Technology

Snapdocs’ Briana Ings on increasing industry tech adoption

Today’s episode of HousingWire Daily continues our Women of Influence series and features an interview with Briana Ings, the vice president of product at Snapdocs. Ings joined us today to discuss what goes into the new product development process and to highlight how companies can benefit from adopting new technological processes into their workflow. 

She also shares her experience as a woman in the industry and how Snapdocs’ creates and ensures inclusivity for its workers through employee organizations.

Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Alcynna Lloyd: I want to discuss tech in 2020, where we really saw the housing industry’s need for technology evolve. This was due to many factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and an uptick in sales volume. While many companies have utilized technology to combat these factors, there are so many refraining from implementing technology into their processes. This really makes me wonder if the pandemic wasn’t enough to challenge their minds about technology, what will?

Briana Ings: It’s going to, I promise. I really do think there’s an increasing desire and realization about the influence technology can and should have on this space. When the pandemic hit, I think a lot of people looked up and were like, “Oh, wait, why is it not digital yet?” And it sort of forced them to rethink about it. I think that the key problems that prevent some people in the industry from fully taking advantage of it are two macro challenges. 

One is the fragmentation in the industry. On a real estate closing alone, you’ve got five different companies coming together to get those documents signed. So the fragmentation and just the sheer number of different people that you need to get on board. And then the other macro challenge is change management. When you think about the real estate industry, many of these companies are really running and achieving margins by the operational efficiency of their workforce. And so as you think about introducing change, you need to make sure you do it in a way that it fits seamlessly into the workflows that people have, and that it actually drives efficiency and isn’t just a new thing that they need to do. 

HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling articles reported across HW Media. Each afternoon, we provide our listeners with a deeper look into the stories coming across our newsrooms that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted by the HW team and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Elissa Branch. If you have a pitch or an inquiry relating to podcasts, you can reach our team at alloyd@housingwire.com.

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Alcynna Lloyd: Hello, HousingWire listeners. Welcome back to another segment of HousingWire’s Woman of Influence. I’m Alcynna Lloyd, HousingWire’s digital media manager, and I’m joined with Briana Ings, the vice-president of product at Snapdocs. Thank you for joining us today, Briana.

Briana Ings: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

Alcynna Lloyd: Well, we’re really glad to have you and just dive into our conversation today. But before we dive into this conversation, can you share your background with our audience? Was working in FinTech something you always wanted to do, and how’s your experience been so far?

Briana Ings: Yeah. So my background is actually in technology, in building products. So it started as a young age and my education was in computer science and math. So I’ve always been super passionate about building things to make people’s lives better. And about four and a half years ago, I came across Snapdocs and the real estate technology space, and was just completely fascinated by the complexity of the problem space and really the opportunity to bring technology into what has traditionally been quite a paper-based and manual process in a way that could make the lives of everyone that works on a real estate closing better. If you think about going through the experience as a borrower, it can be very stressful. And then, you know, it’s stressful even for everyone who is behind the scenes working to make it happen. And so, I’m very much passionate about technology and have become passionate about bringing that technology into the real estate space and working in this space has been just as exciting as I thought it would be. There’s always a new problem to solve. Impacting the people in the space is really rewarding to see the sorts of either efficiency gains or experience gains. And so very much a space that I’m really excited to stay in and really excited about the direction of technology in the space.

Alcynna Lloyd: That’s amazing. I mean, it reminds me of that saying if you love what you do, you never work a single day in your life it sounds like.

Briana Ings: Yeah.

Alcynna Lloyd: Yeah. That’s great. So thank you for sharing your background and letting us learn more about you. And I wanna focus on why you’re here today, which is to discuss what it takes to become a woman of influence in the housing industry, in the FinTech industry. The award highlights women that are movers and shakers, and this is something you’ve definitely embodied as you were recognized in 2020 as a HousingWire Tech Trendsetter. And that award recognizes people in the industry that are not only great leaders, but innovative as well. So as the vice-president of product at Snapdocs, I imagine innovation is essential to the role. Can you tell us about what you take into consideration when developing a new product?

