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Going Paperless: The Technology is Ready … the People Are Not

Chris Knowlton
Jul 13, 2011

I could set up a paperless mortgage shop for you if you’d like one. I have all kinds of tools at my disposal. Adobe has made massive strides in the past few years and I can use bar codes, e-folders, iPads, tablets, Netbooks, secure document sharing and turning a widescreen monitor sideways is one of my favorites. I can set up your copier/scanner/fax/printer so that never spits out a single piece of paper again … toner is for suckers! Yes, I could do that all for you and yes some of your team will embrace it and use it and probably become mostly paper-free. Year to date, I have only printed 23 pages, an office joke that is kept as a tally sheet near one of our many printers, printers that crank out hundreds, if not thousands, of pages per day. The rest of your team is going to keep printing and printing and printing. Stopping them would be a bad idea for your business. There are two main things preventing you from going paperless. The first is your employees and the second is your customers. Pushing a paperless process on either of those groups if they are not ready will hurt your production. You have to take this slow, and as a techie, I have come to this conclusion the hard way, but I think it is the correct approach. I started going to mortgage industry conferences when I joined this business about 15 years ago and there were sessions talking about going paperless and e-signatures. Fifteen years later, there are still the same sessions talking about how to do the same thing. We are still having this same conversations, in fact, this very magazine is still asking if it’s possible, and asking if e-mortgages are a myth. Make no mistake, going paperless is entirely possible, you just have to do it slowly (and we sure have that mastered as an industry), and you have to do it on an individual basis. You need to gage the willingness of your employees, especially the sales and processing departments, to use the tools that make a paperless mortgage possible. Understand that you might be working against the muscle memory of a 20-year mortgage sales veteran who will only see this as something that slows them down. On the other hand, your more tech-savvy employees might love to be used as paperless test pilots. Be prepared to have a system that can accommodate both. Pairing up an old school salesperson with a tech wiz processor is a great way to move your office in a paperless direction without alienating your top producers. Think the plan through and talk it over before unplugging the printers. An even more difficult factor to asses is your customer’s desire to deal with a paperless process. In my experience, it is best to ask upfront, make this part of your sales pitch, letting the customer know you can take care of them either way. A younger first-time homebuyer might love to hear that they can upload all of their documents to your Web site 24 hours a day. Your older buyers might see this as a less trustworthy way of processing a transaction of this magnitude. If you are able to easily accommodate both these types of customers, it will only serve to bring you more business. The mortgage company I work for is no exception to that mix of loan officers who believe and embrace a paperless system and those who don’t quite accept it yet. Loan Officer Allen Davis has been in the business for 28 years and is somewhat of a skeptic. He’s not completely against it and he did admit that he can see it working in the future, but it will take some major improvements to the system. One major problem Davis runs into is the actual technology aspect of the whole process. To him, relying on fax machines to send in documents can create unwanted problems. This is problem number one when it comes to a paperless world. “Before we get totally into this, we need to get partners or these companies we work with to be into it,” Davis said. “And the problem is not all the partners in the system are set up to go paperless.” Problem number two comes from the other side, customers. He has run into customers who are hesitant to send their personal information that appears on those documents over the Internet, for fear that it could end up in the wrong hands. He also pointed out the customers need to have access to a high tech scanner or fax machine to get those documents to the right people. However, Davis isn’t too worried about his day-to-day operations even with a paperless system. He still believes people are going to want to meet face-to-face and have the security of knowing who they are dealing with and making sure all of their options are explored. He explained how our industry is very similar to our friends in the real estate business. Customers can now go online and look at photos of a house and see where it is, but in very few cases will someone buy a house without actually being inside and seeing it in person. We can become very technologically advanced, but in his mind, the old school version of the mortgage process will still be the same. In order to get a complete range of opinions on this subject, it’s important to also talk to the future of this industry, those who are just starting in the business. As someone who is new to my company, Teresa Flores is already, as you can imagine, a big supporter of idea of paperless. She believes as the younger generations start to become homebuyers, appealing to their tech savvy ways is only going to help in gaining that competitive advantage. However, she does see the obstacle of “teaching an old dog new tricks” to her fellow seasoned originators, but stands by the opinion it will make life easier for everyone. “The process, once you learn it, is a lot quicker and more efficient because you don’t have to mail or overnight a document to a customer and wait for them to get it and return it,” Flores said. “Ultimately, it will help the loan get pushed through much quicker.” Ultimately, she thinks the reluctant side of this debate will realize that the customers are getting younger and they use technology much more in their everyday lives, they will want to work with someone who will appeal to their lifestyle and originators will have no choice if they want to stay in business. Going paperless is easy, on paper. As you can see, both sides have pros and cons, which make it even harder. Just make sure your plans fit your business model and you will have some success, keep the long-term goal in mind, and remember that this is a generational change, not a turn-key process that you can drop into place in a short time. Chris Knowlton is vice president of technology and marketing of Inlanta Mortgage. He manages all aspects of the company’s IT infrastructure, building the company up from four local branches in 1996 to a regional mortgage company. He manages more than 150 users in 28 offices in 13 states with a staff of two help desk analysts. He may be reached by e-mail at chrisknowlton@inlanta.com or call (262) 672-4575.
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