Q&A: Top lenders on where mortgage tech stands in 2023 

Today’s table stakes, what tech providers need to know and more

This year’s down market has shifted what mortgage lenders are seeking from their technology partners, because the spare dollars for nice-to-haves are no longer around. The booming housing market the past few years brought with it a surge in mortgage tech adoption, and while this movement towards innovation has been welcomed by mortgage parties, now more than ever lenders are looking at the data behind these mortgage tech claims. Return on investment and cost savings around must-haves are now the focus in a lot of tech partnerships. 

To learn more about this shift in mortgage tech needs and the changing dynamic in vendor-lender partnerships, HousingWire interviewed John Hedlund, California Mortgage Bankers Association (California MBA) chairman and chief operating officer at AmeriHome Mortgage Company and Wes Iseley, California MBA board president of residential and senior managing director of Carrington Holding Company.

California is home to some of the largest lenders which allows the association to keep a very strong pulse on the needs and trends in housing. The associations’ annual Mortgage Innovators Conference in Anaheim, California in June is designed to explore the revolutionary world of mortgage technology and helps attendees gain valuable insights from experienced industry professionals. 

“The Mortgage Innovators Conference is unique in our space because there’s more of a conversation and interaction with lenders and technology companies, or innovators. It was part of our goal to not just have a bunch of booths where people are pushing products and instead where they’re solving problems that lenders have today,” said Hedlund.

“The beauty of the Mortgage Innovators Conference, and what we’re trying to build there, is really more of that two-way dialogue. The companies that are coming are listening and trying to enhance, improve and develop their products, and will reposition what they’ve already built or are in the process of building,” he said.

This collaborative mindset is what will define the lenders and tech providers that grow. In the following Q&A, Hedlund and Iseley discuss what innovation looks like today, the current table stakes in mortgage tech, what tech companies should keep in mind when talking to lenders and more. 

HousingWire: What are some of the biggest areas that lenders are looking at technology to solve?

John Hedlund: In 2021, business was crazy good, and lenders had more money. You had a lot of vendors and startups selling, for lack of a better term, bells and whistles. They were, in my opinion, nice-to-haves and didn’t really move the needle. You’d have an LO come over to your company, saying that they need a certain software because they’re comfortable with it, so lenders would buy it because they could afford it. We’re in a different world now. Most lenders lost money last year.

So when I think of technology today, I talk to our providers about how they need to show their economic value add more than ever. How do you take costs out of my business? How have you proven that, factually?

When I talk to clients and ourselves, I focus on “what do we really need that moves the needle?” And, “What is just nice to have?” I’m getting rid of the nice-to-haves, and we’re finding other vendors that want to come in.

For most of the guys today, it’s all bottom-line driven. They need to be liquid, and they don’t know what’s next with rates.

Wes Iseley: There are some real issues that are still out there with speed to close. The first thing with speed to close, anything we can do to income verifications, which we have come a long way in bringing that in. There are different models out there trying to bring in income verification quickly.

The second one would be from a compliance standpoint — wire fraud. Everybody has to have that compliance and quality in place because that will drive costs up. 

So the whole time we’re speeding things up, and at the same time, we need to have our protections in place so we don’t have surprise losses. There’s a lot of work going on the front and the back end from a compliance perspective.

HW: What are the new table stakes when it comes to technology?

JH: There’s always way more ideas than are actually going to ever catch on. It’s hard to carve out a new niche where there’s really a value add, but ultimately, that’s where I would start. What is my value proposition? And, it has to be somewhat hard today; it can’t be soft. By soft, I mean that it’s a nice-to-have. I think of an economic value-add. If followed all the way through the process, does it move the needle somewhere? 

WI: Right now, if you can’t make it easy for the customer, that customer is going to get frustrated and go away. It’s tough out there right now. This includes the ease of use for the customer and the communication in keeping all people involved in that transaction informed as it goes along. Especially in a purchase money close, you can’t mess up the close when the moving truck is outside. Keeping everybody informed as the process goes is a must.

HW: What should mortgage tech companies keep in mind when talking to lenders?

JH: There’s a lot of value in talking to a variety of different lenders in different markets, and testing, tweaking and revising your business model when it needs change. If you want to have something that isn’t a niche product, it has to ring true with the masses. 

When we started AmeriHome, our mindset wasn’t to chase shiny objects. From the start, our goal was to be a top-five correspondent lender, and so we built the company with scale in mind and our value prop very simplistically became, “How are we going to add value to our clients?” 

I see a lot of tech vendors that have great ideas in isolation that aren’t ever going to necessarily be at scale because it’s a niche-type model. In most cases, I wonder if they’ve vetted that and spent, not an hour, but weeks or months finding out what their clients really need and solving a problem versus creating a product to try and find a problem.

HW: What does housing innovation look like in today’s market?

WI: The big issue out there is affordable housing. While there are modular homes, manufactured homes and factory-built homes, there are so many restrictions. In California for example, there’s a fee to transport the manufactured house, which adds $25,000 to $30,000.

You need to get down state by state and say what are the restrictions? I think factory-built housing and the precision of the building itself is of a higher quality and that’s a way to solve for affordable housing. You’re not going to affect land price, so it’s the build. This is a big solution that everybody should be working on.

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