Two of the largest mortgage lenders are sprucing up their Web sites with software designed to speed communication with prospective borrowers.
Countrywide Credit Industries and HomeSide Inc. are preparing to install software that answers many s' common questions automatically, via e-mail.
"Companies have been able to publish information about their products, but they haven't had a way to deal with prospects' questions," said Chuck Williams, president and chief executive officer of Brightware, which makes the software.
Automating the question-and-answer process of a mortgage application is another example of technology's impact on the front end of the business. Lenders have been using automated underwriting systems to lower costs on the origination side and make it quicker and more convenient for borrowers. In some cases, loans can be approved and qualified in minutes.
Preston James, senior vice president of HomeSide's consumer direct division, said that manually responding to electronic messages from borrowers is time-consuming and costly. The Brightware system will handle most of the routine queries, he said, so HomeSide's loan officers will be able to concentrate on other tasks.
"Lenders who aren't moving in this direction probably are making a big mistake," said Cameron King, executive vice president of electronic commerce for Countrywide. "Margins are getting squeezed, so there is no other choice than to get more efficient."
Mr. King said the technology will help customers act as their own brokers. The software can answer questions about rates for various products, the types of mortgages available, and the differences between pre-qualification and pre-approval, Mr. Williams said.
If the system cannot answer a question, the message is sent to a queue so a loan officer can respond.
Countrywide is testing the software and is expecting to install it on its Web site by early next month, Mr. King said. HomeSide will roll out the software in the next month or two, Mr. James said.
American Finance and Investment, a smaller company that lends primarily over the Internet, already uses the Brightware software.