How AI moves loan officers forward

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High producing loan officers across the country know artificial intelligence is the next evolution in mortgages, one that offers multiple potential benefits. But that potential has barely been tapped.

The professionals named to National Mortgage News' 2020 Top Producers answered how AI affects the way they do business right now. In last year's survey, it stood among the most listed responses on initiatives bound to make waves. With the COVID-19 crisis projected to worsen into the spring, urgency may intensify around mortgage companies’ intent to become more digital, more automated, and more informed on the opportunity AI represents.

None of this is to downplay the perception AI signifies a risk to certain jobs. Though a legitimate fear, most advocates say the tech is more likely to — and should — be used as an adjunct to workers. The longer it's used and the more systems learn, the greater likelihood the technology absorbs mundane tasks and circumvents human error, yielding a faster and easier lending process over time.

While it still sits in the nascent stage of utilization, sentiment towards AI split down the middle among respondents in this year's survey. However, geographic differences became evident in the divide: 59% of loan officers in both the Midwest and South said they either don't use the technology or don't believe it positively impacts their day-to-day roles.
"I have not been impacted very much by the AI movement. My referrals and customers do business with me because of the service I provide them," said Joel Van Asch, loan originator at Homebridge in Lawrenceville, Ga. "At the end of the day, this is the biggest purchase a person is going to make. I strongly believe that due to this being such a big decision in someone's life that they want to deal with a live person and have the assurance that the loan officer is going to get the deal closed. This is the way I operate my business."

Holding fast to as many human touch points as possible is understandable. Some LOs reach out over the phone daily to keep contact with clients. They believe their skills can't be replaced by software and prospective borrowers don't fit into computer-approved boxes for decisioning.

"We are in the people business. In this business, AI may supplement operations by streamlining processes to improve efficiency, but it will never replace the human element of the mortgage process," said Tammy Saul, owner and loan originator at Federal Hill Mortgage in Baltimore. "As a retired attorney, my approach to every client and mortgage consultation is unique and customized. AI, automation, technology or the like cannot replace that."

The Northeast and West showed more progressive AI stances, with 64% and 55%, respectively, seeing this technology as a benefit to their jobs. Boiled down, AI embodies the "work smarter, not harder" mantra. When used correctly, it starts a chain reaction of beneficial outcomes, enhancing loan officers' ability to interact with their clients.

"I believe that technology is extremely important to the efficiency of the loan process. By being more efficient, a lender can save time and drive down the cost to produce a loan, therefore being able to offer good pay to employees and low rates/costs to customers," said Michelle Bruto da Costa, loan originator and branch manager at Homebridge in Everett, Wash. "AI is improving the profile of the clients we do loans for. It is identifying potential issues earlier. It also helps us to be more effective with our time. I do not use technology to replace the human or customer service side of my business. Communication and hand-holding throughout the process are a must. AI has helped improve our work flow and ability to send out preapprovals on demand from anywhere, anytime. It is a useful tool to make the client experience a better one."

People often use the term as a blanket statement for different technologies. Automated underwriting definitely meets the criteria. Gone are the days of gathering and sorting through mounds of documentation, then going back and asking for updates. Applications go quicker with smart documents guiding the customer. With LOs receiving more complete files from the onset, the approval process goes faster too, resulting in happier clients.

"There's no doubt that the increase in automation and third-party verification will continue to make the loan process more efficient for both buyers and loan officers. Buyers can enjoy the ability to instantly verify income and employment history without providing paper documentation," said Fidel Dorado, loan officer at Golden Empire Mortgage in Madera, Calif.

"Loan officers can enjoy the paperless, streamlined process with fewer mistakes along the way. And the database for appraisals through GSEs provides substantial data on property listings, eliminating the need to appraise. The overall efficiency of the paperless, online loan process today is tremendous. This modernized approach to how we now work with buyers allows us the freedom to understand their overall financial picture. We can spend more time discovering what their financial goals are instead of double-checking a paper trail along the way. And we can ultimately build a personal relationship that can grow and evolve over the years."

Automated workflow eliminates a lot of tedium and analog components. The daily difference may go unnoticed, but speeding the close of mortgages compounds over time, opening up loan officers to more business. It could also bring an influx of borrowers back as refinancers if the process is easier for them or the advantage of finding the ones most likely to re-up.

"Guild's servicing department is using AI to give better and more targeted leads to the sales force. I've never seen a more complementary relationship between the two departments," said Joseph Pattee, branch manager at Guild Mortgage in Boise, Idaho. "Servicing targets past customers who might be inclined to refi or purchase and hands that lead over to the original loan officer, who has the best opportunity to convert the new lead. It's a powerful combo."

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