How technology can support the human-guided experience borrowers still want | ET REALITY

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HousingWire recently spoke with Sandra Madigan, executive vice president of product strategy – service technology at ICE Mortgage Technologyon how to improve the home buying and ownership experience with technology and how the industry can do so thoughtfully.

HousingWire: According to ICE Mortgage Technology’s Borrower Insights Survey 2023, fewer than one in 10 borrowers want a fully digital experience (9%) even though many appreciate the convenience of digital processes and services. What do you think is the disconnect that exists? Do you think this will change in the future?

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Sandra Madigan: I would start by saying that there is no true all-digital experience. What is available today is a fragmented experience that provides technology in pieces for all steps of the home buying process.

As a borrower today, I may have to interact with my real estate agent in one place and my lender in another. There is also the transition when you close your loan and go somewhere else to interact with your servicer. With so many different moving parts and portals, we need to create a more efficient process that makes things easier for homebuyers.

However, we cannot lose sight that this process must be based on human connections and relationships, and that these digital tools must help support these necessary interactions. As technology providers continue to implement solutions that provide that interconnected experience, we will see increased interest from borrowers.

I compare it to how people felt before the iPhone came out. No one knew it was possible to manage so many aspects of your life in one place (from ordering groceries to banking to managing your healthcare) and to be honest, people might not have thought they wanted all those things In one single place. But after the iPhone was released, they realized, “Oh, I like this!”

HW: How can digital technology improve the consumer experience during the home buying and financing process?

YE: It all comes down to being able to have everything at your fingertips in one place. We must give consumers the tools and education they need to more easily navigate the home buying process.

For example, when a buyer starts looking for a home, there is currently an information disconnect, making it difficult for borrowers to match what they are looking for in a home with the reality of what they can afford.

Additionally, borrowers need tools that inform them of the total cost of owning a home, as well as any nontraditional income that could be used to purchase a home. For example, they might come from an apartment where they are responsible for their cable bill, but in the new condo they are interested in, they may not have that bill. Therefore, the money they are now saving by not having to pay the cable bill can go toward a down payment.

Or, on the contrary, today they live in an apartment and need to plan the cost of the new lawn service. There may be affordability programs you might qualify for, but it’s hard to find that information when you don’t know where to look. Digital technology can help ensure that consumers have a realistic picture of what they can afford and the options available to them.

It’s about giving borrowers access to the information they need, where they want it, how they want it, and when they want it.

You can put the most incredible technology in front of the consumer, but if you don’t work to optimize the final part of the process, you won’t have delivered effective technology. It’s also critical to digitize front-end processes, allowing you to give borrowers a better experience while making it easier for your loan officers and other staff members to do their jobs.

Similarly, in service, there is a need to provide consumers with self-service capabilities to manage their home and loan, while also providing them with a great administrative experience. Ultimately, these two pieces come together to speed up how we capture and process requests to enable faster approval timelines. Lenders also gain greater data integrity and more efficient origination and servicing processes overall.

HW: When it comes to greater digitalization, what aspects of the mortgage experience should the industry focus on?

YE: I think the industry should focus on improving the end consumer experience. This really comes down to designing products and experiences around the customer journey and mapping it from that point of view.

I firmly believe in working from the outside in. You need to bring the same level of convenience that borrowers ask for to the back end. And if you offer your borrowers self-service options, you need to give your loan officers insight into those things so they can communicate and offer support as needed. Everything should be synchronized.

There is often a big disconnect between the source and the service. Offering a personalized experience builds retention and helps ensure borrowers come back to you for more business. Your borrowers shouldn’t just be a loan or account number, there is a person behind that number and you need to know that person. Remember your birthday, reach out to celebrate your closing day anniversary. This is all part of providing a holistic experience. This also comes into play when a borrower satisfies their mortgage and the lien is released. The lien release process must be agile and efficient.

We expect to continue to see low for-sale inventory due to the “rate-locking” effect of the ultra-low interest rates many homeowners secured in the early 2020s, which will likely extend the traditional average length of servicing relationship for sometimes. This creates unique opportunities for managers to build long-term relationships with their clients. To that end, your number one priority should be to become a trusted partner who is there to answer questions and support all of your housing financial needs. Whether you’re a bank, credit union, or non-bank, offering a holistic approach can be enormously valuable, and leveraging technology can help you do so efficiently and effectively.

HW: How does ICE approach its digital strategy and product development?

YE: When it comes to product development, you have to think about the end user; we call it empathy-driven development. Some in software development don’t think that way. They think it’s just about the code, but also about how the technology is designed to interact with people. Education is everything and we want people to know the options available to them.

Our solution, Digital Servicing, gives borrowers facing challenges with their mortgage payments the ability to request assistance from their servicer at any time. Borrowers can ask sensitive questions from the privacy of their own home, authorize an income analysis, and even upload and review documents in real time. They don’t even have to be in default to take advantage of these services. If a borrower recently lost their job and is worried about paying their mortgage, they can contact their servicer now to understand all the options available to them.

It’s not about the loan, it should always be about home ownership. Lenders, servicers, and we as technology providers are in the business of helping people get into and stay in their homes. Everything we do at ICE is aimed at helping people achieve the dream of homeownership. If you take this empathetic approach with integrity, you can be proud of the impact you are having on people’s lives.

HW: Although delinquencies are low and loan performance is strong… there is also uncertainty that this current market will not last. What should lenders think about when facing the future with a bit of uncertainty?

YE: I would say two things about it. The first is that when you start from that place of empathy, whether delinquency is high or low, someone’s ability to pay is affected by something. So if we are able to help at least one homeowner stay in their home, we are having an impact. The other is that, I believe, given current economic trends, we will see an increase in delinquencies and we need to prepare for how we can use technology to engage borrowers and provide them with tools to ensure they are aware of all the options available.

Let me give an example of how technology can help in this area. Nobody expected the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the GSEs launched programs to help with payment assistance. We had those programs up and running in Service Digital in a single sprint, i.e. two weeks. And with the click of a button, borrowers in need of assistance could easily get information and help. I know that we, as an industry, want to help those who are struggling financially stay in their homes, and the only way to do that is through the careful use of proven technology.

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