Study Shows That AI Tool Gives Lenders Big ROI

An independent analysis of the real-world impact of Black Knight’s artificial intelligence (AI) solution, AIVA was conducted. Using actual findings from the operations of a top 50 lender in Q4 2018, MarketWise Advisors, LLC – a management consulting firm focused on technology in the financial services industry – found that using AIVA can significantly drive down the cost of mortgage originations. The study identified a savings of up to $437 per originated loan, with the cost impact continuing to grow significantly as AIVA’s machine learning and unique pattern recognition capabilities mature to include more skills.

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“Through the independent analysis of an unbiased third party, we have been able to show that lenders can expect to see significant savings by incorporating AIVA into their origination process,” said Anthony Jabbour, Chief Executive Officer of Black Knight.

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“Leveraging AIVA results in significant cost savings, provides the ability to redirect tens of thousands of man hours to items more focused on satisfying customers and produces a return on investment nearing 500%.”

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MarketWise’s approach included reviewing existing processes, as well as a time-and-motion study and on-site lender employee interviews to evaluate the time and cost reductions associated with leveraging AIVA in key areas of the origination process. MarketWise also evaluated AIVA’s income, asset, insurance and file intake review skills and found that the associated process improvements decreased the cost of origination by up to $437 per loan, with an average annual projected financial impact of $3.13M for the top 50 lender in the study, but results will vary for each lender.

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In addition to the direct cost savings, the study found that AIVA also produces significant indirect impacts, including reduced error rates and increased loan quality, consistency and compliance. The projected average annual return on investment was 483% for this lender, meaning that for every dollar invested in the technology, the expected financial impact is a return of $4.83, a figure that will exponentially increase as AIVA’s skills evolve to incorporate more complex tasks.

“At Black Knight, we remain focused on bringing innovative solutions to market that help our clients increase revenue, efficiency and compliance,” said Jabbour. “AIVA checks all of these boxes. AI and machine learning represent a transformational shift for the mortgage industry, and Black Knight is proud to be leading the charge.”

Prepayments Are Up

As Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske explained, prepayments are up across the board, but some cohorts are seeing greater levels of activity than others.

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“Overall, prepayment activity – largely driven by home sales and mortgage refinances – has more than doubled over the past four months,” said Graboske. “It’s now at the highest levels we’ve seen since the fall of 2016, when rates began their steep upward climb. While we’ve observed increases across nearly every investor type, product type, credit score bucket and vintage, some changes stand out. For instance, prepayments among fixed-rate loans have hewed close to the overall market average, rising by more than two times over the past four months. However, ARM prepayment rates have now jumped to their highest level since 2007 as borrowers have sought to shed the uncertainty of their adjustable-rate products for the security of a low, fixed interest rate over the long haul.” 

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“Likewise, while all loan vintages have seen prepayment activity increase, they are all dwarfed by 2018. Prepays among the 2018 vintages have jumped by more than 300% over the past four months and are now nearly 50% higher than 2014, the next highest vintage. As of June 27, there were 1.5 million refinance candidates from the 2018 vintage alone, accounting for one of every six such candidates in the market, matching the total from the 2013-2017 vintages combined. All in all, some 8.2 million homeowners with mortgages could now both benefit from and likely qualify for a refinance, including more than 35% of those who took out their mortgages just last year. Early estimates suggest closed refinances rose by more than 30% from April 2019, with May’s volumes estimated to be three times higher than the 10-year low seen in November 2018. Given that interest rates have fallen further from May to June – and that we’ve yet to see the calendar year peak in terms of housing turnover related-prepayments – we may very well continue to see rising prepayment activity again in June’s mortgage data.”

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This month’s Mortgage Monitor Report also revisited the nation’s equity landscape, finding that after two consecutive quarterly declines, tappable equity rose in Q1 2019. Nearly 44 million homeowners with mortgages have more than 20% equity in their home. With a combined $5.98 trillion, that works out to an average of $136K per borrower with tappable equity. While tappable equity is nearing last summer’s all-time high of $6.06 trillion, and will likely surpass that peak as home prices rise seasonally over the summer months, the annual growth rate has slowed considerably in recent quarters. The annual growth rate of tappable equity slowed to 3% in Q1 2019, down from 5% in the prior quarter and 16% one year ago, as slowing home prices – especially in the nation’s most expensive markets – have curbed tappable equity growth.

