One of the most daunting tasks for lenders is picking the right mortgage tech vendor. If consumers feel like getting a mortgage is akin to going to the dentist, lenders feel like implementing a new tech solution is the equivalent of going to an oral surgeon.

The number of tech vendors serving companies in the mortgage finance industry has exploded over the last several years, all offering to solve a range of problems that may or may not be important enough to invest the time, money and effort of integrating that solution into a lender’s current process.

At a small breakfast meeting during the Ellie Mae Experience conference in Vegas this week, I sat down with a group of lenders and vendors to talk about emerging tech trends. But in addition to the trends we talked about — mobile availability, the rise of APIs, and creating the right mix of tech/human interaction for borrowers — another issue emerged: just how hard it is to choose a technology vendor.

The breakfast, hosted by Maxwell, which offers a digital borrower portal, and Plaid, an asset verification provider for mortgage, included a discussion among lenders of different sizes, from a community bank to a legacy lender with around 800 employees. Big or small, they all had some pain points when it came to choosing a technology provider.

The first issue comes from deciding what solution a company actually needs. But as Kate Adamson, head of mortgage at Plaid, explained, sometimes the first mistake lenders make is in their approach to this decision.

“Talking with companies that are founded around technology, we find that their attitude is, ‘Let’s engineer the best holistic experience.’ Mortgage companies, banks and lenders tend to think in silos versus the holistic experience. Sometimes they want a plug-and-play option for a specific solution, when they should be reevaluating the whole organization.”

Historically, a mortgage company looking for a new solution would do an analysis, ask for RFPs and weigh the pros and cons. But Lance Poole, who leads customer experience at Maxwell, asserts that the only way to know if your internal and external customers are going to find it useful is to take a test-and-learn approach — a strategy that is common to tech companies but foreign to most financial institutions.

“We actively encourage prospective customers to roll out Maxwell as a pilot," Poole said. "Our software was created to deploy quickly, so it’s relatively simple for a branch to run a proof of concept over 45-60 days and see how we add actual value to their process”

Maxwell spends two days before launch with new clients doing a deep dive into their processes to understand everything about how their current process and systems will interact with Maxwell’s platform.

“We bring in everyone who is going to touch Maxwell,” Poole said. “We demonstrate what their current workflow looks like and how it will interact with Maxwell, and then we get their feedback.” 

The lenders at the table identified adoption as one of the most stubborn problems to solve in any new tech integration. One company brings LOs into the discussion about a new solution right from the beginning and makes them a part of the process. Then they identify key stakeholders, such as top producers, and let the enthusiasm — and success — of those people persuade others.

Still, all admitted that solutions with great potential are often tanked by the attitude of loan officers or others involved in the process.

“Adoption is such an important metric, that if that isn’t happening you have to ask yourself why someone isn’t using it,” Poole said.

The lenders agreed that the challenge of planning ahead for technology, vetting tech vendors and overseeing implementation can justify the use of a dedicated employee, depending on the size of the company.

“When you look at your overall tech spend, if you make the wrong choice, you could waste a lot of money,” Poole said. “And this is typically money you will spend every year. If you have 40 or more people, you could have one person dedicated to this. 

"For smaller teams with strained resources, you don't need a consultant or full time resource to get your technology launched in your organization. If you choose the right tech vendor, you should expect them to be an extension of your organization to help consult the best solution and provide a product and partnership to help your business succeed," Poole said.

Adamson also advised lenders to check with current vendors that they already trust to help them vet possible new technologies and vendors. “They already know your system and processes and will likely be part of any new integration,” Adamson said.

The assembled lenders agreed that the different loan products, systems and processes that are unique to each lender defy easy adoption or integration: There is no quick fix.

Adamson agreed. “Lenders need to look at what they are trying to achieve long-term and use technology as a tool to further those priorities, rather than a silver bullet.”