fortier, Principal Consultant, STRATMOR Group also suggests that, prior to the capacity crunch of the past year, many lenders didn't consider back- end automation a priority, or even consider the fact that keeping those processes manual might be a competitive disadvantage. Instead, they viewed it as part of the "human touch" consideration we often hear so much about. "It's a very people-focused, peo- ple-driven industry, and your staff is getting the work done. Then, the industry reached a period of overcapacity, so there wasn't a lot of focus on trying to take it off the people. When suddenly we had this refinance boom, the cracks started to show." "It's not about replacing the people with technology," Galiano said. "It's about 'how do we take that technology and make our employees more efficient?' People always talk about how important the customer experience is, but in my opinion, the employee experi- ence is more important than the customer experience. No matter how great your process is, if you have unhappy employees because they're being overworked or the process is broken or they can't figure something out, that's going to come across to the consumer, right?" Unsurprisingly, both the pandemic changes to how we work and the coinciding capac- ity crunch have both led more lenders to reevaluate their com- mitment to tech and automation beyond just the borrower portals and other out-front aspects of doing business. However, making those changes is rarely as simple as it seems, because when it comes to mortgage, "simple" is relative. "Even simple, routine tasks have a bit of complexity just because of the variation in the loans," Fortier explained. "As such, automation has typically been focused on very discreet processes without a lot of room for variation. Lenders have a lot of interest now in get- ting smarter automation, machine learning, and AI into the mix. It's on everyone's radar in a way that it has never been in the past." Fighting Inertia O ne reason why pushing in- novation across all levels of the mortgage process can be challenging comes down to the complex nature of mortgage, as well as a heav- ily regulated landscape that could put a heavy penalty on attempted innovation that ends up creating unexpected kinks in the system. "You need to be sure you're not going to break anything when "I believe in focusing on customer experience as the backbone for everything we do. If we improve turn times through better process automation, it can lead to improved lender associate experience. It will translate to a better customer experience at the end of the day." — Muthu Srinivasan, CTO, Planet Home Lending, LLC

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