Friday, March 31, 2006

Podcasts: New Shows Coming to

So far this morning we've recorded two new podcasts. You can expect to see them on the site early next week.

A.J. Johnson and Nubia Cuevas from Credit Plus came by to podcast with us this morning. They talked about new enhancements to their credit offering.

We also spoke to Billy Martin, Assistant VP of Wachovia's Technology and Operations division. Hearing what a lender was looking for at the show was a real eye-opener.

Check out the site early next week for the podcasts.

Live: From the MBA's Technology Conference

San Diego may not be the sunny vacation spot you see in the brochures, at least not this week, but that hasn't put a damper on the MBA's Technology in Mortgage Banking show here. While the conference seems to be smaller than last year, in my estimation, there are still some interesting announcements being made.

I'll be traveling today and tomorrow, but early next week, I'll tell you what I've learned about:

Calyx finally making it easier for partners to connect to the industry's leading broker-facing LOS via the Web;

Prymak's new consulting offering and how it could change the way lenders choose their next LOS;

How String is working to provide offshore outsourcing support for the appraisal verification process;

How DCSI is helping lenders realize expected benefits from system upgrades through effective employee training;

What Martopia's Michael Hammond says technology firms need to be thinking about in today's market and what John Seroka of Seroka & Associates say lenders can do to keep getting business as the cycle continues to turn downward.

I'll also give you an overview of the SOA panel discussion I moderated and tell you about what we'll be doing at PMC2006 coming up this summer.

I'm back down to the show floor now, but will report back soon.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mortgage Cadence: A model starting point

Here's another example of an agile mortgage technology provider making it easy to get a quick return on investment with its SOA-based loan origination system (LOS), although at Mortgage Cadence, they call it an Enterprise Lending Solution (ELS).

The company's Best Practices model is being offered as a standard offering to financial institutions looking for a short implementation period of its full-featured loan origination
system. With implementation timeframes of three weeks for ASP clients and 100 days for large,
enterprise clients, the Best Practices model is Mortgage Cadence’s “springboard” to a more custom implementation process.

Very long and arduous implementation cycles have constantly plagued the banking and mortgage industry. Stories of 12 to 24 month “go-lives” have become the rule rather than the exception, and have desensitized bankers to the notion of quick ROI. To counter these notions, Mortgage Cadence utilized its experience from existing clients and years of consulting knowledge across multiple business disciplines to develop Best Practices.

Best Practices is an out of the box, base-configuration of the Mortgage Cadence lending platform. This configuration allows Lenders to rapidly implement a total technology solution including “out of the box” lending functionality, as well as a scalable infrastructure foundation. Encompassing the entire lending lifecycle -- from lead management through funding and post-closing -- components of Best Practices include: product definition and guidelines; generic workflow set-up for departments, groups, security settings, statuses/tasks, validations, and screen flow; and document mappings.

I think this is very smart. It provides a tool that the lender can use today, reducing implementation risk, but also promises to become more powerful as the lender begins to modify the rules governing the transactions.

Mortgage Cadence employs the a business rules management tool it developed, called ACE, to allow business managers to configure the software. It is very intuitive. I was able to create complex business rules after a short demonstration (and I'm just a writer).

The Mortgage Cadence offering comes with automated decisioning configuration, product and pricing functionality (including “best fit” tools), third-party services and compliance solutions integration, automated underwriting, document prep / delivery, auto-distribution capabilities, imaging and standard reporting.

Portellus: Signs Century Bank

Sarasota, Fla.-based Century Bank will implement an LOS, ERM and Broker portal solution from Portellus Inc. The technology provider says the result will be an end-to-end solution built with best-in-class components.

Portellus is one of the firms operating in the mortgage technology space that is making good use of SOA-based architectures. The firm has leveraged SOA to create an LOS that avoids lengthy customized installs by empowering lenders to implement out-of-the box functionality to achieve a faster ROI. Lenders can later build out a more comprehensive solution on an as needed basis via the easy configuration of features, functions and workflows.