Briana Ings: Yeah. That’s certainly a huge part of my role if not the main part of my role. It’s really, you know, what I’m focused on in my team and really all of the engineering product and design organization is around how can we constantly increase the value that people are getting out of the product that they’re using. And so that requires innovation and that requires solving new problems for our customers in new and exciting ways. And so as you approach that new problem space, there’s a few key things that we look at. So first is really focused on, is there a real problem here? And what’s the opportunity? And how well solved is that problem today. And that starts with, I mean, deeply understanding your customers, tons of customer interviews, shadowing of customers, making sure you truly understand what their workflow is and not just a single customer, but more broadly. So that’s the first, like, really understanding the problem and the pain that people are feeling today to make sure that it’s something worth solving.

And the next part is, okay, well, how are you going to actually solve it? And that’s where you wanna also look at your overall company strategy and vision, and think about what you’re uniquely positioned to solve. You know, is this a problem that you, more than others, are going to be able to solve better and differently and in a unique way that’s going to actually solve the problem that people have? And so those are the two main things that you look at, and then you start to look at the internal business case. So if you’re working at, you know, a for-profit company, you wanna think about what the sort of value to the company is. Is it, you know, retention stickiness play? Is it a revenue opportunity? And that’s all about deciding, you know, should we build it? And then, of course, you get into now developing a new product. And the absolute best advice I have is to find customers really early on that you can partner with on that development.

We’ve been really lucky enough throughout, you know, my time at Snapdocs and having some amazing customers that have put in the time to provide really great feedback on our products to make sure that they actually fit into the workflows, they’re super easy to use, they solve the problem that you wanted to solve. And then you iterate on it, right? So you get a version of the product out there really as quickly as you can because as much planning as you do upfront, there’s always gonna be feedback, I promise. It’s a lot better to get something out there, get the feedback, iterate on it, and partner with those customers to shape the future of the product.

Alcynna Lloyd: That’s really interesting. I imagine there’s so much work that goes into that.

Briana Ings: Yeah. But it’s really exciting if you get to, you know, work on that. That’s where it’s a really rewarding experience to see something that you put so much time into actually out in the world and used. Yeah.

Alcynna Lloyd: That’s really cool. So I wanna focus more on your role. You’re a member of the executive leadership team, which is responsible for culture inside the company, as well as setting the overall corporate strategy and direction. I know the mortgage and tech industry are heavily male-dominated spaces so I’m very curious on how you navigate these spaces, and although it isn’t your personal responsibility, how you ensure inclusivity within the organization. And additionally, I’m curious on whether or not you’ve seen the industry make more space for women over time.

Briana Ings: Yeah. So I think that there’s some inherent…and this is not obviously sort of women versus men in their sort of personality traits. It’s not black and white, right? Like, everyone has sort of different approaches, though women tend to index more heavily on sort of collaborative, empathetic-based leadership. And that can sometimes be in contrast to sort of a more direct style of sort of male-dominated background traits. And so I think you can actually, as a woman, sort of use those attributes to your advantage, especially if you’re in a space like real estate, where you need to make sure that you are taking into consideration the viewpoints of many different constituents that are involved in the transaction. And I think the key thing about sort of navigating a space where maybe there aren’t as many other women around you is still finding those sort of mentors or advisors that you can rely on that are gonna look out for you. And so that’s also one of the key things that I do within the organization to help with inclusivity.

And that means just making sure that the women at the company, maybe if they don’t have, or in the industry overall, don’t have as many people to look up to that look exactly like them, that doesn’t mean that they can’t have sort of sponsors that are gonna look out for them and find opportunities for them. So in my seat, I have the opportunity to see sort of all of the new company initiatives that we’re taking on, how our strategy is changing. And I can use that to help identify and find good opportunities for women to step up. So that’s one thing that I’ve always been focused on. Two, you know, providing that feedback and safe space. So, you know, always have my doors open. People can grab time with me to get feedback. And then it’s also just sort of asking the questions, you know, about when you’re in sort of a leadership conversation and considering something, you know, just ask, okay, have we considered X, Y, Z, you know, that is related to something that maybe women might experience more than men?