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Black Knight: Servicers Retained Just 18% Of Customers Post-Refinance In Q1 2019, A 13-Year Low

Black Knight released its Mortgage Monitor Report. This month, by leveraging its McDash loan-level mortgage performance data in combination with public property records, Black Knight undertook an analysis of mortgage servicer retention rates by looking at consecutive mortgages on a single property before and after a refinance transaction. As Black Knight’s Data & Analytics Division President Ben Graboske explained, retention rates – the share of borrowers who remain with their prior servicer post-refinance – have reached record lows, creating serious challenges in an ever more competitive marketplace.

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“In Q1 2019, fewer than one in five homeowners remained with their prior mortgage servicer after refinancing their first lien,” said Graboske. “That is the lowest retention rate we’ve seen since Black Knight began tracking the metric in 2005. Anyone in this industry can tell you that customer retention is key – not only to success, but to survival. The challenge is that everyone is competing for a piece of a shrinking refinance market, the size of which is incredibly rate-sensitive, and therefore volatile in its make-up. Just a month ago, we were reporting that recent rate reductions had swelled the population of eligible refinance candidates by more than half in a single week after hitting a multi-year low just a few months before. Then, with just a slight increase in the 30-year fixed rate – less than one-eighth of a point – 1 million homeowners lost their rate incentive to refinance – almost 20% of the total eligible market.

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“This is critical, because refinances driven by a homeowner seeking to reduce their rate or term have always been servicers’ ‘bread and butter’ when it comes to customer retention. Offering lower rates to qualified existing customers is a good, and relatively simple, way to retain their business. Unfortunately, the market has shifted dramatically away from such rate/term refinances. In fact, nearly 80% of 2018 refinances involved the customer pulling equity out of their home – and more than two-thirds of those raised their interest rate to do so. Retention battles are no longer won – or lost – based on interest rates alone. A simple ‘in the money analysis’ doesn’t provide the insight necessary to retain customers and can’t take the place of accurately identifying borrowers who are likely to refinance and offering them the correct product. Rather, understanding equity position – and the willingness to utilize that equity – is key to accurately identifying attrition risk and reaching out to retain that business.” 

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Black Knight’s Mortgage Monitor report also looked at retention from the perspective of product offerings. For example, in 2018, 72% of FHA/VA borrowers in peak cash-out refi vintages (2012/2013) refinanced into a conventional loan product to pull equity from their home; just 28% ended up with an FHA/VA product. This suggests that borrowers may be looking to shed mortgage insurance while simultaneously taking advantage of equity. An astonishing 93% of those same borrowers raised their interest rate to do so. On the other hand, those with GSE loans tended to remain in GSE products post-refinance; 61% remained, while 32% shifted to loans held in bank portfolios. It could be that rising home prices are pushing that second segment into non-conforming, jumbo products. It’s also worth noting that fewer GSE borrowers, as compared to FHA/VA, are increasing their interest rate in order to tap equity.

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A New Digital Closing Option Emerges

Fidelity National Financial launched a digital closing experience for consumers closing in its title operations. Developed in partnership with Black Knight, Inc., this new closing experience supports both hybrid and fully digital closing options and is tightly integrated with FNF’s title production systems. Designed to digitally engage homebuyers and sellers in the process well in advance of the closing signature ceremony, the experience brings increased transparency, flexibility and convenience to the final steps of real estate transactions.

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“Today’s homebuyers and sellers have come to expect a digital experience that increases the transparency and convenience of the transaction,” said Jason Nadeau, Chief Digital Officer for Fidelity National Financial. “At FNF, we understand this. That’s why we’re committed to creating a totally redesigned real estate experience for the consumer. We’re also making sure our vast network of partners has access to the tools they need to compete effectively in an increasingly digital world.” 

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In partnership with Black Knight and leveraging the company’s Expedite Close technology, FNF created a digital closing experience that is tailored to meet the very specific needs of the settlement community. FNF’s platform is based upon tight integrations with title production and workflow solutions, and optimized for ease of use and maximum adoption. Additionally, consumers are provided with greater visibility and transparency into their documents prior to the actual closing. Integrated eSignature technology allows for many documents to be signed in advance of the closing itself and – in jurisdictions where it is permitted – remote online notarization capabilities ensure sellers and buyers can close on a real estate transaction when and where it best suits their schedules.

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“We’re honored to have collaborated with FNF in developing a new closing experience,” said Black Knight president Joe Nackashi. “Black Knight is committed to our clients’ success, and we wholeheartedly support FNF’s mission to redefine the experience for the millions of consumers they work with annually.”

