Can E-mail Constitute A Legal Agreement?

Today the courts are busy collecting rulings made by states and the federal litigation venues looking to define what is legal or not concerning email. As case law is building it is becoming very clear—be careful what you put into your email, especially when discussing anything that deals with a contract.

Up until 2008, email was considered a “Non-Oral Modification” which for most agreements meant you could modify an agreement only in writing with appropriate signatures, electronic or pen. In Stevens v. Publicis, S.A. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2008) the court established that an email could satisfy a non-oral modifications clause. So even if a contract contains a provision that prohibits oral modifications and mandates that all amendments be signed and in writing, the contract could be capable of being modified by an email. The point here is to be careful when you send emails that involve contract discussions or performance modifications; they may change the terms of the agreement.

The new case law developing is around the defense of “I never saw that email.” Courts are requiring the plaintiff to produce evidence that the receiver of the email did in fact receive the email. As you can imagine, organizations that capture email “Proof of Delivery” prove the burden, “they did receive the email.” Caution though, not all Proof of Delivery solution are the same. The fact that an email was received is not enough in some cases, typically driven by the amount of the claim. Email authentication now comes to bare where the user must provide some access information such as a login or password. The most accepted is personal information or what is known as wallet security (etc. account numbers, SSN, driver license info), something personal that both sender and receiver knows. Second is the presence of a disinterested third party audit of the email exchange.

The next big item is attachments. Did they actually receive the email attachments? Documents provided by email also must be proven. Receiving emails are one thing, did the attachment make it and could they be read. Since email can encode attachments in many different ways, reading them becomes the challenge. Therefore, “Proof of Readability” becomes the evidence that the attachments were received and that they could be opened.

If you rely on email to conduct time sensitive business for mortgages, discuss terms or accept conditions, you should be using an email service that manages encryption, Proof of Delivery and Proof of Readability or you may find yourself out of compliance or worst, on the losing end of a legal case.

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How To Close A Loan In 30 Days (Or Less)

It is no secret that the industry is transitioning from a refinance-driven market to a more purchase-driven market, so it is critical that lenders focus on reducing the funding cycle timeline to combat excessive origination costs and improve per loan profitability. Research shows that seven out of 10 loans are unlikely to refinance – proving the market’s increasing dependency on purchase loans. Currently, the average time for refinance is about 55 days and the average time for a purchase transaction is about 40 days, creating a disconnect in process efficiency and room for improvement.

One reason for the longer closing times today is that mortgages are much more complex than they were a few years ago. Mortgages are no longer vanilla – lenders are underwriting higher risk loans, so naturally the underwriting process takes much longer. Each day that lenders add to the funding cycle timeline adds $30 to $40 per loan, and lenders have less flexibility in being late when underwriting purchase loans.

Longer closing times not only affect the institutions’ revenue, but they can significantly harm the institutions’ relationship with the borrower. Timing is the biggest concern for borrowers, and they demand a quick, seamless closing coupled with excellent customer service. Loan delays are an inconvenience, and if a borrowers’ financing falls through entirely due to prolonged timing, then they can no longer get the home they wanted – eliminating any chance of a positive relationship with that borrower. However, if everything runs smoothly, then that borrower is more likely to consider opening other products with the institution – creating an opportunity to establish a life-long relationship with that client.

In short, the industry needs to return to an origination-to-funding cycle timeline of 30 days or less, but how do we get there? The market is always going to be unpredictable and inconsistent, so lenders must find the most effective way to ride out the waves and remain profitable. One proven method is dissecting information from milestone to milestone, allowing lenders to identify specific gaps and therefore more cost-effectively support the shifting market.

Embracing Analysis and Disruptive Innovation

Lenders must be able to identify specific gaps in the origination process by each milestone to discover the root cause of any issues. Lenders never want to return to day one because of a simple issue that could have been fixed early on in the process – the goal is to get things right on day one of the 30-day lifecycle. Getting to this point can be achieved two ways: improving the human element and implementing new technologies that automate the origination process further, utilize source data and streamline loans through the system.

