Joe Ludlow of Advantage Systems on the Long Road to Embracing Technology
Joe Ludlow is Vice President for Irvine, Calif-based Advantage Systems, a provider of accounting and financial management tools for the mortgage industry. More information on the company can be found at www.mortgageaccounting.com.
MBA NEWSLINK: The lending industry has finally embraced technology. Now what? Does it have to unlearn what it’s learned?
JOE LUDLOW: So far, mortgage technology focuses on two main themes: 1) improving the borrower’s experience and 2) creating more efficiency in all aspects of the mortgage process. However, the user’s experience often takes a back seat to improvements in the borrower’s experience and enhanced efficiency. Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense typically comes from management, whereas the user’s experience is more a priority of the employees who are using the technology daily. In a sense, it’s approached like, “I command you to use these tools because it makes us more efficient.”
For example, app developers offer smart phone technology, mostly for no charge. App developers derive revenue from advertising and get paid based on daily usage. Therefore, they need to entice people to use their products which drives them to improve the user experience.
This leaves mortgage banking technology users caught between frustrating but effective technology at work and engaging, user-friendly phone apps in their off hours, which of course, causes them to expect more from their technology at work. Mortgage industry users are looking for the same engaging, intuitive technology behind the scenes that they are used to seeing their customers receive, similar to what they have in their personal lives.
With accounting technology, browser-based reporting systems aim to engage both non-accounting managers and executives to use the dashboard and reports. To entice these managers, systems must be easy to use, intuitive, meaningful and just plain cool. The drill downs and drill throughs should be obvious and effective, as well as modern. All of these design features must be combined to encourage the end user–in this case, a branch or executive manager–to engage with their branch financial data. That engagement makes them more aware, data-driven managers.
NEWSLINK: You talk about “breaking down technology silos.” What does that mean–and how does that happen?
LUDLOW: In the past, accounting data in a mortgage company was processed and compiled by the accounting department. Then, senior accounting staff and financial analysts would compile and present the reports to management. In this older paradigm, a small number of accounting managers controlled the flow of data.
Breaking down technology silos begins by using modern technology and intuitively designed tools. This allows mortgage branch managers and executives to see a filtered version of their reporting data in real time. Controls are built into the way the system compiles data, using various automation capabilities. When data flows in from outside sources, the system checks for errors and alerts the accounting team. Once the data is successfully entered, it becomes instantly available to various managers and executives based on their areas of oversight and what they are entitled to know about their branch’s or department’s income.
Senior managers know more about the details of specific loans or the branch’s overall income than the retail branch manager knows. Using a “filtered flow” model allows everyone to work in real time, across various departments–and real-time reporting allows for faster decisions and adjustments.
NEWSLINK: A lot of mortgage technology products are geared toward specific mortgage specialists. Do you see a trend to products that can be used by all staff?
LUDLOW: Yes–the key to these products is properly filtering the data at the loan level. In a sense, we all make money one loan at a time, meaning all the revenue is recorded at that level.
From there, administrators create settings, giving various managers the access to see some, but not necessarily all, of the data for their loans. Anyone can be granted access to as much or as little of the data, based on their position in the company.
NEWSLINK: How would such technology benefit financial institutions–and consumers?
LUDLOW: When technology engages the sales and branch managers, the managers are able to make better decisions for each customer or borrower. While there is already a lot of technology focused on making the consumer experience great, mortgage banking employees need to have an equally great experience. This robust technology experience helps the employees provide better guidance to the consumer. Better data leads to better decisions. Being able to identify and correct errors leads to happier branch managers.
NEWSLINK: Are there areas of the mortgage process that can further benefit from technology innovations?
LUDLOW: In today’s mortgage technology environment, all technology systems must communicate with each other within a company. Consistent loan data, created by the POS and LOS systems, can make or break the flow of loan data in all departments from origination to accounting to servicing or sales.
Loan originators seek process improvements from future innovations in technology. A priority is to make it easier for the loan originators to put the correct information in the origination systems, in the correct locations to benefit the downstream systems. When consistent loan data is achieved, the technology silos really break down and the data truly flows.
NEWSLINK: What is Advantage Systems doing to leverage artificial intelligence?
LUDLOW: Accounting for Mortgage Bankers (AMB), our flagship product, reports on results. Artificial intelligence relates to a machine’s ability to adapt and learn. AI isn’t a main focus for our accounting technology right now; however, our development team is working on KPIs to predict the timing and amount of projected future cash flow, based on an average of past performance compared to the current loan pipeline and budgets. Cash flow prediction, at the LO, branch and corporate level, is as close to AI as we currently plan to go.
NEWSLINK: Where do you see smart lenders moving to, from a technology standpoint, in the next few years?
LUDLOW: Mortgage technology is still evolving every day. Each employee will soon have just the right amount of technology at their fingertips at all times. Employees will have the ability to configure technology in a way that caters to their personal preferences and to use technology more efficiently, for the benefit of the company and its customers.
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