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Snapdocs’ Camelia Martin on the state of the closing market

Today, HousingWire Daily is joined by Snapdocs‘ Camelia Martin for the Women of Influence podcast miniseries to talk about the latest changes in digital closings. As Head of Industry and Regulatory Affairs at Snapdocs, Martin keeps a close eye on the rapidly changing digital landscape in the mortgage market, especially as it relates to the shifting federal landscape.

When she was named one of our 2020 Women of Influence, Martin worked at Falcon Capital Advisors, where she served as managing director of Digital Mortgage Advisory. Throughout her career, Martin has led industry-wide digital mortgage initiatives that have directly supported eNote acceptance programs for key participants such as Ginnie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Martin is a former MERSCORP executive and she played a pivotal role in the implementation and adaptation of digital mortgages at MERSCORP. 

During the podcast, Martin talks about her latest role at Snapdocs and also discusses the current state of the closing industry. 

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

Brena Nath:  What would you want to share about where the closing market is today, especially knowing how much change came about in 2020? 

Camelia Martin: We’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress with digital closings. I think it’s no secret that some of that was fueled by the pandemic. I personally feel like I’ve been on this crazy, long journey, right along with the industry, just with different segments of it at different times. First, I’m curious to see how the shift from refi to purchase will affect some of these dynamics. I think, you know, there’s always been this emphasis on borrower experience. And no question, every survey that’s put out says, everybody wants a more digital option, if they have that choice when they’re doing business. But when we look at the past year or so, there was just a ton of emphasis on making sure that the closing can still happen. 

HousingWire’s Women of Influence podcast miniseries spotlights the significant contributions of women who are driving the U.S. housing economy forward, interviewing our honorees over the years on the impact they’re making today. Hosted by Brena Nath and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.

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

Brena Nath: Hi, I’m Brena Nath, HW+ Managing Editor here at HousingWire. We’re continuing our “Women of Influence” podcast miniseries where we took a look at all our amazing award winners over the years and we hand-selected a few to kind of dive a little bit deeper, not only to who they are, but also what they’ve been up to since we awarded them “A Woman of Influence.”

Right now, I’m joined by Camelia Martin. She’s Head of Industry and Regulatory Affairs at Snapdocs. So, first off, thanks for joining me.

Camelia Martin: Thanks so much, Brena.

Brena Nath: So, jumping off with this kind of miniseries, I’d like to read a little bit of your profile. You’ve been doing so many things. I’ve actually had the pleasure of chatting with you quite a bit over the years. But looking at your profile, here’s just a few words to help describe, I mean, so many of the amazing accomplishments that you’ve done. So, it says, “Camelia Martin has been a leader in the adoption, implementation, and use of digital mortgages, calling on her 15 years of experience in the housing industry. Martin has led industry-wide digital mortgaging initiatives that have directly supported eNote acceptance programs for key participants such as Ginnie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Banks. She’s a former MERSCORP executive and launched the Digital Mortgage Advisor Group once moving to Falcon Capital, and now she’s with us at Snapdocs.”

So, as I mentioned before, I had the pleasure of chatting with you throughout your career. Can you talk to us about where you’re at today and your role at Snapdocs?

Camelia Martin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s probably as helpful because the title can be a little confusing at times. So, I think the best way to summarize it is, I try to serve as a bridge between the industry and Snapdocs. So, whether that’s something that’s top of mind for lenders or there’s a new challenge that’s being discussed in the industry or in a trade association, I wanna make sure that we’re staying close enough to these challenges and to the opportunities to help solve them. And a big part of that’s, of course, still related to digital closings, but it’s also starting to expand beyond that and I’m really excited to learn and grow into these new experiences.

Brena Nath: Now, as I probably said now three times how much you and I have chatted over the years, but I think what’s been interesting to note throughout the years is the closing market has shifted a lot since we first started talking, even to this last year. And since that’s your area of expertise, I wanted to chat some about where the closing market is today. You’ve not only accomplished a lot since you won, but the market has shifted a lot. So, what would you wanna say about where the closing market is today especially knowing how much change came about in 2020, maybe even in the world of adoption?

Camelia Martin: Yeah, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress with digital closings, and I think it’s no secret that some of that was filled by the pandemic. And I personally feel like I’ve been on this like crazy, long journey right along with the industry just with different segments of it at different times. And I’m personally curious to see how the shift from refi to purchase will affect some of these dynamics. I think, you know, there’s always been this emphasis on borrower experience. No question, you know, every survey that’s put out says, everybody wants a more digital option if they have that choice when they’re doing business. But when we look at the past year or so, there was just a ton of emphasis on making sure that the closing can still happen. You know, making sure that the borrower or the notary or the settlement agent was able to feel safe and maybe that meant the closing that wasn’t done in person.