The key to improving lenders’ manual processes is through Six Sigma. The goal of Six Sigma is to develop a nearly error-free process, and fewer errors equal less touches. To do this, every component of the mortgage process is analyzed from the more complex (like credit analysis) to administrative functions such as mailroom and phone work. Achieving a 30-day lifecycle is only possible if the process continually moves forward—any misstep can move the transaction back (sometimes to Day 1), virtually eliminating any chance of a rapid settlement. Processes that have not undergone a thorough Six Sigma review destine the applicant to a real-life game of Chutes and Ladders. Only the lucky will glide through the process without issue, while the majority find themselves slipping backwards at some point, thereby restarting the clock. Six Sigma ensures there are only ladders, and minimizes/eliminates the impact of the occasional chute.

The next step to shortening the closing timeline is leveraging disruptive innovations. As previously mentioned, underwriting higher-risk loans is a complex process, but leveraging a loan origination system (LOS) that automatically assesses the basic attributes of the loan to place it in the right “swim lane” eliminates lenders from having to complete this time consuming task.

Lenders should consider a hybrid onshore/offshore LOS delivery model. This model works around the clock, so the offshore components can be working on those checkpoints while the onshore components are sleeping – giving lenders the biggest bang for their buck. The focus of the loan originators should be to sell loans, and with this model, individuals conducting those checkpoints can contact the borrower directly if changes need to be made rather than the loan originator.

Furthermore, this type of artificial intelligence helps lenders determine which loans have the best chance of closing within the ideal 30-day timeline. Lenders do not control every aspect of the mortgage, but they will instantly know whether uncontrollable external variables such as title or appraisal issue will lengthen the closing time. With the appropriate workflow systems in place, lenders will know when it is time to follow up on title or appraisal – an important piece to keep things moving.

Additionally, lenders should consider leveraging an automated self-assessment tool that carefully evaluates their policies and procedures to bring out any compliance-related issues prior to a regulatory review. The cost of maintaining regulatory compliance will continue to have a significant impact on lenders, and failure to comply with the CFPB’s new rules will lead to severe penalties and costly fines. Leveraging a risk evaluation tool helps lenders stay on top of the CFPB’s rules without exhausting resources.

By implementing these disciplines, app-to-close cycle times can improve by as much as 43 percent. In fact, a large financial institution is now closing 74 percent of their deals within 45 days and 32 percent within 30 days. Additionally, in May 2014, a transaction closed within 15 days, demonstrating that a model emphasizing minimal touches and persistent customer contact can yield the ideal win-win scenario—quick revenue realization for lenders and a flawless closing experience for borrowers.

Implementing Six Sigma practices across the institution will drive quality and continual improvement, and when combined with innovative technology solutions, lenders will further automate the closing process to increase efficiency, profitability, overall customer satisfaction and most importantly, significantly shorten the length of the closing timeline.

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Reducing The Paper Shuffle

Any mortgage professional, or any consumer who has experienced the mortgage process, understands the immense volume of paperwork involved. According to the National Resources Defense Council, a typical office in the U.S. disposes of approximately 350 pounds of wastepaper per employee each year. We can only assume that mortgage shops meet or exceed this statistic. From the loan application process through closing, every step is marked with different paper-based tasks. Some mortgage professionals recall literally filling up boxes originally used to delivery bundled reams of copy paper with documents for a single mortgage transaction – and if your institution is still operating this way, it is time to consider a change.

The mortgage industry’s notorious “paper shuffle” creates challenges in meeting the compliance requirements and the cost savings needs of many lenders. The mortgage lending process has many touch points; everyone including the appraiser, the loan officer and the consumer must handle each critical document multiple times. In an environment that, because of new regulatory requirements, is reliant on expediency and accuracy, hard copies of documents are no longer conducive and significantly hinder the timeliness and convenience of a transaction.