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While the digital closing platform is loan origination system (LOS) agnostic, it is currently integrated with Black Knight’s suite of solutions. FNF’s title operations will begin leveraging the digital closing platform in Q2 2019.

Lender Looks For Quicker LOS Deployment

Washington Trust Bank, the oldest and largest privately held commercial bank in the Northwest, went live on Empower, Black Knight’s loan origination system (LOS). Washington Trust Bank leveraged the Empower Now! implementation model – a quicker and more cost-effective deployment approach designed specifically for mid-tier financial institutions. 

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“Washington Trust Bank is now using Empower to support our organization’s growth strategy,” said Shane Patnoi, vice president of consumer lending for Washington Trust Bank. “Replacing our legacy technology with Black Knight’s system will provide advanced functionality, system scalability and flexible configuration to increase the effectiveness of our expanding lending efforts.”

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The Empower Now! implementation model gives lenders a base set of capabilities from Empower, which have been pre-configured based on the industry’s most common lending practices. Lenders can then add functionality and additional components, enabling them to remain on the same LOS as their business grows, and to adjust system parameters to meet their specific compliance needs.

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Empower is a comprehensive LOS used by many of the nation’s top lenders to electronically capture, process, underwrite and close loans in support of their retail, wholesale, consumer direct, correspondent and home equity channels. Empower also provides Web APIs for easy access to data and documents, which are needed to provide consumers with a digital user experience. By selecting the Empower Now! model, lenders such as Washington Trust Bank receive the same Empower functionality and integrations, but the system can be implemented in a reduced timeline and at a lower cost.

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              “We are pleased to support Washington Trust Bank with advanced origination capabilities that will scale as the bank’s loan volume increases,” said Rich Gagliano, president, Black Knight Origination Technologies. “With an accelerated implementation timeline and a cost structure that aligns with mid-market lenders’ needs, Washington Trust Bank will be able to quickly and cost-effectively take advantage of Empower’s ability to help the bank’s customers buy new homes and refinance existing mortgages.”

Integrations That Make Sense

Black Knight and LERETA have partnered to enhance tax reporting services to Black Knight’s MSP servicing system customers.    

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The relationship aligns LERETA’s commitment to innovation with the processing power of the MSP system. The relationship will allow servicers on MSP to enjoy enhanced integration to improve data exchanges, a reduction in payment timeframes, the elimination of manual report entry errors, improved processing with unique functionality, greater accuracy, enhanced tax-specific processing and an improved customer experience.

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“This alliance demonstrates our continuing commitment to driving innovation in property tax servicing,” said John Walsh, CEO of LERETA. “It also shows how the respective leaders in tax service and servicing systems can work together to improve this critical servicing function. Servicers using LERETA for tax on the MSP system will now have more automation and decrease in risk.”

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The integration will allow loan servicers to onboard loans faster and removes the burden of creating manual tax reports and other antiquated manual processes, which dramatically improves reporting accuracy and responsiveness for the servicer, the tax provider and loan processing system. The system enhancements mean decreasing the risk of delays in paying taxes and reducing tax penalties, while offering better collaboration and improved customer service.

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“Integrating LERETA’s tax service with Black Knight’s industry-leading MSP system demonstrates our ongoing commitment to continuously enhance our technologies with the highest-quality capabilities,” said Black Knight President Joe Nackashi. “This innovative tax service will further streamline the onboarding process for our clients, increase process transparency and provide a better customer experience.”

LERETA introduced one of the newest technologies to the tax service industry in 2016 with the launch of Total Tax Solution (TTS), the core processing system for LERETA’s outsourced tax clients and an ASP solution for standard tax reporting clients. 

The new strategic relationship marries the power of MSP loan processing with LERETA’s comprehensive nationwide tax database to provide real-time visibility and transparency to tax service at the portfolio and loan level. This translates to more call center efficiencies and improved customer service.

“Customer service is always the biggest concern for servicers, and the launch of our Total Tax Solution has changed the way our customers can support their customers,” Walsh said. “TTS dramatically improves the transparency of tax service, which has helped reduce the number of real estate tax-related service calls by over 30 percent. The implementation of TTS has also resulted in industry-leading customer service call times; and 85 percent of tax-related calls are resolved on the first call, dramatically improving customer experience.”

The Black Knight MSP loan servicing system is a single, comprehensive platform used by financial institutions to service over 34 million active loans – more than any other in the mortgage industry. MSP is an end-to-end system that includes all aspects of servicing, including loan boarding, payment processing, escrow administration and default management. The system’s comprehensive functionality helps servicers increase efficiency, reduce operating costs and improve risk mitigation – all while supporting servicers’ regulatory requirements.

