Sunday, August 20, 2006

SharperLending: Adding to the lender bundle

One of the reasons I enjoy writing about the mortgage lending business is that many aspects of the business seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Take bundled services, for instance.

A few years ago, this was a super hot topic. Technology had finally advanced to the point where it was fairly easy for players in the space to collaborate online, sending transaction details back and forth in a seamless fashion. Conventional wisdom holds that business executives will gravitate toward services that cost less and make completing deals easier. It's the old path of least resistance with a healthy dose of good for the bottom line thrown in. No-brainer. But that's not the way it works. At least not in the mortgage space.

National lenders have found it difficult to standardize their purchasing for deals in different geographical areas. They rely on local providers for some services, internal departments for others and national partners for the remainder. Different products require different providers and pretty soon it gets so complicated that we're back to seeking out best-of-breed specialists instead of a one-stop solution.

But that hasn't stopped Spokane, Wash.-based SharperLending from pursuing the dream of bundled services. The company, which provides a secure Web-based platform that enables lenders to order, store and manage products and services from multiple vendors at a single point of entry, recently partnered with Online Documents Inc., a subsidiary of Stewart Mortgage Information (SMI), to offer lenders access to compliant mortgage documents and simplify the closing process.

The company started out offering browser-based credit reporting back in 1989. Since then, it has expanded out, adding more products and services to its offering until it now has a portal that allows Lenders to access everything they need to close the loan.

New SOA-based software is making it possible for larger lenders to set up their own networks of settlement services, sending out orders and receiving data directly into their mortgage processing core systems. But for every lender large enough to capitalize on the promise of SOA-enabled mortgage processing there are tens or perhaps hundreds of smaller lenders that would rather have someone else make these services accessible to them.

Long after bundled services has faded into the list of forgotten mortgage industry buzzwords, firms like SharperLending, that never gave up on that dream, will realize their return.