Paper can also now be considered a compliance issue for lenders. Beyond the time and cost it takes to deliver paper documents via snail mail or next day delivery, paper documents can, and often, become misplaced or lost. When this occurs, it is not only the delay that becomes the issue, but also the fact that a missing form can be a security risk, as it likely contains a consumer’s personal or sensitive, financial information. More lenders are recognizing the inherent security benefits of electronic records, which they can automatically and immediately route to the correct individuals. Another compliance consideration is accessibility to documents for auditing purposes. Documents stored in “copy paper boxes” or file cabinets inevitably take much longer to locate than if they were stored electronically in a searchable archive regardless of physical location.

As more lenders enter or redefine their space within this already competitive arena, offering top notch customer service and convenience can make all the difference. Consumers want access to different channels to conduct business at the time, location and via the device of their choosing, which today may mean having to go into a lender’s office to sign documents or wait for a paper to arrive in the mail for their signature. Consumers already handle many aspects of their lives online and expect the convenience of modern technology in the mortgage process, too. Furthermore, they are largely turning to the internet first to research and shop for mortgages. They are clearly comfortable initiating what many consider life’s most important purchase online, and likely will want to continue the process electronically as well.

Even if paper cannot be eliminated completely, many organizations across different verticals have experienced massive efficiencies and cost savings from reducing their use of paper. For instance, in 2011 the Social Security Administration (SSA) chose to stop mailing paper earnings statements to an estimated 150?million Americans, which saves approximately $72 million annually.

We continue to hear dialogue around a completely online or entirely paperless mortgage; discussions have grown since the FHA’s recent decision to accept e-signatures on mortgage documents. The CFPB’s “Know Before You Owe” and anticipated eClosing pilot programs are also included in these conversations. However, until an entirely paperless lending process comes to fruition, lenders should still assess ways they can decrease paper. Even automating a single process can serve as a springboard for efficiencies and can bring your institution one step closer to complete automation. A true paperless environment cannot be accomplished overnight, but if mortgage companies commit to slowly pushing forward, they will reap the widespread benefits for their businesses, the environment and a new wave of homeowners.

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The Value Of Time

A few years back my wife and I decided it was time to begin looking for a new home. She was the home shopper and I was the rate shopper, comparing various lenders, their products, rates, etc.—until I met Jerry.  Jerry was a local guy with a small lender. He took the time to develop a relationship with us and was quick to respond when we had questions. His ability to counsel us turned me from a rate shopper to a committed “Jerry guy.” At the end of the day, I know I got a good rate, and even though I might have kept shopping for an even better rate, I didn’t care. I felt like my family was getting good service and that was what mattered.

There’s no question, a mortgage is the most significant financial transaction most people enter in their life and they want to know that they are dealing with a trustworthy lender who can help them through the details of the complex process. Even if your staff has the ability to fulfill this need, their time is often consumed by regulatory, credit, and operational demands that tie up focus on intricate compliance procedures. That extra time devoted to processing transactions is a finite resource that can cost you both in upfront overhead and in lost opportunities.

Time spent processing loans drains payroll—there’s no doubt about that. The rising cost of FTEs, along with the ongoing costs of employee training and the institution-wide effort required to develop and deliver updated operational and compliance methodologies, make transactions more expensive than ever.

Beyond concrete payroll costs, every minute allocated to properly documenting transactions is one that could be spent demonstrating to loan applicants why your service should convince them to stick with you, rather than bounce between lenders on a rate shopping spree. Less time with applicants increases the likelihood that borrowers will base their decisions strictly on the bottom line, rather than on the entire service experience. This contributes to over-commoditization of the mortgage lending industry, forcing lenders to win business by competing almost solely on the ability to offer the lowest rates.

Knowing that success lies in nurturing borrowers through the complicated origination process is one thing, but finding the time to explain and truly educate them on the impact of what may be the most significant transaction of their life is both a challenge and an opportunity to set your company apart from the assembly line of mortgage lending. It is possible to increase the personal time while decreasing risk by using an end-to-end transaction risk management solution that can quickly and consistently document your lending transactions with considerably less risk and human intervention.

