Some technology companies, believing that the mortgage process must remain a high-touch transaction as it struggles toward automation, are looking to trusted financial advisers to bridge the gap between borrowers and technology.
OnePipeline.com of Salt Lake City and Celeris Financial Services, the Columbia, S.C., subsidiary of FleetBoston Financial, have focused their businesses on tapping new origination sources real estate agents and mutual fund advisers, respectively to guide borrowers through the automated mortgage process.
In addition, IndyMac of Pasadena, Calif., a former subsidiary of Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. of Calabasas, has a program to help real estate professionals originate loans.
Research indicates that homebuyers often rely on their real estate agent, broker, builder, or financial adviser to guide them to the best loan for their home, said David F. Broadbent, chairman, president, and chief executive of OnePipeline.
Joseph T. McCartin, president of Celeris, said, Anybody thats involved with the borrower or potential borrower and has some level of detail about their finances has some influence on his decision about where to go for a mortgage.
As recent dot-com lending failures have shown, borrowers are not comfortable obtaining a mortgage on the Internet at least not on their own. Many analysts and industry observers have also argued that simply putting the offline process online eliminates the human element while the process itself stays the same, which gives people little incentive to use the Internet.
They hate the mortgage process; they hate everything about it, said Mr. McCartin. They do not have the ability to determine whether their rate or price is good or bad, so they believe theyre getting screwed somehow they dont know how, but theyre certain of it.
Bringing financial advisers into the equation to help borrowers is essential because, faced with the burdensome complexities of taking out a mortgage, borrowers act like a football team facing fourth and long, Mr. McCartin said.
They punt, he said. They go to somebody, a trusted adviser of some kind, whos going to tell them, Its O.K. Ive got you a good deal; Im going to walk you through this troubling time in your life and take care of you.
Mr. McCartin plans to put origination capabilities in the hands of mutual fund advisers at the Fleet brokerage unit Quick & Reilly Inc. in New York by this summer. Encouraging them to originate loans should not be hard, he said, noting that financial advisers are always looking for new opportunities to counsel clients and earn fees.
Mr. Broadbent added, Real estate agents are enthusiastic about receiving additional compensation for many of the services that theyre already providing.
OnePipeline, which is used by 11,000 to 12,000 real estate agents, acts as an online automated compliance officer. In the past four years it has built a vast legal and regulatory database that tells agents how to comply with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, as well as state laws and other regulations. It also helps track whether all requirements have been satisfied.
The service has been available for a year, and OnePipeline has been ambitiously signing deals. The company said it has signed licensing deals with Homestore.com; Americas Community Bankers; First Ohio Mortgage Corp. of Cleveland, a unit of Insignia Financial Inc.; Minneapolis Bell Mortgage; and Mortgage IT.com Inc. in New York.
Last month OnePipeline agreed with the Florida Association of Realtors to make its service available to the groups 65,000 members over the associations Web site, PlanetRealtor.com.
Yet financial advisers working on originations is just a step toward making consumers feel more comfortable about getting a mortgage on the Internet, Mr. McCartin said.
It is important that the originator provide instant approvals, ask for only simple information that a borrower would know off the top of his head, provide products with fewer documentation requirements, and process loans quickly, he said.
The next time borrowers need a loan, he said, they will have experienced how easy it is to get one online.