Thursday, April 03, 2008

Another insurance company buys into lending

Technology adoption has always posed a struggle for companies on the cutting edge. I've spoken to so many CTOs who have told me they see a vision leading to a better company or customer experience, but just can't get the cats all marching in the same direction.

HousingWire carried a story today about MetLife, Inc. and its plan to buy EverBank Reverse Mortgage LLC of Bloomfield, NJ, in the hopes of rapidly growing its reverse mortgage lending business. If this is just another story of a rich insurance company buying into a niche lending operation when the market makes the deal attractive, then it makes a lot of sense to me. The company could easily staff up the reverse lender with some of the many mortgage pros that are now available for work and the plan should work out fine. But if they hope to get their insurance agents to add the product to their existing menu, it probably won't work.

I was on the phone last week with a vendor who was lamenting the fact that it had sold hundreds of seats of its loan origination software to a bank owned by an insurance company that hoped to deploy the LOS to its insurance agents. The plan was that they would add simple mortgages, probably HELOCs, to their menu of products and originate like crazy. It didn't happen and now the vendor is worried that the contract won't be renewed due to lack of adoption.

This morning I was talking with another vendor who had sold an excellent document-related technology to a major property and casualty underwriter but then couldn't get the insurance company to deploy the software through to its agent offices. Adoption is a huge problem in the insurance space.

Getting successful insurance agents to focus on a promising new technology in the hope of possible commissions at the expense of focusing on existing products that are already generating commissions is pretty much a waste of time. My brother is an agent. I have logged hundreds of hours listening to him tell me how much he could make if he sold this combination of products to this market or that combination to that other market. He, like the insurance companies he generates policies for, knows exactly how much he will make for exactly how long (at least until the companies change their rules) for every product in his briefcase. He spends his time where he can make the most money.

Metlife may do fine, as it already owns a bank and may just inlcude Everbank's reverse mortgages as a new origination channel. But if the company is hoping to turn the nation's insurance agents into mortgage originators, they'll probably need a bigger plan.

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