Applicants want to know that they are in safe hands, that the people attending to their financial needs are professional, that their information is secure, and that the products they are offered serve their interests. Your company deserves no less than that same level of protection in the compliance tools you use to mitigate your transaction risk. Both interpersonal training and comprehensive solutions that limit risk are paramount. Transaction risk management tools can ensure that each transaction is completed consistently, efficiently, and compliantly, making it possible to devote time to building relationships of trust that get you more business.

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The Sugar Mae Experiment

When it comes to the question of what to do with the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), I have always believed that genuine success can be achieved by removing the GSEs from the federal system and transferring their control to the states. After all, there is no such thing as a national housing market, and each state’s needs are unique.

State housing finance agencies have traditionally been more aware of the problems facing local homeowners. Indeed, take a search back to headlines in 2006 and 2007 and you will find it was the state housing finance agencies that were sounding the alarms about the collapsing housing bubble while their federal counterparts pretended that nothing was amiss.

One of my favorite examples of a state agency taking the initiative to bolster its local housing market took place in the early 1990s. Up in Vermont, an effort was made to create a secondary marketing vehicle that served the distinctive challenges of the state. It wasofficially called the Green Mountain Mortgage Market and it was run by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA). However, the program was nicknamed Sugar Mae – as a tribute to Vermont’s celebrated maple syrup and in keeping with the Mac and Mae names carried by secondary marketing entities.

Sugar Mae was designed to help securitize rural residential loans that did not meet the GSE underwriting standards. Back in the early 1990s, underwriting standards were much stricter – the loosey-goosey practices of the Clinton years were still a bit away – and properties that had rural attributes such as a wood burning heat source or unpaved roads were not welcomed for securitization by the GSEs. As a result, most Vermont lenders had to stick these loans in their portfolios.

Under the Sugar Mae program, the VHFA would purchase these difficult rural loans and swap them for Fannie Mae’s mortgage-backed securities. Banks that participated in this program agreed to use the proceeds of their loan sales for affordable housing investments. The VHFA would sell the securities created from those loans to local pension funds.

In concept, it was a win-win situation. But, in reality, it never clicked. In fact, only one transaction took place during Sugar Mae’s relatively brief existence. Problems with the above-market interest rates on the rural residential loans and complaints from pension funds of a too-high premium on the securities they were expected to purchase stalled the program.

Yes, it would be easy to dismiss Sugar Mae as a failure – at least in terms of not meeting its projected volume. But the program, I believe, offered a responsible and intelligent attempt to try something different that addressed local housing market needs without being a burden on taxpayers; indeed, Vermont’s taxpayers were not burdened with wasteful financial residue. By that measurement, Sugar Mae was an innovative success in planning.

And this circles back to the stalemate in the GSE reform effort. Rather than leave the issue to a bickering Congress and an indifferent Obama Administration, I would open the debate to the state housing finance agencies to consider how they could inherit GSE duties if they were localized to state level operations.

Who knows what the state agencies can produce? Maybe the foundation started by Sugar Mae can be taken up, tinkered with, and spun into an entity that will be able to function and blossom? After all, an experiment that seeks to create new opportunities is often preferable to the misery of a dysfunctional status quo. And the real tragedy in business (as in life) is not about trying and failing, but in never trying at all to make things better.

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Solving the Challenges of Maintaining Data Integrity for Mortgage Lenders

Data integrity, ensuring the completeness, accuracy and consistency of data used throughout the origination of home loans, is one of the greatest challenges facing the mortgage industry today. Many lenders find that the inability to maintain the accuracy of loan data during the origination process negatively affects their workflow processes, compliance efforts, and ultimately, their profits. Yet despite the availability of technology solutions that can greatly increase a lender’s ability to ensure the integrity of the data used to make underwriting or purchase decisions, many lenders have yet to take advantage of this technology. As a result, they are plagued with inaccurate, inconsistent or incomplete data that they are betting their companies on.

