Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp. has begun marketing an interactive voice response system to lenders.

The Defender system is intended to help lenders handle call volume during heavy refinance periods, protect their servicing portfolios from runoff, and preserve market share.

During refinance booms, about half of the phone calls a mortgage lender gets are "nonproducing," meaning customers are calling simply for information, such as the day's rates, rather than with the intent of actually refinancing, said Michael Zimmerman, vice president at MGIC Investor Services Corp., a subsidiary of the Milwaukee insurer.

During those periods, many callers who do want to refinance can't get through, he said. "All we hear is complaints from lenders and consumers." Some of those callers might get frustrated and contact a different lender.

Defender's automated answering service tells customers to enter their Social Security and loan numbers. Then they have several options. They can get mortgage rates, comparisons of different products, or be transferred to a live salesperson if they want to refinance.

However, Mr. Zimmerman said, Defender is more than a simple "filter." It has a sophisticated prepayment model that uses historical data to pinpoint which customers are the most likely to refinance.

If the customer opts to speak to a live sales representative, Defender's "smart queue" will sort the call according to the prepayment model's analysis. For example, if 10 callers are waiting to speak to an agent but the 11th is judged most apt to prepay, that caller will move to the front of the line.

Though MGIC's prepayment model is not perfectly accurate, it "consistently beats" estimates by Wall Street investment banks, Mr. Zimmerman said.

The answering system can take messages if all operators are busy. MGIC is also planning an on-line version of Defender that would enable lenders to answer customer inquiries through their own branded Web sites.

Even in a rising rate environment, when the phones don't ring off the hook, lenders can use MGIC's system for outbound telemarketing, Mr. Zimmerman said.

Defender will be available this month. MGIC is marketing the system to 20 lenders and ultimately hopes that the top 100 will use it. The largest lenders, Mr. Zimmerman said, have the most to gain from the technology.

MGIC's excursion into technology vending is the latest example of how mortgage insurers have been forced by competition to offer extra services to woo and keep lender business.

"We're always looking for businesses to invest in or buy that help our customers become more profitable," Mr. Zimmerman said. "They're our distribution channel."

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