Fiserv Inc. and nCommand are attempting to meet the biggest challenge facing mortgage lending technology: connecting third-party service providers and lenders to one automated system.

With the direct-to-consumer mortgage lending business all but dead - at least for now - technology companies have focused on automating the back end to provide cost savings and efficiency to lenders and mortgage professionals.

Observers say back-end processes are still slow and labor-intensive, and that borrowers will be encouraged to make transactions online only if these processes are significantly improved.

So technology companies have moved behind the scenes to do just that.

Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv, a technology vendor to the financial services industry, has formed a partnership with nCommand Inc. to create a Web-based mortgage loan processing system that the companies say will eliminate time-consuming and costly paperwork, faxes, and phone calls.

Fiserv's UniFi division, in Plantation, Fla., plans to integrate nCommand's mortgage electronic partner network, EPN, into its UniFi Pro origination system. It hopes to ease midsize lenders' access to third-party services such as appraisals, title searches, and flood insurance; cut the cost of automating back-office operations; and reduce closing time.

Specifically, the EPN system will automate the back-end functions of the mortgage process, while Fiserv provides the front-end technology. UniFi Pro will originate the loans, and the system will aggregate documents supplied by third-party service vendors, then create a digital loan package to be sent from one vendor to another as the transaction moves along.

The UniFi division and nCommand plan to roll out the new network early next year to selected Fiserv customers and eventually offer it to all Fiserv customers.

The network "will give lenders a place to go for one-stop shopping," said Steve Priester, senior vice president of business development and chief technology officer at the Fiserv UniFi Products Group.

It now takes about six to eight hours to process a loan, said Anthony Wright, the founder, president, and chief executive officer of nCommand. Through the new technology, he said, loans would be processed within minutes, and the loans could be accessed with a Web browser.

nCommand, a two-year-old company based in San Mateo, Calif., created the mortgage Electronic Partner Network to streamline the "highly fragmented mortgage industry and its poor processing methods," Mr. Wright said.

In August nCommand completed a three-month pilot test of the network with about a dozen lenders, including GreenPoint Mortgage of New York; BuyersDirect Mortgage, a subsidiary of Market Street Mortgage of Clearwater, Fla.; and New South Federal Savings Bank of Birmingham, Ala.

The alliance with nCommand marks a strategy shift for UniFi, said Hope Herman, the group's vice president of marketing.

"In the past we developed these technologies ourselves," she said. "Now we're reaching out for help and concentrating on the core process, efficiency, and maintenance cost." UniFi also has a new partnership with OpenClose.com, a provider of automated underwriting services for the wholesale mortgage industry.

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