Credit unions are finding some of their strongest ever growth in mortgage underwriting by combining high-tech outreach with a traditionally high touch approach to service-both to their members and real estate professionals.
For the $177 million Kokomo, Ind.-based Solidarity Community Federal Credit Union and the $264 million Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union, the technology improvement has come from Mortgagebot, a long time leader in the business of automating mortgage applications and underwriting.
But while Tampa Bay has used Mortgagebot to primarily expand its members access, in terms of both time and geography, Solidarity has employed it as a tool it can use to reach out to both its members as well as local real estate professionals.
Both CUs have seen strong growth. Solidarity saw its mortgage volume jump nearly 100% from 2008 to 2009, from about $17 million to about $34 million, according to DeAnna Holloway, vice president for mortgage lending for Solidarity Community. Tampa Bay FCU saw its mortgage business increase by almost 300%, according to Dean Clark, manager of real estate lending for the CU. But each took pains to use the technology differently, in ways that sought not to supplant its existing mortgage operation but to enhance it.
For example, while both credit unions found offering Mortgagebot enabled them to take a mortgage application process which had been primarily tied to office hours and expand it to something available 24/7. For Solidarity, the experience was akin to having an "invisible loan officer" on staff that could supplement the CU's face-to-face mortgage lending, but still left someone at the CU to, every business morning, pull the mortgage applications off the system and follow up on them. In Tampa Bay's case, the credit union was able to expand its mortgage lending to serve more of its members who worked on the night shift.
"We had a sense that we were losing some of our business to members who couldn't or wouldn't make it in to see us during our regular business hours," Clark said. "Offering an automated option on the Web helped us reach those members."
Solidarity Community's version of this development was primarily on weekends, Holloway explained, as the CU began to be able to reach out to pre-approve potential borrowers in time for them to see homes they might want to purchase on the weekends.
"We were getting complaints that we were not pre-approving enough people on Fridays to make them potentially good customers on the weekends when a lot of Realtors were showing and selling homes," Halloway explained. Automating the mortgage process with Mortgagebot helped solve that problem.
And Halloway said Solidarity Community has used Mortgagebot as a tool to reach out to area real estate agents. Halloway said she has gone to make presentations to realty offices in the area and, even better, had teams of Realtors in to visit the CU.
"We give them lunch, make presentations about our mortgage services and include training in Mortgagebot, so that a Realtor with a prospective buyer can help them use our mortgage site to get a pre-approval," Halloway said. It's like the credit union can be an extension of the agent's service, she added.
Halloway acknowledged that Solidarity Community has benefited from having a community charter which makes most of the people who fill out mortgage applications potential CU members. The CU's process has also been simplified a bit because Kokomo's real estate prices have generally been on the lower to middle range of the scale, which makes them fairly straightforward products.
Such is not the case for Tampa Bay FCU, where Clark explained that the relatively higher real estate prices, still, in Tampa Bay had made it more difficult for the credit union to automate its mortgage pre-approvals. Previously the CU only had to make sure its mortgages conformed to the requirements of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so they could be sold on the secondary market. Now, the CU has to also make sure the mortgages conform to the requirements of private mortgage insurance companies, and those have been getting a lot tighter.
"There is no way we could routinely do pre-approvals any more for mortgages over a certain amount, and this market has a significant number of properties are close to or over that line," Clark explained. He also explained that the numbers of properties being sold on short sales or purchased out of foreclosure had additionally complicated the mortgage process, primarily by taking much longer than the usual time periods granted for purchase approvals.
Both credit unions said Mortgagebot's approach, which offers versions of its mortgage automation for consumers as well as others for mortgage and loan officers, has managed to extend the reach of the credit unions mortgage operations more than it has replaced them.
"From our perspective, we think it's great that one of our members can start a mortgage application on our site and then decide they want to talk to a loan officer, come in to the office and pick up where they left off," Clark said.