And it just opens up the conversation and someone might have not considered it. And so it’s nice to have that perspective and voice in the room. And then, of course, you know, we started a women’s leadership network at the company, and so that’s enabled us to provide more direct services to women and elevate some sort of questions about, you know, how can we make sure that we have the most inclusive environment. And so that’s just sort of my approach in some of the things. And, you know, I’ve been in a heavily male-dominated space for a while. I remember, I think I was only one of four women in my graduating class in computer science. And so you just kind of find other ways to find the people that you can connect with. It doesn’t necessarily have to be women. And then, you know, you mentioned you’re curious about whether or not these industries make more space for women over time. And I think tech and real estate are maybe slightly different.

Tech, obviously, I think the problem starts much earlier and there are some really great programs that are specifically investing really early on in education, kind of encouraging more women to get into the technology field. In real estate, I’ve actually been really impressed and surprised with a number of the organizations that have elevated, especially women into pretty high leadership positions within mortgage banks or within the title companies. And so I do think that there’s a clear focus on it. The amount of progress, you know, I think is different depending on the situation, but there’s definitely, definitely progress.

Alcynna Lloyd: I think that’s a really great point. It really depends on how you look at the situation. And you touched on this and I wanna bring it back up for discussion, but you are the founder of a women’s group at Snapdocs. The employee organization aims to engage, empower, and develop women and their allies. And under your leadership, the group has looked at issues like pay disparity, providing mental health resources, as well as talent training and coaching. What was the heart behind the creation of the group? And do you think other organizations could benefit from something similar?

Briana Ings: Yeah. So, interestingly, the group kind of started with, at first, we just had a Slack for snapper ladies, we called it. Snapdocs, snapper ladies. And, you know, it was just a great community, you know, everything as small things like anyone have a hairbrush, you know, to, hey, I have this question, you know, about this product thing or this customer problem, and anyone there to help? And so it started as the super casual group. And we said as we grew, you know, we’re now over 500 people, as we grew we said, you know, how could we actually formalize this into a group and community? And so that’s where we formed the group. And it was really about creating that sense of community and provide a lot of easy channels to support women at the company to grow and achieve their career goals.

And so it helped us shine a spotlight on sort of the needs, also get resources to do things like provide mental health resources, talent training. And so we are able to hear from our group and then implement sort of programs to help develop the women talent at our company, and also highlight just unique challenges that might exist because of our background. And I certainly think that this is something that other organizations could and should do and would benefit from. We actually started, you know, a number of other sort of community groups from people that are from other underrepresented backgrounds at a similar time to when we started the women’s group. And again, I think it’s just a great way to get exposure to either the cultural backgrounds of different groups, sort of the challenges, the unique assets that those groups bring and create great sort of programs for everyone at the company to get involved in. And I do know that this is sort of a trend.

And the other thing I like about introducing these resource groups is oftentimes an organization will hear a lot of feedback from their employee base about wanting to have more of a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. And instead of just trying to solve that top-down, you can form these groups and organizations and allow everyone at the company regardless of their level to step up and figure out ways that they can help further the company. And so it really empowers the whole company and actually creates a lot of opportunities for people to step into either leadership roles or different types of unique projects or jobs.

Alcynna Lloyd: Right. Thank you for sharing that with us. We’ve heard a lot of companies creating their own women’s group where there are different types of inclusivity group, whether it be race-based, gender-based, or stuff like that. So I think that’s amazing that more companies are adding that into a part of their culture. So I wanna switch gears and discuss tech. In 2020, we really saw the housing industry’s need for technology evolve. This was due to many factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many professionals to work remotely, as well as an uptick in sales volume attributed to a significant homebuyer demand. While many companies have utilized technology to combat these factors, there are still many refraining from implementing technology into their processes. This really makes me wonder if the pandemic wasn’t enough to challenge their minds that’s about technology. Like what will? Do you think the entire mortgage industry will ever fully embrace technology and what steps is Snapdocs taking to work towards this reality?