Without the proper preventive measures in place, lenders struggle with data entry errors, conflicting information that requires risky judgment calls and untold hours spent trying to complete and reconcile data after the loan is funded. As a result of the part “bad” data played in the recent financial crisis and recent litigation, quality initiatives are taking hold across the industry. And regulators are working to ensure that proper oversight is in place to authenticate loan information throughout the loan process.

While the printing, copying, and shipping of paper documents should be a thing of the past, for many lenders, it is still at the heart of the origination process and contributes to the inability to maintain data integrity. A typical loan captures thousands of pieces of data, and the potential for error is huge. While relying on paper exposes vulnerabilities in and of itself, the central issue is the potential for inaccuracies when data is entered or overwritten in a lender’s loan origination system (LOS). Many lenders mistakenly believe that an LOS is a “source of truth” for loan information. In fact, an LOS is primarily a “system of record,” capturing, storing and listing information, which can be mistyped or manually changed over the lifecycle of a loan.

While the best source of data associated with the loan is the original documents used in the loan process, LOSs don’t provide the lender with the appropriate tools to easily locate the data on the original document and compare it with what is in the LOS. The only way to maintain data integrity is to use data capture technology that has been optimized for the mortgage industry to catch discrepancies automatically. This technology makes it easy to compare data in the system with the data on the original document, and alerts the lender of discrepancies in the data, as well any missing information or documents, immediately.

Not too long ago, it was acceptable to rely on internal staff or outsourced labor to double check loan information for completeness and accuracy. The practice of “stare and compare,” by which a human being looks back and forth across two or more documents to verify that the information is consistent across document types, is time-consuming and error-prone, not to mention costly.

Technology moves quality control to the front of the process by automatically validating the data across loan documents. Rather than send an application to an underwriter, the data could be extracted and put through a rules engine for analysis. Only if the application has a piece of information outside of the rules parameter would it then be sent to a human underwriter for review. This standardizes the process, increases productivity, lowers cost and lowers production risks. The technology would also keep a historical record of any changes made to the data, automatically creating and maintaining an audit trail to assist with compliance requirements.
Without preventive measures in place, including data capture technology, lenders are at risk of making lending decisions (or purchase decisions) based on inaccurate and potentially misleading information. Funding a loan or purchasing a loan based on inaccurate data puts the lender at risk if the loan falls into default down the line. In addition, selling loans based on faulty data greatly increases the risk of buybacks and hurts a lender’s credibility. Today’s lending environment necessitates loan quality through sound underwriting that is supported by technology to streamline business processes and ensure compliance.

By using a software solution designed to ensure data integrity, lenders improve the consistency and quality of loan information throughout the lifecycle of the loan, not just after a loan closes, when it is often too late to remedy. In today’s increasingly competitive lending environment, the focus should be on the data, not the documents. Ultimately, it’s the data that facilitates a high quality business process that meets the lender’s operational objectives and financial goals.

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Make Your Content Sell For You

Everyone is clamoring for a sale. Business in the first quarter was dramatically off in our space. So, how do you get more deals in the door?In an article entitled “Four Tips to Accelerate Sales Through the B2B Content Funnel” by Paul Gustafson, he challenges companies to think differently about their content and how that can be used as a sales generator. He says:

Does your content do most of the selling for your company? It should. But if it doesn’t, your problem may be rooted in not having a content strategy that mirrors an effective sales funnel. To ensure that your content reflects enterprise sales processes, consider the following four tips.

1. Content matters throughout the entire B2B buyer’s journey

Sales needs to focus on closing, not explaining.Not too long ago, marketing was typically responsible for only the beginning stages of the buyer’s journey: generating interest, awareness, and leads in the form of names, titles, and phone numbers. Salespeople handled much of the rest. Today, that model has changed dramatically: Potential customers are self-educated about products and services, and they contact salespeople only after defining their requirements on their own, having already made most of their decisions.

2. Recognize that the sales funnel is shaped like a content megaphone

Imagine a picture of a traditional sales funnel: wide at the top where you find new leads, narrower in the middle where consideration occurs, and narrowest at the bottom where deals begin to close. Now look at the bottom of the funnel and imagine it as a mouthpiece where thought-leadership content is spoken—and grows and changes in tone and volume as it resonates outward to ever-larger audiences.

