How mortgage firms use tech to stay staffed in the coronavirus era

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Inlanta Mortgage was already implementing technology and operational flexibility so it could operate with a remote workforce when the coronavirus outbreak made it a necessity.

"Many companies were prepared," said Paul Buege, president and chief operating officer at Inlanta Mortgage, a Pewaukee, Wis.-based nonbank lender. "We just didn't know it was a virus we’d need to be prepared for."

Awareness of growing disaster-related risks and increased consumer interest in digital engagement spurred technological advances at mortgage companies and vendors. Those advances have come in handy in the current crisis.

For example, Inlanta — like some other companies in the Midwest — prepared to operate remotely in a contingency because dangerously cold temperatures in January led to a wave of frostbite and hypothermia-related hospitalizations which in turn caused business and schools to temporarily shut facilities.

"We've seen no loss of productivity or service levels so far," Buege said. "But if this had happened five years ago it would have been more problematic."

For Allied Mortgage Group in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., artificial intelligence-driven workflow technology it put in place to make its post-closing teams more efficient, helped it maintain capacity as its workforce pivoted to remote and sought to keep up with its volume.

"I don't think anybody would have predicted the environment we're currently trying to operate in, which is unprecedented," said Kyle Manseau, Allied's senior vice president of operations. "In hindsight, it's been a game changer for us to be able to transition pretty quickly."

Before adopting the "ARTificial Intelligence Employee" or ARTIE for short, on a typical day, Allied's three-person post-closing unit would touch 3,000 pieces of paper and each package took an hour to deal with; with ARTIE, Allied cut that to an average of two minutes.

"Now that we have this platform stable and in place, we think we're going to start introducing this to other parts of the operation," Manseau said. Allied teamed with AI Foundry to create ARTIE.

But for any mortgage companies with no AI in place when the crisis hit, implementation is not simply deciding to add it at any time.

"It can help significantly, as long as it's patterned in a way that the banks and mortgage companies can consume the AI," said Steve Butler, the president of AI Foundry. "AI can come in and be an assistant and offload the work that loan processors and underwriters are doing. Not all of it, because some of it is quite complex intelligence work that has to be done. But if you are able to offload a lot of the processes, then I think I think it could really give a lift."

AmeriHome Mortgage, for example, is using AI to solely manage loan packages and data verification in the correspondent channel. Cognitive robots take in all of the documents that come into to support an origination, then file and record them in the loan origination system, Butler said.

Not every mortgage company was ready with advanced workflow or remote capabilities when the crisis hit and they might want to upgrade to some technologies to operate more efficiently, said Kyle Kamrooz, co-founder of vendor Cloudvirga.

While virtual private networks may be necessary for security, using them in line with an older disaster preparedness strategy creates redundancy. Companies may want to avoid remote workers connecting to desktops still located in offices, he said.

"Getting everyone to be remote workers has exposed some cracks in the system," he said.

That raises the question of how possible mortgage technology upgrades are with coronavirus in place.

In most cases, they are, said Les Parker, managing director at consultancy Transformational Mortgage Solutions.

"Typically, we work with customers remotely, so social distancing works well for us," he said in an email.

Parker noted while he and another executive did have a rare instance of having to do an onsite visit by plane to help integrate a mortgage operation into a bank just prior to public guidance on remote work, the airline and people on board were already in line with a lot of it.

The flight that would normally seat at least 100 people only carried four passengers. They sat far apart from each other and everyone on board frequently washed their hands and used sanitizer. He does not anticipate traveling again until public guidance is lifted and anticipates being able to continue to help clients.

Several mortgage technology vendors are coming up with a mix of paid and free automation in response to the virus that might help with staffing efficiencies, and advised that there would be a need to allow for at least normal time for implementation.

In the meantime, if mortgage companies need to increase staff to keep up with refinancing demand, there are things they can do fairly quickly in line with social distancing requirements, Kamrooz said.

"When it comes to hiring we’re doing the same process in general," he said. "You can meet with a person over the phone or face-to-face through [video software] … and collaborate internally on a candidate or have a group interview through a Zoom meeting."

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Mortgage technology Coronavirus Nonbank Artificial intelligence Refinance Digital mortgages Digital Mortgage 2020