Jane Mason of Clarifire on Natural Disaster Planning and Mortgage Servicing Compliance

Jane Mason

Jane Mason, CEO and founder of Clarifire, St. Petersburg, Fla., brings process capabilities to businesses in multiple industries, particularly mortgage servicing. She started her career in business operations, quickly becoming an executive of an international law firm. After building a software platform for the law firm to automate the delivery of legal services of varying types of processes, she set out on her own in 2007 as the original intellectual architect of the CLARIFIRE application. The software brings together all parties within mortgage servicing operations onto one cohesive, secure interactive workflow application. As an entrepreneur and innovator, she has received numerous awards and accolades within the past decade for her accomplishments, both in the local business community and on the national mortgage stage.

MBA NEWSLINK: The U.S. has seen a sharp uptick in “100-year disasters” over the past several years–hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes. How would you rate mortgage servicer responses to customers in the aftermath of these natural disasters? Do you see room for improvement?

JANE MASON: Living in Florida and having experienced first-hand the wrath of Hurricane Irma and many other hurricanes, the overall responsiveness to borrowers in need has consistently been slow. This is particularly evident given the sense of urgency and need that accompanies a natural disaster. For the consumer, sometimes the most difficult and time-consuming activity is simply finding the right person to speak with inside the lender’s or servicer’s organization.

On the other side of the coin, servicing teams have had to ingest an incredible number of new policies, programs and guidance over the past several years. Keeping up with industry requirements, as well as internal procedures, can slow the process down significantly. Confirming policy adherence, workflow deliverables, and simply assisting the homeowner are all nuances that can increase the time and costs to complete even the smallest task, especially when disasters strike, and timing is critical.

So yes, there is absolutely room for improvement. In my view, the only way lender/servicers can effectively manage complex and constantly changing requirements while simultaneously helping homeowners during disaster recovery and relief is by centralizing and streamlining all related processes. This is not an easy feat. Communications, activities, timelines, documents, insurance and requirements are but a handful of the areas that require automation to help in terms of flexibility and connectivity with business rules and rapid workout decisioning. This is why we are longtime advocates of the power of automated workflow.

NEWSLINK: The mortgage industry is constantly adjusting to compliance and regulatory changes while working to improve infrastructure and the borrower experience at the same time. What have been some of the most significant changes you’ve seen since the Great Recession to help mortgage servicers and improve the customer experience?

MASON: One of the most compelling means for connecting with borrowers in today’s market is mobile technology, but not all servicers and lenders have made this transition. Although the trend is leaning towards digital servicing using mobile access, this is not simply about developing a mobile app or providing bank account information. Servicers and lenders alike need offer fully interactive, smart, process automation that is device agnostic, links to the company’s website, and includes automated real time notifications, two-way communication and document uploads. The idea is to guide the borrower and the organization to be in the right place in the process at the right time, regardless of how they are accessing your services.

Another significant change that has taken place over the past 10 years is the adoption of AI tools, which can read documents, determine their validity and automatically launch workflows seamlessly. There has also been a tremendous effort towards digital overall in the post-financial crisis era. However, most organizations have focused their digital strategy on origination. There is a tremendous need to digitize servicing–especially when it comes to customer experience and retention, which remains a huge industry challenge.

Today’s loss mitigation capabilities have far surpassed pre-crisis default servicing, with disaster mortgage relief consuming our most current efforts in this area. Servicing is still a cost center, which inherently impedes change. The most blatant example of this is the fact that exception management is still frequently handled on spreadsheets, particularly during disasters. However, workflow automation of the customer interactions can lead to lifetimes of customer loyalty.

To successfully keep up with regulatory changes, amidst the push toward digitization and customer centricity, requires a strategic commitment to add smart, intuitive mobile interfaces, complete with automated workflows. Mobile tools and application responsive design applications need to be a part of a borrower’s arsenal for problem solving, ensuring that data and rapid access to required information revolves around borrower needs as well as organizational priorities.

NEWSLINK: Is Clarifire taking any preemptive steps to prepare its servicer clients for an uptick in losses as the natural disasters keep occurring at a growing pace?