Tweets, teasers, and abstracts are the shorter-form content needed for the top end of the megaphone to hook increasingly distracted audiences and draw them into your content stream. Such short, concise bursts of content serve to pique interest and help ensure new leads progress, find interest in your thought-leadership content, and become ready, willing, and even eager to hear it. Tweets and teasers correspond with nascent brand awareness, leading to posts and abstracts, which lead to curiosity in what you have to offer—and compel customers toward deeper engagement and interest in the specifics of your value proposition.

Tweets lead to paragraphs, paragraphs lead to posts, and then posts lead to longer articles and whitepapers. As the funnel narrows, articles, case studies, and brochures integrate with direct responses and conversations. Thought-leadership content, such as whitepapers, supports serious consideration and purchase decisions. Ideally, all this content is premeditated, coordinated, and reinforces an effective messaging theme.

3. Drive all forms of content with thought leadership

Effective B2B social content starts and ends with thought leadership. All those tweets, posts, and articles must have a foundation to be meaningful. Found in your meatiest content such as whitepapers and bylined articles, thought leadership is truly useful and hard to fake. To produce it, you must have genuine subject-matter experts in tune with the challenges that real customers face, and equipped with thoughtful opinions about how to best address those very real customer challenges.

Since that kind of expertise is rarer than it should be, prospects and customers appreciate it when they find it.

When developing thought-leadership content, focus on three crucial qualities:

>> Expert. True expertise is genuine and delivers real value. Though it’s not possible to fake expertise, there are plenty of examples of arrogance masquerading as expertise. Such feeble attempts aren’t just ineffective; they inflict damage upon your brand and make the marketing job even harder.

>> Original. Thought leadership must be uniquely yours. Represent the distinctive and timely perspective only your brand has on the industry, marketplace, or other topic at hand.

>> Comprehensive. Cover your bases, frankly and honestly. You know those questions your sales team is hoping won’t get asked? Your prospects will inevitably ask them, so don’t ignore their concerns. Tackle them directly.

>> Remember, the goal is to sell

Ultimately, your marketing efforts need to enhance the sales buying process. Sure, awareness campaigns are critical for getting prospects to notice and to become curious about your product or service; but, unless your content informs prospects and leads them toward the point of purchase, some part of your strategy is likely broken, missing, or muted.

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Six Tech Tips: How To Get Your LOs To Love Your Appraisal Desk

The appraisal is one of the most critical lynchpins of closing, so it’s no wonder many loan originators have a love/hate relationship with their appraisal desks. The appraisal report is a big risk to closing anyway, and due to recent regulations and investor guidelines, production staff feel they have zero control over one of the most critical components of a deal. But you can still make your originators happy (most of the time) and have high quality, efficient, and compliant appraisal operations.

The appraisal desk can communicate better and deliver better service to production staff automatically with technology, so the LO is satisfied and knows their concerns are taken into consideration. A few large lenders have already changed their appraisal desk models to attract the top producers. The key to doing it successfully is to honor your production staff with the tools they need to be in the loop when it comes to the appraisals on their loans.

As competition for top producers continues to heat up, here are a few of the ways you can improve your appraisal desk:

>> Give them easy, fool-proof appraisal ordering: Make sure your originators have fast, easy appraisal ordering, preferably directly integrated in their LOS or through an easy-to-use portal. The ordering process has to be streamlined to avoid data entry mistakes and confusion that can cause closing delays.

>> Keep them in the loop on status: With a technology framework, you can still isolate appraisers from production staff, while continuing to provide automatic status updates throughout the process. LOs often complain that the appraisal process is like a “black hole”, so periodic updates will alleviate this stress.

>> Give a simple way to request changes: Your LOs should have the ability to ask questions, request revisions, and offer additional information to the appraisal desk. Even if you’re hiding appraiser identity through double-blind ordering mode, communication between loan officers and appraisers is possible with some technology providers.

