Hoping to distinguish itself in the cluttered field of lending technology, Wendover Financial Services launched a system Wednesday that it said increases automation in all aspects of the mortgage process, from applications to appraisals and title insurance.
Officials at the unit of Electronic Data Systems of Plano, Tex., said some tasks, such as title searches, will still require offline labor but that the system seeks to centralize the process by requesting and receiving documents through the Internet. More importantly, they said, the system will let lenders, banks, and other financial service companies outsource much of the lending process online after the application is submitted.
Mark DeBenedictus, president of Wendover in Greensboro, N.C. said that focusing on point of sale offerings instead of outsourcing is not the way to go. "For the Internet to be effective" in mortgage lending, "it has to add efficiency and speed," he said.
The system links lenders to closing, appraisal, and title companies, and their results are delivered back to the lender through e-mail. Wendover officials said streamlining the process by using the Internet enables the company to process loans at a lower cost, saving borrowers up to $2,000 a loan.
"It's been designed to work through the Internet connection, which allows you to pass information among all the players in the deal," Mr. DeBenedictus said. "We've created efficiency, reducing time and costs, which is passed on to the consumer."
Wendover's system is embedded in Freddie Mac's automated underwriting system, Loan Prospector, which approves loans for sale to Freddie.
But Wendover will be competing for originators' attention in an electronic arena that seems to have new entrants every week. Big lenders like Fleet Mortgage Group and HomeSide Lending are marketing online-lending platforms they have developed with help from Fannie Mae. There is also HomeAdvisor Technologies, a Microsoft-controlled joint venture whose partners include Freddie Mac and several major lenders.
Many online mortgage start-ups that found direct-to-consumer lending unprofitable, such as Mortgage.com, Finet.com, and OnLoan.com, have shifted strategies in the last year to compete in the business-to-business sector.
Though many players are moving in to establish loan processing products and systems, none has emerged as dominant.
"It's an incredibly fragmented space," said James Punishill, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "You're talking about thousands of vendors, with many very regionally focused. Everybody wants to do this."
Though systems such as Wendover's may improve the process, the hurdles to automated mortgages lie more in the product, Mr. Punishill said.
"If you could archive and share documents electronically, then that's partial improvement of the process," he said. "But at the end of the day you have to change the mortgage itself. You have to require less documentation and remove parts of the process," not just make it easier.
Mr. DeBenedictus, however, sees nothing but opportunity. "There is a huge market for delivering processes that simplify traditional lending methods," he said.
Mr. Punishill said Wendover faces a tough, though not insurmountable, fight to survive. "Welcome to the crowded space," he said. "Everybody's banging away at this."
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