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Driven to distraction in 2011

It has been my pleasure to write this column for the last year. It was my mission to use this space to explore what would come next for the mortgage lending industry, with an eye toward the technology that would power the space. Looking back over the work I’ve submitted, I have to admit to getting a bit distracted. There was just too much incredible, ridiculous or otherwise distracting stuff to write about in 2010. I approached my computer with the best of intentions, with visions of near-future technology and questions about next steps firmly in mind. In many cases, the headlines of the day pulled me off topic and into a rant. I thank you all for your indulgence. But it also makes me wonder how many other professionals working in our industry were also distracted by the mainstream media, which tried to make sense of our business at the same time they struggled to put as much spin as possible on the headlines they hoped would sell more papers. It was incredible to watch, a train wreck in slow motion that took all year to crash. Of course, the bad news is that the crash isn’t over. We may be seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel, but there are still plenty of sensational headlines ahead of us. Can we afford to allow ourselves to be distracted from the real work that has yet to be done to guarantee our industry’s recovery? That’s not a simple question. On the one hand, I’ve long been an advocate of getting back to the basic blocking and tackling that gets the work done here: Effective consumer marketing, partnership building, loan underwriting and customer service-focused loan closings. But it’s not like the industry’s best executives can stand idly by while brand new government agencies get set up, go through the rule-making process and then begin regulating an industry in which they may have no direct experience. Someone is going to have to give these bureaucrats our side of the story. Likewise, while I might be content to kick back with the mortgage technologists and dream about where the next innovation will come from, I cannot help but weigh in on some of the regulatory matters that will undoubtedly impact the way lenders buy and deploy new technologies. Fortunately for me, I have understanding editors who don’t seem to mind all that much if I climb up on a box, ranting and shaking my fist at the sky. I am a lucky man. I wonder if many of HousingWire’s readers are that lucky. Every minute the industry’s top executives are focused on trying to rein in an out-of-control government back to reality is a minute they’re not focused on improving their own businesses. That opens these leaders up to competitive risk from others who aren’t as willing to fight the battles in Washington. Our largest trade groups have seen their membership numbers decimated, leaving them with fewer resources with which to lobby our legislators — not that it would do much good now that the Dodd-Frank Act is already on the books and the CFPB is under construction. This is not the time to throw up our hands and give the business completely over to the bureaucrats. There will be a real need for leadership next year. I expect the industry’s best and brightest to respond to that call, regardless of the costs. There will be plenty of distractions for me in 2011 as well. I have a feeling that, try as I might to stay focused on the technology that keeps our industry working, a topic I am truly interested in, I may not be able to ignore the other stories that will make news next year. I’ll try to deal with them in a manner that doesn’t try your patience. You can always resort to providing direction for my work by sending your suggestions for column topics to my editors at HousingWire. Best wishes to all of our readers for continued success in 2011. Rick Grant is veteran journalist covering mortgage technology and the financial industry. Follow him on Twitter: @NYRickGrant

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