And so, I think there were lenders that did a lot of investments for that reason, maybe because they felt like they had to. But I think that what might start to happen is, as everyone settles into these investments and really starts to scale these implementations, my hope is that they, you know, take a breath and start to really see where I can gain efficiencies in the process too. We’re seeing lenders that save hundreds of dollars per closing from digitizing a single document in the entire closing package. And I would expect that to be an even more meaningful difference if we start to see, you know, the margin compression that I’m reading in HousingWire about or I’m hearing other economists talk about, right? I think those little differences will make a really big impact.

Brena Nath: I like how you mentioned there, it was a small comment, but you did use the wording “take a breath.” I think we all rushed through a lot of the last year to even now. And so, I like how you just emphasized take a breath and kind of look at the efficiencies or the borrower experience that we all just went through since I’m sure there’s a lot, if you paused and looked back at all of the impact, everything, there’d be a lot there to uncover.

Camelia Martin: Absolutely. Yeah. I think it’s like you focus where you typically would focus with a lot of projects that are external and consumer-facing as on the front end. And then, you know, you try to figure that part out and then you start looking at, okay, what does this mean on the backend and how can I really scale this? And so, I feel like that’s the next chapter for a lot of lenders that had to do some pretty quick implementations in the last year, but as they move forward.

Brena Nath: Of course, the other side of implementation that people are looking at, you know, there’s this giant need to go remote, or a giant focus on any closing. But then you also have the government side of things. I know, I mean, it’s in your title, you’re the Head of Industry and Regulatory Affairs, but you’ve also just had such a close eye and such a good look into what is happening when it comes to government and regulation. So, when it comes to closing, how are things progressing when it comes to the other kind of stakeholder, which is government adoption?

Camelia Martin: Yeah. So, if we take it two maybe micro examples, which is remote online notarization. I think we’re up to 37, 38 states now that allow or have passed legislation for remote online notarization. We’re, I think, up to almost 90% of the counties in the country… Well, 90% of the population that are covered by counties in the country where you can actually take a digital document, an e-sign document and record it in the county. So these are all like really small examples of things that have to happen at state and county government levels for adoption to really be able to be scalable.

But, you know, just thinking about it more broadly, I think it’s no secret that larger organizations don’t always adopt new technologies quickly. So, if I think about agencies like Ginnie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Banks, when they do adopt them, and I think we’ve seen this in particular with these agencies, it sends a really strong signal to the rest of the industry. So, like for sure, there’s like the increase in liquidity of loans that are closed digitally, but maybe there’s like a more nascent message that, you know, here’s a more typically risk-averse agency. They are ready and willing to adopt this technology, and how does that give lenders and maybe other counterparties the confidence to do the same?

And I think, of course, this has an amazing network effect that cascades across the industry. So when we see somebody like Ginnie Mae announce their eNote programs, the Federal Home Loan Banks start announcing their eNote programs. I know at Snapdocs, we see it. I’m sure others see it. But there’s this massive cascading effect where lenders are like, “Okay. We can actually do this now because there’s more and more of my counterparties that are gonna accept it.”

Brena Nath: That makes a lot of sense. And maybe this isn’t the right word choice, so, correct me if maybe the wording is wrong, but it’s also that extra level of confidence too once you see… Because, I mean, Ginnie Mae is a huge part of the market. For them to adopt it or to move forward to a stance on it, creates, to your point, that waterfall effect for lenders to see or move in confidence in that area.

Camelia Martin: Totally. I think it sends a pretty loud and clear message whenever, you know, a government agency signals adoption of a technology and sort of enabling the broader industry’s adoption of it. Since you asked about regulation, I think, you know, back to the first question that you had asked, like this is a part actually of my career that I’m still like growing into, and so, I have more questions than I have answers. But I think it would be interesting to see if some of the regulatory agencies start to look at digital closings as a right. So, I have this thought in my head, like, for example, today, a borrower has the right to opt out of a digital closing.

But if you think about the history of this, like, meaning, paper and one ink has always been the norm, you know, why can’t the reverse also be true? I mean, for every time I have to opt out and give someone permission to send me an electronic notice, I’m like, “Well, wait a minute. I much prefer the latter,” like, “Get my permission before you send me one more piece of paper.”

And then, you know, when we think about access and borrowers in different segments of the industry, like, I think about, well, what about borrowers that are paid by the hour? Are there certain segments of borrowers that are disadvantaged if a digital closing that could take 15 minutes instead of a couple of hours is offered to them and now they have to take off of work and they’re not getting that option? Again, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions but I think they’re just interesting to think about.

