We’re not necessarily looking to break technology news, but we are looking to put it all into greater context for you. Right now we’re hearing:

Lender Pledges To Plant Three Trees Per Closed Loan In 2019

Planet Home Lending, LLC, a national mortgage lender and servicer, has partnered with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) in a project that helps define the company’s brand while sequestering  its carbon footprint. Planet Home Lending pledges three trees for each closed loan in 2019, up to 25,000 trees. The NFF will plant the trees in national forests where they are most needed across the country.


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“We strive to be good corporate citizens, valuing and beneficially affecting our communities, society and the planet,” said Michael Dubeck, CEO and president of Planet Home Lending. “This tree-planting partnership with the National Forest Foundation allows us to define, promote and enhance the green aspect of our company while showing that it is possible to be fiscally successful and environmentally conscious.” 


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Planet Home Lending’s partnership with the NFF is a part of the company’s larger Planet with a Purpose initiatives. “This company was founded on the idea that we have a responsibility to the planet and the communities we serve,” Dubeck said. “Partnering with the National Forest Foundation will help our employees, customers and business partners feel good about the positive effect we collectively make on our planet with every loan we close.” 

The NFF is a nonprofit chartered by Congress to work with the USDA Forest Service and communities to promote the health and public enjoyment of the National Forest System. Since 2001, the NFF’s tree-planting program has planted more than 13.5 million seedlings in national forests across America, where they’re most needed. The NFF currently has approximately 150 corporate and small business partners in addition to Planet Home Lending that include Coca Cola, Blend, REI, Lands’ End and Southwest Airlines.


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“We are incredibly proud to partner with Planet Home Lending,” said Wes Swaffar, director of reforestation and partnerships at the NFF. “Partnerships like these with companies that are passionate about the environment help us work toward our goal of planting 50 million trees in our national forests.”


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NY Bankers Association Endorses Digital Point-Of-Sale

The New York Bankers Association (NYBA), through its wholly owned subsidiary, the New York Bankers Service Corporation (NYBSCO), announced today that it has identified and endorsed Promontory Fulfillment Services LLC (PFS) as a best-in-class provider of mortgage fulfillment services and of advanced digital point-of-sale solutions. 


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PFS enables banks to offer a full range of mortgage products—conventional, jumbo, non-agency and HELOCs—without the need to build and maintain a mortgage operation. PFS underwrites loans using client-provided overlays then processes and closes the loan in the bank’s name. The PFS process and post-closing highlights ongoing compliance reviews. PFS then delivers the loans to the client or sub-servicer.


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PFS also offers clients a digital point-of-sale solution — Borrower Wallet —that allows consumers to apply, upload documents and e-sign digitally. The process empowers customers to manage their mortgage experience, with optional assistance from a loan officer  — empowering community lenders to deliver a customer experience comparable to mega lenders. 


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“Mortgage lending has become increasingly challenging for community banks given current market conditions and the regulatory environment,” said Michael P. Smith, NYBA’s president and chief executive officer.“Our endorsement of PFS will give bankers new options as they navigate the mortgage market and all of its opportunities.”“We are delighted to be endorsed by NYBA,” said Ken Janik, managing director, business head of Promontory Fulfillment Services LLC. “Our fulfillment solution enables banks to offer mortgages as a cornerstone product without maintaining fixed-cost infrastructure. PFS’ Borrower Wallet point-of-sale solution significantly improves the customer experience and loan pull-through for retail lenders.”


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Churchill Mortgage Supports Homebuyers With New ‘Rate Secured’ Program

Churchill Mortgage has launched its “Rate Secured” program to lock eligible borrowers into an interest rate for 90-days after engaging with the lender, whether or not they have a home or property already selected. Churchill provides conventional, FHA, VA and USDA residential mortgages across 46 states.


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Homebuyers today are increasingly challenged by rising interest rates, which can entice them to prematurely purchase a home before they are ready or avoid entering the market altogether. Following the success of its Certified Homebuyer Program, Churchill has introduced its Rate Secured program to give borrowers increased peace of mind as they navigate the home buying process. If the borrower does not find a home within that timeframe, they can then easily reset the rate for another 90 days, and more importantly, if interest rates should decrease during the lock time, the borrower will receive the lower rate at closing.  


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“More than ever, borrowers need services such as these to help them make smarter mortgage decisions,” said Tom Gillen, SVP of Secondary Marketing for Churchill Mortgage. “Coupled with our Certified Homebuyer Program, Rate Secured allows borrowers to shop for their dream home with the confidence that their loan will close seamlessly, and at a rate they can plan around.”