This "initial configuration" concept has proven essential for companies offering flexible/scalable platforms that promise to do many things well. It's a concept that some technology providers, like BofA-owned Framework, figured out too late.

Portellus will also integrate its ERM and LOS with Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriter (DU) to combine portfolio and secondary marketing best execution strategies for both its nonconforming and conforming products.

In addition to Century Bank using Portellus’ ERM solution to govern both its back office decision-making requirements it will also utilize the system to extend instant risk-based pricing, product eligibility and automated underwriting approvals to the point-of-sale, complete with
conditions and exceptions.

Portellus’ broker portal provides Century Bank’s entire broker network with real-time access to best-fit products and pricing, credit pulls or re-pulls, debt management, integration with Fannie Mae's Desktop Underwriter (DU), complete pipeline visibility and updated loan status.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fifth Third: Seeking AEs in PA, NJ

Wholesale lenders are reading the writing on the wall, just like brokers are. As the market turns, lenders will have to fall back on their third-party origination networks to combat falling volume. Meanwhile, brokers are re-learning what it means to set up valuable community partnerships that provide wins for both parties without violating RESPA.

On the lender side, I'm starting to hear from companies that are seeking either good originators, good wholesale account executives, or both.

Dan Keller is the new regional sales manager for Fifth Third (53) Mortgage Wholesale Lending in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He recently dropped me a line to let me know he was seeking experienced mortgage pros in Central PA and the Philadelphia metro area. Here's how he describes the opportunity:

"Fifth Third is the nation's largest "super regional" bank ($111 billion in assets and growing; we aim to double in size before the end of the decade). We're already operating in a number of Midwestern and Southern states and opened up Pennsylvania two years ago. We're now committed to making a major move into wholesale mortgage lending in PA and NJ.

"Fifth Third Mortgage Wholesale is run by a group of ex-Wells Fargo executives, most notably Bob Lewis and my boss, Chris Knox. They both had long and successful careers with Wells Fargo. 53, across all its lines of business, has the reputation of being super aggressive and very customer focused. I'm excited about the pportunity to open up these two states."

You can contact Dan directly via e-mail.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Blogs: Avoid a common problem

I caught an interesting article in the Portland Business Journal last week (online, I live in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania) that talked about how businesses were missing out on the many advantages of corporate blogs. I certainly agree with that! One of the reasons cited in the article was that most companies don't like hosting negative comments about thier products and services on their own websites. Who could blame them?

The blogging experts quoted in the article come from Marqui Inc., a firm local to Portland that sells software to automate corporate communications, including a blogging tool, according to the publication. Janet Johnson is vice president of communications for that company. She is quoted in the article:

Johnson has plenty of experience with the uncontrollable nature of the blogosphere. When Marqui announced late in 2004 that it was paying bloggers, "we were called 'pond scum,'" said Johnson.

Though it was shocking to read such negative comments -- they felt like a personal attack, Johnson said -- she and other Marqui executives decided that since they chose to blog, they had to post all comments, whether they liked them or not.
Marqui calls it "letting the communication happen" and while that is one of the best things about blogs in general, it's not the way we recommend companies handle this communication tool.

Never let posts hit your blog without reviewing them in advance. What consumers say about your company in other places may be beyond your control, but the corporate blog is not the place to let your competitors and their best clients punch holes in your key marketing messages.

Encourage blog feedback via e-mail. Let readers know that, just like the newspaper, their comments may be edited before publication. Be sure to respond to everyone that sends a response and do your best to publish both sides of any issue on the blog. If the content appears to be one-sided, readers will abandon it and it will be of no use to the company.

Never give up control of a marketing tool as powerful as the corporate blog just because you feel you owe it to others in the conversation. There are better ways to keep people reading your important messages.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Standards: PRIA and MISMO working together

You may have seen the little note buried in a roundup in this week's issue of National Mortgage News about The Property Records industry Association and the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization announcing an alliance. This is big news.

Not surprising, necessarily, but very important. I've reported on MISMO for years and I met the PRIA folks when I was editing Real Estate Technology Insight. They are both doing important work, but in order to ever get the entire mortgage process electronic, their work has to fit together like puzzle pieces. This alliance, it appears, will ensure that.

