The mortgage industry is on the edge of a digital transformation. For each of the next three years, forecasters predict that the industry will originate more than $2.5 trillion in loans – a nearly 40% decline after two record years of ~$4 trillion in originations, but still a 40% increase over average originations between 2010 and 2019. But mortgage originators are only beginning to explore how tech innovation can help them leave traditional pen-and-paper processes behind and bring their work into the digital age.
We sat down with Amy Brandt, who works with CEOs in the Serent portfolio as an Operating Executive Director at Serent Capital, to learn what innovative startups are doing to find success in the mortgage tech space. Amy is an experienced mortgage industry leader, having served as CEO of mortgage origination software company (and former Serent portfolio company) Docutech, CEO of mortgage lender Vantium Capital (an Apollo portfolio company), and CEO of GE’s North American mortgage business.
Amy focused on five areas that may be top of mind right now for mortgage tech founders:
- How the mortgage landscape is changing
- How mortgage tech companies can take advantage of the evolving market
- What mortgage tech leaders are focused on in 2022
- How mortgage tech companies can handle hiring challenges
- Effective go-to-market strategies for mortgage tech companies
Let’s dive in.
How The Mortgage Landscape Is Changing
The mortgage market is shrinking as interest rates increase. Mortgage rates hit record lows in 2020, causing a refinancing boom – but now that trend is on the decline. “Mortgage origination volumes often go up when interest rates decline and go down when they increase,” Amy explains. “Purchase mortgage volume tends to stay somewhat stable when rates change, but refinancing volumes can surge up and down dramatically with interest rate changes. We’ve had a tremendous reﬁnance market over the last few years, and now that rates are going back up, that market is shrinking. The challenge for mortgage companies when they’re so driven on volume is the ﬁxed cost overhead that they carry – because mortgage is still a people-intensive process and people are the largest part of their ﬁxed cost.”
Mortgage companies that have gone public are especially challenged. “Arguably, it’s even more challenging this time because of the number of mortgage companies that went public over the last 18 months,” Amy notes. “When volumes go down, revenue goes down. And they have an even harder time right-sizing operations and cost structures for the new market, because they have to carry a certain amount of infrastructure to remain public.”
Lenders are looking to tech to streamline their operations. “Technology is really the only way out. Lenders who last year were saying, ‘we don’t have time, we’re too busy originating loans to adopt new technology’ – they don’t really have much of a choice now,” Amy observes. “They’re asking, okay, how can we automate some of the more challenging people-intensive parts, like underwriting of the mortgage process? They’re looking for ways to lower their costs. And everyone when they do that looks at technology and tries to ﬁnd ways to streamline and automate – because they still need to provide good customer service.”
How Mortgage Tech Companies Can Take Advantage Of The Evolving Market
Know your place in the mortgage tech ecosystem. “Mortgage tech companies have to fit into the ecosystem of a lender and provide immediate value,” Amy explains. “There are various systems that are part of the process of making a mortgage, and they all have to talk to each other. For example, the point of sale software, where the applicant puts in their information, needs to talk to the loan origination software, which may then need to talk to the appraisal vendor or the title vendor.”
Provide immediate value and stay focused. “Know your place in the ecosystem, and then work really hard to collaborate well with your partners, so that you seamlessly fit in, and you can add value on day one. Really look for ways to shorten implementation time so that clients can get that benefit as quickly as possible,” Amy urges. “When you have a down market and your originator clients are struggling with costs, you have to ﬁnd a way to partner and help them achieve their goals and provide real value. When they’re growing, then you come in and you help them with scaling faster.”
Be flexible. “You have to find a way to thrive in the environment you have, not the environment you wish you had,” Amy notes. “I think you can sell as a tech provider in either market as long as you really have done a good job on the product side, understanding the customer’s needs and what is truly going to be helpful for them.”
What Mortgage Leaders Are Focused On in 2022
First and foremost, survive. “You have to survive. You have to be really strategic about where you spend and getting that immediate value for it,” Amy stresses. “It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of focus, but mortgage business veterans have seen this before. They should know that and be able to do that.”
Look for opportunities even in a down market. “Most forward-thinking people were already developing technology and getting ready for this day. But there are still gaps, even for these folks,” Amy observes. “I think that even if you’re behind the curve of technology adoption prior to this slowdown, what you do now is look for quick hits. I would do a top-to-bottom review of my stack because you probably can’t change everything, but maybe you can find opportunities to change out a few partners that’s going to make digitization easier.”
How Mortgage Tech Companies Can Handle Hiring Challenges
“There’s challenges hiring across the board for any department that you want to hire for right now,” Amy notes. “We’re all seeing the Great Resignation, the challenges of getting people to work and to be engaged. I believe that if you can effectively manage people remotely, you’re going to have a much larger talent pool and perhaps an easier ability to attract talent. That’s a great way to do it, whether you’re hiring them as part of your team or as contract workers.”
Mobilizing Go-To-Market Strategies For Mortgage Tech Companies in 2022
Optimize your sales process. Even companies with a stellar product typically have an opportunity to optimize sales and marketing, Amy notes. “I’d encourage CEOs to take the time to understand why they sell, what approach they’re using and their key metrics. I have yet to see a company where I don’t see a way that we could do better with sales and marketing and get better results. It could even be that the structure is fine, but sales training and selling the benefits of our product more effectively, doing more thought leadership pieces and content marketing to drive more leads into the sales funnel. There are a lot of places there to optimize, and it’s really a good time for executives to think through, are we truly doing enough to feed the machine to grow?”
Know where in your customer’s workflow your product provides the most value. “If you’re trying to provide technology into origination space, you should know where the pain points are for most of your clients,” Amy noted. “There are some general themes and data you should be aware of to get a sense of what are the right areas to provide immediate value.” Amy highlighted three areas that are a focus for tech innovation in 2022:
- Sales and marketing is the number one expense for mortgage originators. Everyone wants to grow volume, even in a down market. Startups that can help lenders find a better way of marketing to realtors in a purchase-focused market, applying analytics, and re-engaging their prior borrowers will have an edge.
- Underwriting is a current area of focus because it’s an expensive part of the mortgage process. Many startups are focused on streamlining the analysis of income verification and employment data, which is currently a very manual process.
- Appraisals tend to slow down the mortgage process while increasing the cost. The process remains largely unautomated, and with the number of appraisers shrinking, there’s a great deal of opportunity for innovation.
With consumer expectations of a modern, efficient, tech-forward experience higher than ever, and cost pressure rising in a declining origination market, now is an ideal time to work on digital solutions for the mortgage industry. Founders can find success by understanding loan originators’ pain points and knowing where they fit into the mortgage ecosystem. At Serent, we’re excited to partner with the next generation of mortgage tech founders to provide strategies and resources to help them accelerate growth.