#MBATech23: Executive Perspectives on Technology and Innovation

((l-r) Sandra Madigan, Nima Ghamsari, Jai Oberoi and Matt Rocco at #MBATech23.)

SAN JOSE, Calif.—In today’s competitive real estate finance environment, lenders and servicers need their technology teams and products to provide solutions—period.

Industry leaders here at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Technology Solutions Conference & Expo are finding ways to tighten operations, shrink budgets and enhance customer satisfaction.

“We’ve seen permanent changes from the pandemic,” said Sandra Madigan, Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer with Black Knight, Jacksonville, Fla.

“All of our successes during the pandemic were the result of technology,” said MBA Chairman Matt Rocco, President of Colliers Mortgage, Charlotte, N.C. “And we need it more than ever. Technology provides us with the path forward for decades to come. We have to plant the seeds now for a better future.”

Rocco said he can see some light at the end of the tunnel stemming from current volatility. “I’d like to say they’re all green shoots and blue skies, but they’re not,” he said. “We still have some challenging times ahead.”

“One thing that gives me lots of optimism is that I’ve never seen so much engagement from lenders trying to take advantage of technology,” said Nima Ghamsari, Co-Founder and CEO of Blend, San Francisco. “The lending community wants to work with technology more than ever; coming out of this we should emerge stronger.”

“This is a great time for disruption,” said Jai Oberoi, Senior Vice President of Data, Automation, Strategy and Analytics with Rocket Mortgage, Detroit. “This is a great time to innovate, to try new things.”

Oberoi said he does not see a change to the current status—working from home two or three days per week—changing anytime soon. “A hybrid workplace is probably going to be permanent—or at least for the next three to five years.”

“We are completely remote, but if I had to do things over again, I’d have people in the office five days a week,” Ghamsari said.

“There wasn’t a playbook for a pandemic,” Rocco said. “You have to be flexible, and the hybrid model offers that. Technology has been the key to our success. You can’t take away the in-person experience, but I don’t think we’re ever going to go away from a hybrid model.”

“Everyone at Black Knight comes into the office on Wednesdays, and you can feel the energy,” Madigan said. “I enjoy working from home, but I’m in the office four days a week now. I like the in-person experience.”

Ghamsari stresses engagement at Blend. “We’ve tried brining the teams together on a more regular basis and do all-hands meetings on a regular basis,” he said. “What has gotten the biggest bang for our buck is when we rally around our customers. It’s really powerful.”

Companies have made significant investments in technology over the past several years. “And it has brought costs down, but the market has also shifted which has driven costs back up,” Rocco said. “Technology is the cornerstone for working smarter and harder.”

“There is still room to grow,” Oberoi said. “There are still too many manual processes in the mortgage industry. Why? Why are we different? We have to run toward the light; now is not the time to rein things in; now is the time to help turn manual processes into data and trust in our clients’ ability to validate the data.”

“Rates are going to come back down at some point, and if we don’t anticipate another rush to refi we’re going to be in the same situation we were in 2020,” Ghamsari said. “Refis have to take place in a matter of minutes, not days or weeks. There’s so much more that can be done today and customers will expect ‘instant refi.’”

“Who are our clients of the future?” Oberoi said. “Now is the time to start figuring that out.”

Rocco noted that his business is completely electronic. “But what the commercial/multifamily industry needs to work on is greater efficiencies,” he said.

“The experience my kids will have—they will expect a completely digital experience,” Oberoi said. “We have to turn every document into data, all mobile-based.”

“We can do so much of the mortgage business digitally—we just don’t,” Ghamsari said. “We have a lot more work to do to get to the completely digital mortgage. It’s the best strategy for the consumer.”