HousingWire recently spoke with SitusAMC CEO Michael Franco about the current market outlook and how lenders can focus on efficiency and stay agile in the midst of market shifts.
HousingWire: What’s driving lenders’ need for agility and efficiency in the current market?
Michael Franco: The last two years in the mortgage industry have certainly been unique. Volatility and dramatic shifts in market activity have forced participants across the mortgage lifecycle to embrace more agile business practices.
Entering 2020 the market was expecting <$2.0 trillion in origination volume and a continuation of tight lending spreads. We got the exact opposite. Origination volume doubled expectations and wide gain-on-sale margins brought on by record low mortgage rates forced the industry to increase their capacity to meet surging loan demand.
Then, by late Q1/early Q2 2021, pricing wars were erupting in various channels, margins were falling (rapidly), and the industry was getting ready for a decrease in lending activity in the back half of the year.
While all these rapid market movements were occurring, the regulatory and political landscape started to shift. The rules for QM changed, an adverse market fee was put into place for certain refinancing transactions, limitations were placed on the GSEs concerning non-owner-occupied loan purchases, GSE pricing changes were put in place with little warning – meaning locks that were already in pipeline could not be adjusted in time to offset the changing economics, the GSE QM patch expired, etc.
Additionally, the CARES Act forbearance rules, limitations on servicer activities, forbearance moratoriums, a more pronounced regulatory posture, a new RFI from Ginnie Mae that points to high capital requirements, etc. reminded originators that there was no free lunch.
While the recent movements in interest rates may provide some additional refinancing volume and an ability to take another bite at the apple, rates will undoubtedly rise in the coming years. The industry knows this and is looking for ways to increase profitability while preserving origination volume optionality.
HW: As we move from a refi boom to a competitive purchase-heavy market, how can lenders maintain momentum?
MF: SitusAMC has the privilege of working with the top organizations in the real estate industry. With shifting market dynamics, many of the lenders we partner with are focused on balancing their strategies. For some lenders that means forming strategic relationships with real estate brokers (for example, OriginPoint was just created by Guaranteed Rate and Compass Inc.). For others it may mean buying competitors who have a purchase footprint.
We are also seeing lenders focused on building or expanding their wholesale channel to capture incremental volume. To aid lenders in the latter pursuit, SitusAMC purchased PP&E platform ReadyPrice in December 2020, providing a community-driven platform that connects brokers and wholesale lenders to facilitate more seamless loan discovery and delivery.
HW: How can lenders effectively compress their costs to increase profitability?
MF: Driving efficiency in your business model is more important than ever. We all know that the cost of underwriting talent has skyrocketed; however, that economic pressure is made even more acute by the fact that many lenders hired up during the refinance boom last year and are eager to keep volumes high even if margins get compressed.
We believe that the key to true, sustainable efficiency in the mortgage industry is tied to digital transformation (not just taking an online application) that involves a reimagination of the origination process, automating workflows, and a focus on driving out unnecessary steps and bottlenecks.
This must be more than just an individual technology or system, but comprehensive, end-to-end solutions that can drive efficiency from application through close to the delivery of loans into the secondary market.
Onshore/offshore operating models also present a huge opportunity for lenders, allowing for task-based workflows to be performed in real-time or near real-time and at a cost that aligns with profitability goals. For many originators, the best solution is to team with a partner who can leverage their scale and experience to identify opportunity and drive best-in-class outcomes.
HW: How does SitusAMC help lenders maximize profitability?
MF: At SitusAMC we’re focused on helping lenders drive better outcomes by providing them with certainty in their execution strategies. While we’re well known for our non-agency, private label securitization offerings, market demand has enabled us to expand our business model to also support new origination activity away from the private label areas.
Our offering has expanded to include a variety of lender solutions covering technology automation, mortgage broker solutions, fulfillment and processing (onshore and offshore, including SAFE Act activities), and whole loan and MSR brokerage. We now have over 1,000 professionals focused solely on the agency new origination side of the market.
The depth of our organization enables us to look at a client relationship more holistically and offer an entire “ecosystem” type of approach that can leverage various strategies to attack “cost-per-loan” in its totality while also looking to maximize gain-on-sale.
At the heart of our ecosystem approach is technology. SitusAMC has made significant investments to build and acquire technologies we see as mission critical to helping our clients build more profitable businesses.
Some standouts include our compliance automation solutions (ComplianceEase), warehouse lending software (ProMerit & WLS which are the systems of record for ~75% of the warehouse lending market and supported over $3 trillion in 2020), and our document custody solution (emBTRUST covers ~85% of outstanding US mortgages).
Additionally, the ReadyPrice PP&E platform provides connectivity and pricing insight to mortgage brokers from wholesale lenders and our Rate Lock System is utilized by leading Wall Street conduits in the management of their non-agency loan acquisitions.
In recent years we have also acted as our own incubation lab which has enabled us to create various automation technologies for credit underwriting, collateral underwriting, document classification and data extraction along with a financing best-execution and workflow automation technology (called Aware) that we’ll be taking to market in a more pronounced way in the coming quarters.
While our technologies can be leveraged as point solutions, lenders are realizing the larger opportunity to partner with us to deliver a more comprehensive solution. Imagine a process where everything from loan discovery to delivery to compliance to fulfillment and closing is infused with technologies that reduce timelines from weeks to minutes. That’s what we’re working on building, and we couldn’t be more excited about the value we believe we will deliver.
This technology backbone is further enhanced with an industry-leading service organization that is helping our clients scale their operations through onshore and offshore resources.
Our team of real estate experts works with top lenders to provide licensed and unlicensed fulfillment activities, due diligence on loans being sold or securitized into the private market, and the provision of information technology professionals to help clients build, operate, and maintain their own systems.
This rapidly expanding primary market offering set also benefits from our robust capital markets, creating a bridge between lenders and the end investor. We are already the largest MSR broker in the United States (bringing liquidity to originators on retained MSR assets) and in late 2021/early 2022 we are adding warehouse lending administration and a representation and warranty insurance program to our lender facing offerings.
The combination of what SitusAMC can provide creates a powerful collection of solutions that we feel is unmatched in the industry. We believe this type of holistic solution set approach will be a difference-maker in supporting lenders and helping them build more profitable businesses.
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