In the real estate business, the deal isn't really done until the documents are recorded into the public record. Having all of the information in a standardized data format from the beginning all the way to the electronic recording of the docs is the ultimate goal -- the only goal that will truly enable all-electronic mortgages in the future. While the results of this alliance may never be felt in my own country (Carbon County, PA, Pop. <60,000), it will make things better in the nation's top 300 or so counties, which is where the vast majority of mortgages are written.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Qvault: Partners with nonprofit organization

Qvault is one of these financial services technology firms that watches the market and then responds with technology appropriately, as opposed to spending millions on development work for a new platform that may, or may not, find a home. This was the firm that developed Status Sweep to Web-enable Calyx Point, providing fast status updates to borrowers and Realtors.

Status Sweep was a great tool during the refi boom, when loan officers were too busy taking new apps to stay in touch with the people in the pipeline. It still works great today.

Now, Rob Cecil and his team over at Qvault are onto another industry trend, well, actually two.

The company recently announced that it would be providing loan flow and transaction coordination support to Financially Strong America, Highland, New York, a non-profit organization that offers free education, budget analysis and budget planning tools to consumers. FSA contracts with lenders in order to provide these services to the borrowers they serve. Then the lenders make these tools, along with Qvault's loan processing services and technology, available to their broker networks.

I think this is smart for two reasons. First, we expect to see delinquencies rise in the days ahead. Combined with the higher margins in the subprime business and the lower incidence of A-paper refinance, that trend will help see a lot more lenders getting serious about B&C loans. These borrowers need these additional services and are likely to seek them out in order to get a home loan. Originators that offer them will have a competitive advantage.

The second reason is that as volumes are dropping across the industry, lenders are seeking to build out their wholesale networks. This is another incentive they can offer brokers that write loans for them.

At least one lender is already on board, Secure Mortgage Corporation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Advectis: Appealing to their emotions

Atlanta-based Arketi Group, headed by Sami Jajeh, has made the pages of B2B magazine for the marketing work the firm did for mortgage technology leader Advectis and its flagship product, Blitzdocs.

The article focuses on the way Arketi appealed to the emotions of the leaders Advectis hoped to partner with.

"Advectis and Arketi discussed a number of tactics and strategies but ultimately chose an integrated mix of public relations, trade shows, channel business development, e-mail marketing and association marketing-media and methods that emphasized relationship-building."

The results: BlitzDocs sales have grown more than 550% since 2003, according to B2B. Beyond that, Advectis's network subscribership has grown more than 150% annually over the past three years.

Jajeh called the campaign extremely effective. Clearly, it has been. We congratulate Arketi on a job well done.

People tend to do business with people they like. That's a subjective target that depends more upon appealing to your target's emotions than business sense. Of course, these campaigns are always more difficult if the offering doesn't actually make good sense or when you're working with top executives who have trouble being likable. Those are problems Advectis' CEO Greg Smith doesn't have.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Trendwatch: Getting to the bottom of SOA

It always happens, sooner or later. Eventually, lenders get tired of hearing the same buzzwords chirped back at them by technology vendors and they start asking tough questions. It happened on the road to MISMO with data standards; it happened back in the early days of Electronic Partner Networks (EPNs) and now it's happening with Services Oriented Architectures.

I'll be hosting a panel at the upcoming Mortgage Bankers Association's Technology in Mortgage Banking conference in San Diego later this month where I hope lenders will show up and ask the tough questions about this important topic. So much has been written about SOA, by myself and others in this space, and yet there are still many unanswered questions. I'll have an expert panel with me and at least two mics on the floor. If you're going to be at the conference, I hope you'll attend the session.

And if you're not but still have thoughts on SOA (or questions), I hope you'll write me. I've received a number of e-mails lately from industry pros who have turned me on to a number of interesting companies. I'll be writing about them in this space in the days ahead. If you're doing something interesting with SOA or software built on it, drop me a line.