About The Author

Black Knight: Active Foreclosure Rate And Inventory End 2018 Below Pre-Recession Averages

Today, the Data & Analytics division of Black Knight, Inc. released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report, based upon its industry-leading loan-level mortgage performance database. With full-year mortgage performance data in, this month’s report looked at 2018 in review. As explained by Ben Graboske, president of Black Knight’s Data & Analytics division, more than a decade past the start of the financial crisis, most metrics reflect a recovery to their long-term, 2000-2005 pre-recession averages.

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“Across the board, 2018 year-end numbers are good news from a mortgage performance perspective,” said Graboske. “All four major performance metrics – delinquencies, serious delinquencies, active foreclosures and total non-current inventory – ended the year below pre-recession averages for the first time since the financial crisis. Just 576,000 foreclosures were initiated throughout the entirety of 2018 – an 18-year low – and the vast majority of these were repeat actions. In fact, first-time foreclosures were down 18 percent from the year before, hitting the lowest point we’ve seen since Black Knight started reporting the metric in 2000. Even repeats – though making up more than 60 percent of all foreclosures – were down 6 percent from 2017.

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“These year-end numbers are further proof of what we’ve been observing for some time now. The high credit quality and corresponding lower risk we’ve seen in the post-crisis origination market for the better part of a decade continues to pay dividends in terms of mortgage performance. In addition, the low interest rate environment we’ve enjoyed for so long had – until very recently – resulted in a refinance-heavy blend of originations for years. Refis, as a whole, tend to outperform their purchase mortgage counterparts, which has boosted mortgage performance as well. On top of that, we’ve had the benefit of strong employment and housing markets, which have helped the vast majority of homeowners meet their debt obligations, while those few who may have faced a possible default have gained enough equity to be able to sell rather than face foreclosure.”

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As the average interest rate on a 30-year mortgage ticked down again in January, falling below 4.5 percent for the first time since April 2018, Black Knight revisited the impact this change has had on the refinanceable population. The decline in rates has returned the interest rate incentive to refinance to 1 million homeowners, a 50 percent increase in rate/term refinance incentive over just the last two months.

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There are now 2.9 million homeowners with mortgages who could likely qualify for a refinance under broad-based criteria and also reduce the interest rate on their first mortgage by at least 0.75 percent by doing so, the largest this population has been since January 2018. Even if rates should hold steady – and certainly if they fall further – this could lead to an unexpected bump in refinance volumes in early 2019.

Black Knight Makes Digital Closing Advances

Black Knight has enhanced the company’s Expedite Close digital closing solution has been enhanced with advanced intelligence and data recognition capabilities. Already able to support traditional wet-ink, digital or hybrid mortgage closings, the newly enhanced Expedite Close adds the ability to automatically determine the best way to close any given loan based upon a lender’s preferences and business rules, as well as jurisdiction-specific requirements.

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“Expedite Close was already a game-changer for eClosings by seamlessly supporting hybrid or fully digital processes while also making sure settlement agents, lenders, real estate agents, consumers and investors had what they needed without requiring changes to current practices or systems,” said Mike Brown, general manager of Black Knight’s Lending Solutions division. “But now it takes eClosing to a whole new level with advanced intelligence capabilities that automatically determine and execute on the best way to close a loan, based upon lender preferences and what a given jurisdiction allows. This newest iteration of Expedite Close is yet another innovative solution Black Knight is bringing to market as we continue to help transform the industry.”

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Whenever possible, Expedite Close supports fully digital closings – including eSign, eNotary and eClose components. For closings that are not fully digital, Expedite Close automatically identifies and executes whatever combination of wet-ink and digital closing works best for the lender and/or the property jurisdiction, saving significant cost and time. Expedite Close also enables lenders to adopt digital elements at their own pace, without requiring the purchase of additional technology when the lender – or the jurisdiction – is ready to embrace completely digital closings.

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This innovative closing solution also digitally audits the entire closing package at completion. Additionally, advanced document-recognition capabilities enable static PDFs of closing documents to become searchable, eSignable and data-centric, allowing Expedite Close to streamline the post-closing process. These innovative capabilities not only introduce greater speed and efficiency into the closing process, but also support consistency throughout the entire process. 

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 Expedite Close significantly enhances the consumer experience by providing a more streamlined closing with the ability to review all necessary documents before the actual closing and eSign-appropriate documents. Lenders and settlement agents not only benefit from improved borrower satisfaction, but also from reduced risk and enhanced efficiencies without having to significantly alter their current processes.

