Amid a renewed focus on improving customer service and the overall borrowing experience, lenders surveyed by National Mortgage News indicate a strong interest in customer-relationship management software, but remain tepid about electronic signatures.

CRM and process automation software are leading technology priorities for lenders and servicers surveyed by NMN and SourceMedia Research. In addition, both segments of the industry are bullish in terms of their staffing outlooks. More than 300 industry professionals, including C-suite and other senior-level executives at mortgage origination and servicing firms of all sizes, responded to the September 2015 survey.

In line with this renewed focus on improving the borrower experience, many lenders are planning to boost spending on sales and marketing. Also high on the list of strategic plans are improvements in profitability, including business process improvements.

For those originators who covet millennial customers, mobile technology and social media are seen as potential drivers of success. However, one application that appears to lag in terms of adoption is electronic signature technology, the use of which remains muted due to perceived challenges in consumer and investor acceptance.

Lenders' technology objectives in 2016 are tightly aligned with their strategic goals. Obtaining or upgrading systems to better incorporate customer-relationship management was cited most often, with nearly three-quarters of respondents saying CRM was a high-priority technology initiative for 2016. Technology aimed at improving the origination process was the only tech initiative to get as intense a positive response.

When it comes specifically to loan origination platforms, respondents have not been idle. Around half said their companies had upgraded their LOS in the past 12 months. Tellingly, a similar fraction said it has been three years or more since their firms engaged with a new LOS vendor, demonstrating the considerable "stickiness" that vendors have once their systems are in place, even as lender expectations and compliance requirements demand enhanced functionality and usability.

One area presumably firmly in the process improvement space that has yet to gain serious traction is e-signatures. While attitudes among respondents toward the technology are generally positive, long-standing concerns about customer and investor acceptance and legality remain major impediments to adoption.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of federal e-sign legislation becoming law, yet 30% of lenders still cite legal acceptance as one of the two biggest challenges to implementing e-signatures. Customer acceptance was cited as a primary challenge by 26% of respondents, while security was identified as a top concern by 21% of lenders.

Initial disclosure packages are virtually the only documents that respondents allow borrowers to e-sign, with 69% of lenders allowing the technology for upfront loan forms and 26% of respondents not offering e-signature on any documents.

When asked specifically about electronically-signed promissory notes, also known as e-mortgages, 48% of all lender respondents named investor acceptance the most important factor influencing their firms' decision to not use the technology.

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