Briana Ings: I mean, it’s going to. I promise. We’re gonna make it happen. And I really do think there is an increasing desire and realization about the influence technology can and should have on the space. But it is really interesting, when the pandemic…I think a lot of people looked up and were like, “Oh, wait, why is it not digital yet?” And it sort of forced them to sort of rethink about it. But I do think that the sort of desire to go digital, or even like eSigning or digital technology hasn’t been the blocker if you think about it. This eSigning technology and a lot of this digital technologies existed for decades. I think that the key problems that sort of prevent some people in the industry from fully taking advantage of it are two macro challenges. One is the fragmentation in the industry. So the fact that, you know, on a real estate closing alone, you’ve got five different companies coming together to get those documents signed, and that’s only exacerbated if you look post-closing with the secondary market complexity and pre-closing with brokers and appraisal.

So the fragmentation and just the sheer number of different people that you need to sort of get on board for the new technology and the different technology systems that they use that don’t talk really well together today. And then the other macro challenge is change management. And so when you think about the real estate industry, many of these companies are really, you know, running and achieving margins by the operational efficiency of their workforce. And so, as you think about introducing change, you need to make sure you do it in a way that it fits seamlessly into the workflows that people have, and that it actually drives efficiency and isn’t just a new thing that they need to do.

And so those problems sort of manifest themselves in a few ways. One is, you know, you have either technology or tools that don’t work together super well, and we’ll have to plug those gaps. You know, there’s challenges, particularly when it comes to closing technology, on understanding like how digital can it be, given all of my downstream participants that care about how closing documents were signed. And then also this sort of could be this lack of a single standard process. So people may have thought, oh, I wanna roll out digital closings. Let me do a couple of runs here and let me do a few hybrids and they realize, oh, we’re not getting efficiency gains. And that’s because, you know, you need a single standard process for all of your closings, sort of regardless of exactly how the documents are gonna be eSigned because of the downstream acceptance.

And so if you fix those three things, you know, and really solve for the fragmentation change management problem, make sure that it works with your tech stack, you know, how digital it can be and it’s a single process then, you know, lenders, title companies can seamlessly work with any party regardless of the technology that they use. And so, that’s really what we’re focused on is creating this platform that connects together all of the different participants on a real estate transaction, their technology, and then helps bring digitization and automation to what might be sort of manual and repetitive workflows today. And so we really just focus on making sure that it’s an easy process and people don’t need to think about, well, can it be digital? How do I make it digital? It just kind of happens in the background and the platform understands the constraints of the industry to make sure that it’s compliant.

Alcynna Lloyd: Right. Thank you for answering that. I know that’s been really a big question for a lot of the people that we’ve been talking to, whether or not we’re gonna fully embrace technology eventually. I know everybody’s working towards that, so I’m glad to have your answer on that as well. Before we wrap today, I wanted to know if there’s any advice you can offer to other women who aspire to your level of success as a woman of influence or just in the technology field.

Briana Ings: Yeah. I got some advice early on in my career, which was sort of to take opportunities when they’re given to you. I think, you know, when I was younger, I used to maybe think, oh, well, I’m not ready…sure I’m ready for that or, you know, why do they think I’m good for that? I’ve done it before. And, you know, I got this advice, and, you know, the advice came from this perspective of, you know, you’re being given that opportunity for a reason, take it. And if you take those opportunities, you’re only gonna learn by doing. And even if you might think it’s a stretch for you, like, it’s always a stretch for everyone. You know, no one was born a CEO. And so that’s my advice, really take those opportunities. And then, you know, you’ll be able to show your impact and learn and grow and get to higher levels of success.

Alcynna Lloyd: Wow. I wanna thank you for offering that advice and then having this great conversation with us today.

Briana Ings: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It was so wonderful talking to you about these topics and I really am honored to have been given the award. So I really appreciate that as well.

Alcynna Lloyd: Likewise. Thank you so much, Briana. Listeners, thanks for listening and joining us. Join us next Tuesday for another great interview with a woman of influence. Until then, tune in tomorrow for an interview with our host, Matthew Blake, HousingWire’s senior real estate reporter. You don’t wanna miss out. Have a great evening. Thank you.

HousingWire Daily

Hosted by the journalists behind the headlines, HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling mortgage, real estate, and fintech articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom.

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