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“In today’s rising interest rate environment, buyers are more hesitant to enter the market and are appropriately cautious towards any future changes” said Mike Hardwick, founder and president of Churchill Mortgage. “Through Churchill’s ‘Rate Secured’ program, we are empowering borrowers to better plan their home searches by eliminating any surprises relative to their financing – all of which helps ensure a smarter mortgage process and better borrower experience.” 


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Founded in 1992, Churchill Mortgage is a privately-owned company by its more than 350 employees. A full-service and financially sound leader in the mortgage industry, the company provides conventional, FHA, VA and USDA residential mortgages across 46 states. As heard on personal finance expert and author Dave Ramsey’s nationally syndicated radio show, the lender’s mission is to help borrowers achieve debt-free homeownership and build wealth through a smarter mortgage plan, regardless of their starting point. Churchill Mortgage is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Churchill Holdings, Inc.

United Wholesale Mortgage Makes Significant Changes To Rates And Pricing

United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM), the No. 1 wholesale lender in America for four consecutive years, has made a major change to its pricing philosophy, now providing mortgage brokers with the best rates and pricing in America.


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UWM has been consistently competitive in terms of rates, regularly ranking near the top of most rate comparisons, but was recognized by mortgage brokers more for its fast and easy processes than offering the best pricing. Now, UWM’s rate sheet is expected to outshine all of its wholesale competitors, in addition to continuing to set the gold standard for service, process, technology and partnership tools.


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“Perception has always been that a lender can’t deliver it all – the best service, great technology, a true partnership, and have the best pricing too – but now they can have it all,” said Mat Ishbia, President and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage. “We’ve shattered expectations. If a mortgage broker has a borrower with a 640+ FICO, it should be a UWM loan.”


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UWM has removed all state adjustments and many Loan Level Price Adjustments (LLPA), as well, offering the best pricing on every loan with a 640 FICO and above.


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The major pricing improvement follows other recent pricing initiatives that UWM has brought to market, including its Jumbo Bank Buster program (cheapest jumbo rates) and its lower Borrower-Paid M.I. rates.

UWM finished 2018 with $41.5 billion in total loan volume, an all-time high for the company, making up nearly a quarter of the entire wholesale industry’s market share. That production represents a 40% year-over-year growth, making UWM the fastest-growing lender in the nation. Additionally, UWM is the No. 1 non-bank purchase lender in the country and ranks fourth overall among the top-producing mortgage lenders, overall, in America.

WFG National Title Launches Cyberfraud Awareness Effort

WFG National Title Insurance Company (WFG), a Portland-based national title insurance, settlement, valuation and technology services company, is creating a Cyberfraud Awareness Team to educate consumers and companies involved in the home buying and mortgage process. The company is asking industry participants – including real estate agents, mortgage lenders, financial institutions and other title insurance companies – to join the team to educate consumers about the dangers of online and email fraud, particularly at the time of closing when funds need to be wired to settlement service providers. 


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WFG has hired Aaron Cole, a local homeowner who just lost $123,000 in a sophisticated email scam, as the team spokesperson. A few days before the Coles were supposed to close on the purchase of their new home, Aaron Cole received an email – purportedly from WFG – instructing him to wire the down payment to an email address that looked like WFG’s but actually belonged to the scam artist. By the time Cole realized that the email was bogus, the money had been transferred from his bank account to a bank account in Florida before eventually being transferred to four other banks and then out of the country.


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The Coles were in danger of losing their home days before Christmas. WFG found a way to help the Cole family and put Aaron in a position to educate other consumers on the dangers of cyberfraud, particularly the fraudulent email scam known as “phishing.”


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After conducting a thorough investigation, WFG Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer Don O’Neill confirmed that WFG’s email account was secure and clear of any hacking activity, which typically means in these cases that an email or emails from other parties involved in the transaction were compromised. Personal email accounts are usually not encrypted and can be easily hacked, as is often the case for consumers and real estate agents working on their personal cell phones, computers and email accounts. 


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“While Aaron’s story has a happy ending, most borrowers scammed by email hackers generally wind up with an unhappy ending,” O’Neill said. “We believe people will pay attention to Aaron’s story because they can relate to other consumers who are in the process of transferring funds while purchasing a home.”

WFG is creating an awareness among the large number of real estate agencies that do not consistently leverage critical cybersecurity protections. According to Bruce Phillips, head of WFG’s Information Security team (INFOSEC), without these protections, individuals and companies are vulnerable to hacking. 

“Unsecure email and mobile devices are particularly at risk, and consumers are vulnerable at emotional times with tight deadlines, such as home closings,” Phillips said.

O’Neill, Phillips and WFG first recommend to always make absolutely sure an email address is legitimate before sending any sensitive personal, private information or documents or money to anyone – even if the recipient is someone they have emailed in the past.

