HousingWire recently spoke to Sandra Madigan, EVP of product strategy – servicing technology at ICE Mortgage Technology, about improving the home buying and ownership experience with technology and how the industry can do so thoughtfully.
HousingWire: According to ICE Mortgage Technology’s 2023 Borrower Insights Survey, fewer than one in 10 borrowers want a fully digital experience (9%) despite many appreciating the convenience of digital processes and services. What do you think the disconnect is there, and do you see this changing in the future?
Sandra Madigan: I would start by saying that there is no true fully digital experience. What is available today is a fragmented experience that provides technology in pieces for all the steps in the home buying journey.
As a borrower today, I may have to interact with my Realtor in one place and my lender in another. There is also the transition when you close your loan and go to yet another place to engage with your servicer. With so many moving parts and different portals, we need to create a more efficient process that will make things easier for homebuyers.
However, we can’t lose sight that this process should be built on human connections and relationships, and these digital tools need to help support these necessary interactions. As technology providers continue to roll out solutions that provide that interconnected experience, we will see more borrower interest.
I compare it to how people felt before the iPhone came out. No one knew it was possible to manage so many aspects of your life in one place — from ordering groceries to banking to managing your healthcare — and to be honest, people might not have thought they wanted all those things in one place. But after the iPhone was released, they realized, “Oh, I like this!”
HW: How can digital technology improve the consumer experience during the home buying and financing process?
SM: It all comes back to being able to get everything at your fingertips in a single place. We must provide consumers with the tools and education they need to more easily navigate the home buying process.
As an example, when a homebuyer begins looking for a home, there’s currently an information disconnect, making it difficult for borrowers to match what they are looking for in a home with the reality of what they can afford.
Additionally, borrowers need tools that educate them on the full cost of homeownership, as well as all the non-traditional income that could be used towards a home purchase. For example, they could be coming from an apartment where they are responsible for their cable bill, but in the new condominium they are interested in, they may not have that bill. So, the money they are now saving by not having to pay their cable bill can go towards their down payment.
Or, conversely, they live in an apartment today and need to plan for a new lawn service cost. There may be affordability programs they could qualify for, but it’s hard to find that information when you don’t know where to look. Digital technology can help ensure consumers paint a realistic picture of what they can afford and what options are available to them.
It’s all about giving borrowers access to the information they need, where they want it, how they want it and when they want it.
You can put the most incredible technology in front of the consumer, but if you don’t work on streamlining the back-end part of the process you have not delivered effective technology. It is critical to also digitize the front-end processes, which enable you to give borrowers a better experience, while also making it easier for your loan officers and other staff members to do their job.
Similarly in servicing, you need to provide consumers the self-service capabilities to manage their home and their loan, while also delivering a great back-office experience. Ultimately, these two pieces come together to accelerate how we capture and process applications to enable quicker terms for approvals. Lenders also gain heightened data integrity and a more efficient origination and servicing processes overall.
HW: When it comes to further digitization, what aspects of the mortgage experience should the industry be focused on?
SM: I think the industry needs to focus on advancing the end-consumer experience. This really comes down to designing products and experiences around the customer journey and mapping it from that point of view.
I’m a big believer in working from the outside in. You need to bring the same level of convenience borrowers are asking for into the back-end. And if you’re offering your borrowers self-service options, you should be giving your loan officers a view into those things so they can reach out and offer support as needed. Everything should be in sync.
Often, there is a big disconnect between origination and servicing. Delivering a personalized experience builds retention and helps ensure borrowers come back to you for more business. Your borrowers should not just be a loan or account number, there’s a person behind that number and you need to know that person. Remember their birthday, reach out to celebrate the anniversary of their closing day. This is all part of delivering a holistic experience. This also comes into play when a borrower satisfies their mortgage and the lien is released. The lien release process must be streamlined and efficient.
We expect to continue to see low for-sale inventory due to the “rate lock-in” effect from the ultra-low interest rates so many homeowners secured in the early 2020s, which will likely extend the traditional average length of the servicing relationship for some time. This creates unique opportunities for servicers to build long-term relationships with their customers. To that end, their No. 1 priority should be becoming a trusted partner who’s there to answer questions and support all their home finance needs. Whether you are a bank, credit union or non-bank, offering a holistic approach can be hugely valuable, and leveraging technology can help you do it efficiently and effectively.
HW: How does ICE approach its digital strategy and product development?
SM: When it comes to product development, you need to think about your end user; we call it empathy-driven development. Some in software development don’t think that way. They think it’s just about the code, but it’s also about how you design technology to interact with people. Education is everything, and we want people to know the options available to them.
Our solution, Servicing Digital, provides borrowers who are facing challenges with their mortgage payments the ability to request assistance from their servicer at any time. Borrowers can ask their sensitive questions from the privacy of their own home, authorize an income analysis, and even upload and review documents in real time. They don’t even have to be in default to leverage these services. If a borrower recently lost their job and is concerned about paying their mortgage, they can connect with their servicer now to understand all the options available to them.
It’s not about the loan, it should always be about homeownership. Lenders, servicers and we, as technology providers, are in the business of helping people get into and stay in their homes. Everything we do at ICE comes back to helping people achieve the dream of homeownership. If you take this empathetic approach with integrity, you can be proud of the impact you’re having on people’s lives.
HW: Though delinquencies are low and loan performance is strong… there’s also this uncertainty that this current market won’t last. What should lenders be thinking about as they face the future with a bit of uncertainty?
SM: I would say two things on this. The first is, when you start from that place of empathy, whether delinquencies are high or low, someone’s ability to pay is affected by something. So, if we’re able to help even one homeowner stay in their home, we’re having an impact. The other is that, I think, given the current economic trends, we will see delinquencies creep up and we need to prepare for how we can use technology to engage borrowers and provide tools that ensure they are aware of all the options available to them.
Let me give an example of how technology can help in this area. No one expected the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the GSEs released programs to help with payment assistance. We had those programs up and running in Service Digital in one sprint — that’s two weeks. And with the click of a button, borrowers who needed assistance could easily get information and help. I know we, as an industry, want to help those with financial hardship stay in their homes, and the only way you can do that is with the thoughtful use of proven technology.