The machinery of the mortgage business consumes an enormous amount of data. Keeping track of the ever-changing recording fees, transfer taxes and title data that banks use to calibrate the good faith estimates (GFEs) they give mortgage borrowers is the specialty of Ernst Publishing, a provider of this data with 94 percent market share. For instance, a county might raise its transfer tax without even announcing it, requiring a recalculation of the GFE. "One of our biggest challenges is getting information quickly to our clients for their GFEs," says Gregory Teal, president and CEO of Ernst. Last year, the company tracked 9,000 changes across the nation's 4,100 recording jurisdictions; 90 percent of these changes required recalculating GFEs on short notice to comply with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. "Our clients told us 'we need something.'"
Ernst's solution caught some by surprise: Twitter. Starting in March, Ernst began to notify clients-which include lenders, title companies, escrow agents, settlement agents and lawyers-of changes in fees and taxes via Tweets, although clients must still open old-fashioned emails for more detailed information about the changes. Social media has "come of age," Teal says, and is "a vital form of business communication that ensures that our clients receive updates and changes in data immediately and without delay."
But some analysts are not so sure. Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite, argues Twitter is not suitable for time-sensitive information since the sender of a Tweet doesn't know who has seen the post. "With Twitter it's hit or miss. You have no clue how many followers saw your message." With email, on the other hand, it's possible to track who has received, opened and responded.
Marc DeCastro, a research director at IDC Financial Insights, is also skeptical. Many institutions block Twitter and other social media to prevent sensitive, regulatory-related information from being disseminated improperly, he points out. There is also the daunting task of sifting through the hundreds or even thousands of Tweets someone might receive daily. Adding hash tags to Tweets can help followers recognize certain topics, but DeCastro says the volume of Tweets makes it "almost impossible to manage. You only end up seeing the most recent Tweets, so how do I know if I've missed something from Ernst?"
Teal, for his part, readily admits that it's early days for the Twitter strategy and clients need educating. For instance, they must learn to become followers of Ernst to receive these Tweeted alerts. Eventually, he says, big lenders with whole desks devoted to managing fees could find Twitter especially helpful. These people can immediately see that a change has occurred somewhere in New York State, for instance, and start recalibrating GFEs immediately.