>> Cause fewer delays and questions: Technology can definitely help when you can automatically pass loan information to the appraiser. Reduce the frustration from going back and forth with the appraiser by getting all the pertinent information the first time, automatically.

>> Have access to performance stats: The appraisal desk should have easy access to vendor performance history and be able to document how orders are assigned. When questions about particular vendors arise, this information can help your LOs understand the appraisal desk’s functions.

>> Have the flexibility to try new vendors and replace old ones: The best LOs out there have relationships with local area expert appraisers. Have a system in place that allows your appraisal desk to onboard new vendors easily and quickly. When you need to replace vendors due to performance, make sure your system makes it easy.

When regulations and investors demanded production be isolated from collateral valuation, some lenders went too far in building a firewall that frustrates their top producers and most valuable salespeople.  Through technology, you can get the best of both worlds, with full compliance in your appraisal operations and happy LOs.

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Beyond Social Networking: A Leader’s Inner Circle

For leaders in the mortgage industry—as well as in any other—social media is an absolutely essential means of building professional relationships in today’s day and age. Promoting your organization. Serving your customers. Discovering news about important industry happenings. These reasons and more are all valuable benefits we can derive using social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

If you’ve spent a decent amount of time with me, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in social networking. I’ve acquired many clients and built some valuable business relationships through interacting with industry professionals on the web. To ignore the reality of the digital world is to lose out on a great amount of opportunities. However, I think there is something more important than social networking–something leaders can’t quite get through the computer screen.

Social networking—just like traditional networking—is great for meeting a large number of people. It’s great for broadening connections. But the most effective leaders will not only want to broaden connections—they’ll also want to narrow them. That is, they’ll not only connect loosely to a great number of people; they’ll also want to form strong connections with a few number of people. The best leaders will focus closely on their inner circles.

Your inner circle is what keeps you accountable—it’s what make sure that you are practicing what you preach. In the era of social media, it’s very easy to make yourself look like you’re accomplishing a great deal without actually really doing anything. When you have a close-knit group of friends and colleagues with which you interact on a regular basis, it becomes harder to hide in the hype. You’re forced to live up, in private, to the standard to which you publicly claim to hold for yourself.

Who you choose to be in your circle can be your greatest strength or your most detrimental weakness. If you invite people who are unethical, lazy, or have some other kind of severely bad character, you can be sure that it will spread to you like a virus. History is full of examples of leaders who were betrayed by their closest friends. Shakespeare put the feeling of shock quite well in his play Julius Caesar. When Julius Caesar is assassinated and finds one of his closes friends, Marcus Brutus, among the assassins, he says, “And you too, Brutus?” When we’re choosing the people for our inner circle, we want to make sure that our values are aligned so that we’re never surprised.

On the other hand, we don’t want to simply avoid bad character in selecting the people for our inner circles. We also want to seek out good character. We want to attract people to us who have the highest standard of ethics, the most results-oriented mindset, and the level of positivity that can motivate and inspire us to be the leaders we need to be. We often become like those to whom we are the closest. If we aspire to be great leaders, we will surround ourselves with great leaders as well.

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How To Boost Online Lending

As borrowers look to self serve more and more, the online lending channel should be booming. So, how can lenders capture this business? First, they have to ask some hard questions, such as: How much do design, site speed, and product reviews affect e-commerce checkout behavior? Even more than you might think…

Regarding general design, some 93% of people say visuals are the most influential factor in the purchase decision, according to vouchercloud.

Moreover, shoppers assess a product within 90 seconds to determine whether to purchase it.

Site speed also plays a huge role. If a page takes three seconds to load, 57% of online consumers will abandon the site; of those visitors, 80% will never return.

Product reviews, too, influence online shoppers. Some 85% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses before making a purchase. “Of those, 79% trust the reviews as much as a personal recommendation,” vouchercloud writes.

To find out more about the behaviors behind online shopper clicks, check out the infographic:

consumer-psychology-and-ecommerce-checkouts-infographic