American Financial Resources may not be as large a lender as industry giants like Quicken Loans – but AFR’s technology stacks up to its largest competitor. The company is an industry leader in tech solutions – without forgetting that the mortgage industry is ultimately a people business. MPA recently chatted with Bill Packer, AFR’s chief information officer, about the importance of technology – and how it should work for brokers and borrowers.
MPA: AFR recently pioneered Amazon Alexa integration. How did that come about?
We were talking to one of our brokers one day, and he said, “We’ve got this Alexa device in our office that we use for streaming music. It would be nice if it could do other things.” And we thought, “Well, we can get it to do other things.”
In my view, it’s inevitable that we’re going to move from “hands on keyboard” to speaking to intelligent devices. Clearly, Amazon, with its Alexa, is the leader there, with more than 10 million devices sold. So about three months ago, we released an Alexa integration, where the broker, if they’re signed up with us, can ask Alexa, “Hey, Alexa, tell me about my pipeline,” or, “Hey, Alexa, which files are coming due?” … It was about three months’ worth of concentrated development. We’ve got a pretty good staff here, and they were really focused on it.
We’re not getting a lot of use yet – but I’m not afraid of that. That’s where the space is now. (But) we’re really just at the beginning stages. What we’re trying to demonstrate at AFR is that we’re looking a year or two down the road. We want to have the capabilities so that when the broker community is ready for it, we don’t have to scramble to create it – we already have it. And for the early adopters, each release just gets better and better.
MPA: How else is AFR technology anticipating broker needs?
If you’re a broker who’s looking at the renovation business or the one-time close business, we’ve been in those spaces for 20 years, and our one-time close and renovation portal is fully digital. I think those are particular spaces in which, for most brokers, they’re going to do those transactions infrequently. So for the broker to have the ability to go online, input their information, and then get a nice document that explains to your borrower what a one-time close is, that’s a great thing to have. Or if your borrower is in the midst of the renovation and they call you, you just have to log in and you have the information right there.
It gives brokers the tools to be a lot more knowledgeable that they would otherwise – because this way you’re on the phone with the borrower and you’ve got all the information right there. That’s the piece of the digitization of our industry that makes sense to me. Some of the other things people talk about – I’m not sure they do much for the borrower and the broker.
MPA: AFR makes its technology available even to brokers who aren’t AFR customers, doesn’t it?
If you’re a broker who’s currently evaluating your technology needs, we’re more than happy to extend our technology to you, and through a licensing agreement, allow you to access this technology. It really allows smaller brokers to have a big technology presence without having to have a big technology staff. The way we structure the contract is that we only charge the broker for loans that close.
The AFR brand promise is really the best technology in the business, and I would stack that up against any of our bigger brethren. Our brand promise is also that we still have a family touch. You want to interact with a company with real hearts and minds behind it, that loves the mortgage business.
MPA: Technology is evolving at a dizzying pace. How important is it for those in the mortgage industry to embrace that?
I would turn it around and say that the technology should embrace them. We have customers who, on some transactions, are going to be a broker to us. On some transactions they’re going to be a correspondent lender. It gets very complex. … So we try to lead you through very simple questions. We try to make it so the technology embraces you. You don’t have to get through some big training class. You just go question by question, screen by screen, and you can originate the mortgage. Some of our new brokers call up and say, “I think I did it right, but it seemed too easy.” Well, that’s the way software should be in the 21st century. The software should evolve for how the brokers need it in their business.
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