“If you’re not sure, call the institution you’re working with to verify wire transfer directions,” O’Neill said. “Be especially on guard when you’re given last-minute changes and instructions to send money immediately. Those are red flags.”

Partnership Simplifies Disclosure Management

Digital mortgage provider Maxwell has released its disclosure management platform, which enables borrowers to securely access, review and sign loan disclosure documents directly within the Maxwell experience. The launch partner for Maxwell’s disclosure platform is Docutech, a provider of document, eSign, eClose and print fulfillment technology. Maxwell’s disclosures platform enables a seamless borrower experience while expediting compliant disclosure collection for lenders.


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In partnership with other mortgage technology providers, Maxwell’s digital mortgage platform is designed to simplify and consolidate the mortgage lending experience for borrowers, providing an unparalleled user experience that reduces complexity and accelerates time-to-close. 


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“While digital mortgage technology has vastly improved the mortgage experience in recent years, disclosures have long remained a detractor for borrowers in an otherwise streamlined lending experience,” said Lindsay Hunt, Head of Product at Maxwell. “We’re thrilled to continually to remove complexity for borrowers and the lending teams they work with every day.”


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With the release of the disclosures platform, borrowers working with Maxwell-empowered lenders can now review and sign disclosures directly in Maxwell from their computer, tablet or smartphone. 

“Our goal has always been to create a centralized, relationship-driven mortgage experience so that borrowers receive a consistent digital experience from application to clear to close,” said John Paasonen, Maxwell’s co-founder and CEO. “Our partnership with Docutech takes us one step closer to that goal by allowing us to offer an efficient, compliant loan origination process that meets the expectations of digitally savvy borrowers.”

A recipient of Progress in Lending’s 2018 Innovation Award, Maxwell’s platform powers mortgage lenders with a modern digital workspace that digitizes and automates key aspects of the home-buying experience, integrating with thousands of financial institutions and leading mortgage technology providers to streamline the lending process. Today, hundreds of lending institutions across the United States use Maxwell to close loans more than 45 percent faster than the national average.

Verus Mortgage Capital Finalizes $442 Million Non-QM MBS

Verus Mortgage Capital (VMC), a full-service correspondent investor offering residential non-QM and investor lending solutions, has completed its seventh rated RMBS (residential mortgage-backed securities) transaction for $442 million. The transaction is the second largest in VMC history, and its fourth securitization this year.


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Rated by S&P Global Ratings and Morningstar, the transaction included 809 loans from 61 lenders. The transaction included owner occupied non-QM loans as well as non-owner occupied loans.


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“We continue to see great demand for non-QM and investor loans and expect that to continue in 2019,” said Dane Smith, President of VMC.


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“We remain focused on the dynamic secondary market where we are engaged with quality partners,” Smith added. “Purchasing responsible non-QM and investor loans consistently and efficiently illustrates our commitment to this sector.”

Founded in 2015, Verus Mortgage Capital (VMC) is a non-QM correspondent investor backed by Invictus Capital Partners, a leading investment firm. VMC purchases loans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and focuses solely on the non-agency market. It offers correspondent lenders a wide range of home financing products for credit worthy borrowers.

The Washington, D.C.-based company, with operations located in Minneapolis, has purchased in excess of $3 billion in expanded, non-agency loans since its inception. In addition, through its affiliates, VMC has completed seven rated securitizations. 

Adjustable Rate Mortgages Reach A High

 According to the November Origination Insight Report from Ellie Mae the percentage of Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) reached 8.9 percent, the highest percentage since Ellie Mae began tracking data in 2011.


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The increase in ARMs is directly correlated to the 30-year rate, which rose to 5.15 in November, up from 5.01 the month prior. For FHAs, the 30-year rate increased from 5.05 in October to 5.19 in November. Conventional rates increased from 5.03 in October to 5.17 in November, and VA rates rose from 4.83 to 4.99.


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“As interest rates continue to rise, we are seeing the percentage of Adjustable Rate Mortgages rise in lockstep, and this month they’ve risen to the highest percentage we’ve seen since we began tracking data,” said Jonathan Corr, president and CEO of Ellie Mae. “As expected, we are also continuing to see the percentage of refinances remain low—30 percent in November—due to higher interest rates.”


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Other statistics of note in November included:

The time to close all loans increased to 46 days in November, up from 45 days in October. Time to close a purchase loan increased to 48 days, up from 46 days in October, while time to close a refinance remained at 43 days for the second consecutive month.

The percentage of purchase loans rose to 70 percent of total loans in November, up from 68 percent the month prior.