MASON: Absolutely. We are constantly enhance the vast capabilities of our CLARIFIRE application to lead new industry challenges. We lead the industry with the CLARiFIRE COMMUNITY, the compelling accelerator for such as helping lenders/servicers to automate the impacts of natural disaster. One of our predominant areas of focus has been to arm lenders and servicers along with their customers with more effective means of accessing information and services through partner connectivity, such as credit scores, verifications, title, signature, and document recording services. By continually ingesting more data and creating more sophisticated rule configurations, we’ll be better able to assist our clients during disaster recovery. We are also focused on forming new, quality integration partnerships that increase the different types of products and services that can be accessed through CLARIFIRE. This translates into rapid borrower eligibility and disaster relief.

On top of fluid loss mitigation guidelines, disaster related investor requirements, regulatory changes, and the sheer volume of natural disasters, the type of data specific to disaster recovery and relief has become extremely complex over the past few years as well. We pride ourselves on keeping abreast of these changes, and automated the complex processing and logic, which is why we have recently expanded our partner relationships to include features such as AI capabilities. We are consistently improving our bulk processing capabilities to provide the industry with a fast way to notify customers and to determine eligibility in hours.

Most importantly, we’re going to continue to listen closely to our clients. This has been our approach since our inception, and it has consistently helped us drive more centralized customer-centric processes that lender/servicers need to solve challenges and exception automation such as disaster recovery. It is what has made our technology so valuable to lenders and servicers and, I believe, far superior to other vendors in our space.

NEWSLINK: What do you expect to see in mortgage servicing technology in 2020? How can new technologies–such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, workflow automation, workout underwriting automation and virtual assistance–be used by servicers to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and improve customer service?

MASON: I expect to see mortgage servicing technology continuing to evolve to improve borrower satisfaction and help servicers instill confidence among borrowers in their organizations. Every borrower should trust that their servicer is going to help them in an automated, efficient manner, which creates loyalty that translates into customer retention. For that reason, it is vital to our success as a company to continuously identify and evaluate technology advances that improve the borrower’s experience and create more centralized, customer-centric processes.

Clarifire has always been about workflow and workout automation, and we have been at the forefront of the industry when it comes to leveraging new technologies such as AI, machine learning and virtual assistance. By expanding connections to data through the CLARIFIRE application, we have been able to provide lenders and servicers with extensive access to rules, decisioning, and much more. This detailed level of process automation helps our servicing clients minimize errors, risk and costs. It also inherently improves efficiencies, which also translates into greater borrower satisfaction.

NEWSLINK: How can mortgage servicers gain a competitive edge to improve customer retention while reducing reputational risk inside and outside of the industry?

MASON: This is an important question and one that we strive to help clients address. It is crucial that lender/servicers stay focused on continuous improvement through technical innovation, while keeping the customer at the heart of their core strategy. We believe that embracing the capabilities and business automation approaches that I’ve just discussed will help servicers improve their competitive standing in the market by increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention.

But again, the path to digitization must unequivocally keep the consumer at the center of all developmental efforts. Today’s servicers must embrace mobile access as a pivotal means for solving problems, answering questions, and delivering digital servicing automation. This includes mobile access to disaster relief interactions, activities, and even eligibility determination. It’s time to make all interactions easy and accessible through mobile applications.

NEWSLINK: As a CEO and an entrepreneur, what advice do you have for other technology leaders and entrepreneurs, particularly women, looking to enter the mortgage space?

MASON: First and foremost, don’t be afraid to think differently. My goal has always been to offer new, fresh perspectives that push the status quo. In this industry, you have to do something to differentiate yourself from everybody else. Be creative and forward-thinking in your ideas, never be afraid to follow your passion, and be persistent along your path to success. This advice is what I have built my career on, and the success we’ve enjoyed at Clarifire is proof that it works. By doing the same, I believe women entrepreneurs and technology leaders can be successful as well.

(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at msorohan@mba.orgor Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at mtucker@mba.org.)