Brena Nath: Yeah. I had the unique experience. We did buy a home during COVID, and we had the other lane, which is a drive-through closing, which is the route we went, to your point. And that did require taking time off work, sitting in a parking lot for a little bit. And I live in Colorado, so, it is a state where the weather is not always your best friend when it comes to closings. So, to your point, I mean, there are so many factors that go into it.

I’ve always thought about that in this state knowing that we are a state where I have…I mean, I’ve watched a real estate agent in the middle of a blizzard still have to go to closing because it’s closing day, you need to go. And so, that’s always an extra factor, at least in my state, that we’ve had to consider of, well, what happens when the weather is terrible and you still kind of have to make that drive?

Camelia Martin: Definitely. Yeah. And I think…I’m actually a little jealous that you had a drive-through closing because the e-closing nerd in me wanted to be a fly on the wall, or actually a fly on the car windshield. But I read about them and I was looking at some of those images that I saw on the news about them and it’s like, you’re right. If the closing still has to happen, you know, humans and nature always finds a way, but we still have all these other tools and technology available to us that we’re just not really fully leveraging yet.

Brena Nath: As an expert on a lot of these things, you know, you have so much expertise to share in the space. If you were sitting in a room with someone like the biggest stakeholders in the industry, I mean, the top CEOs, top mortgage CEO specifically, what would you want them to know? Or like, you focus on so many things, but what is a point that you would wanna, like, bring home for them?

Camelia Martin: Yeah, that’s a really tough question. I think, first, I’d wanna pick their brains. So, going back to my role at Snapdocs, I’d be curious about what are they most excited about for their companies? What keeps them up at night? In terms of what I’d say, I’d also want to ask…I wanna ask them how deeply they understand their operations. Because I think, when you think about profitability, which is probably always on a CEO’s mind, the devil is in the details and there’s a lot of hidden places where you can find these efficiencies. Closings is a great place to start.

I remember when I was doing some consulting, I had a CEO once tell me, “You know, we don’t close loans, settlement does that. We originate them.” And it actually took me and my team showing him these, like, painfully detailed workflows that we had created with his teams, that we’d created with his teams to show him like what the process actually looked like and how much he actually had entire teams doing related to closings. So, you know, scanning, and chasing down missing docs, and having to have docs re-signed. And it took him seeing those workflows for him to have a light bulb go off for himself to see, like, okay, what would the potential of automation and digitization do? And I think it’s just a very easy part of a lender’s loan production life cycle to forget about or not think about as an area to focus on. But again, I think the impacts could be pretty massive.

Brena Nath: That’s a really good answer. That’s a quite bit of the times and I like the idea too of using the moment to just pick their brains and see what they see, especially in a such a new kind of territory.

To wrap, I always like to ask the same question, and it goes back to the heart of this series, which is the “Woman of Influence” Award Program. It’s one of our longest running programs. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on those award, kind of, rankings as we nominated people and hand-selected them. From your side, as a woman of influence, what do you think it would take to get more women and more diversity into the space, especially when it does come to those leadership roles?

Camelia Martin: Yeah. So, hopefully that roomful of CEOs I was just in is filled with a good number of women. I think it takes a great deal of intentionality for sure. Leadership comes with the responsibility of also recognizing who should be sitting alongside you in that, you know, executive meeting or in that board room. I try to challenge myself whenever I wanna meet with someone or get their perspective before a meeting that they’re not in, or a decision that I need to help make and they’re not part of that decision-making process. I think it’s like worth asking the question of like, well, if they’re so valuable that I’m asking them for this perspective, why shouldn’t they be in that room? Why shouldn’t they be directly participating in that decision versus, you know, being behind the scenes?

I also think being in those rooms, like, even if at first you’re just a fly on the wall, or maybe you’re like tempted to take the seat by the door, that’s okay. You don’t have to lean in the first time. But it’s definitely where we learn and grow. And so, pulling in others, I think, with us, is everybody’s responsibility, but certainly a responsibility of leaders at organizations. And for me, that person was a woman the first time, and so, that was pretty meaningful for me. But I think, you know, male and female, I think it’s a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Brena Nath: It’s a broader concept but very similar to what you said. But I always like saying that idea of like creating room at the table, making space for others and bringing other people along on your journey.

Well, I wanted to say, as we wrap, really appreciate all your insight. I know we covered a lot of things here. One part, advice to women, and another part, what are the latest changes and what’s happening in the closing industry. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you. I’m sure we’ll have many more conversations to come. Thanks.

Camelia Martin: Likewise. Thanks so much, Brena, for having me.

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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