Overall FICO scores remained steady at 727 in November for the third month. LTV held at 79 for the fourth month, and DTI held at 26/39 for the second month.

The Origination Insight Report mines data from a robust sampling of approximately 80 percent of all mortgage applications that were initiated on the Encompass all-in-one mortgage management solution. Ellie Mae believes the Origination Insight Report is a strong proxy of the underwriting standards employed by lenders across the country.

In addition to the Origination Insight Report, Ellie Mae also distributes data from its monthly Ellie Mae  Millennial Tracker on the first Wednesday of each month. The Ellie Mae Millennial Tracker focuses on mortgage applications submitted by borrowers born between the years 1980 and 1999.

Vendor Offers Enhanced ADA Compliance

Roostify updated its technology so aspects of its application platform are now accessible for customers with disabilities. Roostify is certified to Web Compatibility and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA, enabling lenders to offer an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant loan experience to their applicants. Homebuyers and homeowners can now take advantage of comprehensive screen reader usability, color contrast/font usage, enlarged display performance and keyboard controls throughout their home loan process.


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“We’re proud to have built a platform that meets the stringent AA requirements and extends the Roostify benefits of a faster, lower-anxiety loan process to homebuyers and homeowners of all abilities,” Sandeep Aji, VP of Products, Roostify. 


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The company’s consumer experience was recently certified by an independent third-party as being WCAG 2.0, Level AA-compliant. The AA designation represents a standard of accessibility for all users, including people with limited or no vision, limited or no hearing, colorblindness and limited mobility. 


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Some of the design elements incorporated into the platform that support those with disabilities include:

>>The mortgage application allows users to navigate the system using only using their keyboard;

>>Text and images can be resized without the user losing any information or their place in the application;

>>Text and images offer sufficient contrast between foreground and background color combinations for those with visual limitations;

>>Navigational aids exist throughout the application from beginning to end.

The designation is the culmination of a long-term effort that began with the development of the company’s recently-unveiled Roostify Atomic design system.

“From the very beginning, we approached Roostify Atomic with accessibility in mind,” explained Aji. “One of our core tenets of product design is inclusion – we want to improve the loan process for all consumers. Roostify Atomic gave us an opportunity to build an experience that was fully accessible by anyone trying to buy or refinance a home. What’s more, accessible design is simply good design, and the WCAG-compliant platform offers a better experience for users with and without disabilities.”

Ellie Mae Strengthens Identity, Employment And Income Verification Services

Ellie Mae has made enhancements to Encompass Consumer Connect that include identity, employment and income verification. These enhancements help lenders engage with homebuyers and provide a more streamline application process to help foster interest, engage borrowers and convert opportunities.


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The enhancements include the integration of Experian’s CrossCore platform, which enables lenders to use a passive, multi-layered approach to establish identity and assess risk, providing a positive experience for borrowers. Mortgage lenders can combine historical data, such as demographic information, and first-party fraud risk assessment with step-up authentication methods to verify an individual during the application process. Upon submission of the loan application, the data is immediately sent to the identity verification provider and a report is generated and sent to the Encompass® eFolder within one hour of submission.


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Since the launch on July 9, 2018, Encompass Consumer Connect continues to add key functionality which now includes support for Verification Services that provides lenders the ability to automate borrower identity, employment and income verification to achieve Day 1 Certainty from Fannie Mae to close loans faster.


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In addition to providing a seamless digital experience for homebuyers, Encompass Consumer Connect helps lenders close loans faster. Since the launch of Encompass Consumer Connect, Ellie Mae has seen significant momentum including more than 500 clients with more than 2,000 unique sites and more than 140,000 applications in progress. Some lenders are seeing a three-day reduction in turn times from application to underwritten loan.

“At Experian, we are constantly innovating to modernize the mortgage process and support the industry’s evolution,” said Michele Pearson, general manager of Experian Mortgage. “We’re proud to work with Ellie Mae to maximize the power of data and analytics to more quickly and accurately authenticate prospective borrowers, while helping businesses make smarter lending decisions.”

Encompass Consumer Connect gives Ellie Mae Encompass lenders the ability to offer a consumer web experience that goes beyond a mere online application. It is truly a state-of-the-art, completely customizable, branded and engaging digital mortgage experience for homebuyers – accessible from any device.

“Lenders are looking for more efficient ways to engage homebuyers and with these updates to Encompass Consumer Connect, we’re making it easier for borrowers to complete their loan applications,” said Joe Tyrrell, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Ellie Mae. “Our recent enhancements to Encompass Consumer Connect offer identity, employment and income verification and an integration with Experian that simplifies and expedites key verification activities for an improved borrower experience.”