“Right now, mortgage closing requirements are inconsistent and inefficient across the country, and even from lender to lender, or agent to agent,” said Brown. “Expedite Close was designed to meet the challenges of today’s closings, while delivering maximum benefit to our clients and their customers, and making the process – and implementation – as simple as possible.”

Customer Empowerment A Key Driver Of Satisfaction In Mortgage

Typical consumers are fairly comfortable with the digital world we live in today.  These savvy web-surfers confidently search online for products and services; conduct research on the performance and reputation of providers; compare the features and pricing of similar solutions; and execute on their decisions when they are ready.  If interacting with a customer service professional or “robot” is required before consumers can proceed, it can certainly dampen customer satisfaction levels, negatively impact sales and reflect poorly on the company’s brand.

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It’s not that consumers always want to do everything themselves – but they do want to be empowered to act independently if they so choose. They want the website, program or app to be easy to find and understand; available upon demand; and to be so well-designed and intuitive that little to no thinking is required to achieve their desired outcome. 

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Research findings also suggest that customers who are empowered with ready access to the information and functionality they need to conduct business independently tend to have a positive experience with the process, which often translates into a positive opinion of the company and its solutions, and ultimately sales. 

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Freeing Up Data and Information

Traditionally, mortgage servicers have been the primary gatekeepers of mortgage-related customer information, as well as the data associated with their home loans. To access this information, customers must interact directly with their providers, ask them to determine their options, and then request the analysis required to make recommendations about the customer’s best course of action. This accessibility barrier to loan information contradicts the ease of self-service options for other types of information that deliver details faster and more efficiently to customers on demand.

Widespread internet access means that most consumers can visit an extensive number of websites and apps that make self-service both possible and easily accessible. From airline and hotel apps to retail shopping, education, banking and social networking apps, consumers enjoy the satisfaction of doing business online, quickly finding the information they need and completing their transactions.  Today, people can even purchase a car online and have it delivered to their front door – all without speaking to a salesperson!

Of course, there are still a number of business sectors where consumer access to information and analysis for decision-making is difficult, if not impossible. And, many consumers still prefer to interact with a company representative to discuss product and service options before deciding upon a course of action. With today’s digital technology, this personal interaction can now be a choice based upon a consumer’s preference – rather than a requirement for consumers to get the information and answers they need.

Empowering the Homeowner with Information

One of the most important investments many consumers make is the purchase of a home. There are several helpful websites and apps that enable potential buyers to see homes that are for sale; learn about neighborhoods, schools, and crime rates; find out how much taxes are; and even see a 360-degree view of a home’s interior. Real estate agents are readily available to support the buying process with just the click of a button on a website. And, on many sites, lenders stand ready to offer the consumer approval on a mortgage loan. With these self-service capabilities, the consumer can use their personal device (e.g., laptop, tablet or smartphone) to find one of the most important wealth-building assets they will ever own.

Once they’ve secured a loan, homeowners benefit from understanding how to best manage their home loan. Certainly, many consumers can obtain information about their house payments, amount of interest paid, how much equity is in their home and other related information on their bank’s website. What may not be readily apparent to them is what to do with this information or how to manage their property wealth as the years go by.

This is where a mortgage servicing app can become a consumer’s best friend — but not just any app that provides information based upon static data. What is needed is a dynamic application that accesses up-to-the-minute data to give homeowners the information they need for future home- or loan-related decision-making.

Scenario Simulation and More

We know that many, if not most, consumers prefer to access their mortgage information online without the intervention of a customer service rep (unless they ask for one). But we also know that homeowners are not always financially savvy about how best to leverage and maximize the wealth in their homes. To help consumers make the decisions that are best for them, they need current information about their payments, interest rate and equity; how the value of their home compares to similar homes in their neighborhood; and the impact of various financial decisions they could make. And, these details need to be easily accessible and consumable. 

Today’s banking apps certainly provide basic information about the status of a consumer’s existing accounts.  But what if a mortgage servicer provided its customers with an interactive app that could do much more – such as simulate different scenarios regarding how consumers might use the equity they are building in their homes.  Such an app could offer a dashboard that would provide a quick view of market and neighborhood information, as well as the ability to click a button to make a payment. The app could also show consumers what the current (real-time) value of their home is; how a refi would impact their monthly payments or interest savings; and how making an additional principal payment on a monthly basis or in a lump sum would improve the time required to pay off their loan. This app could also show other information, such as current interest rates available or special deals their lenders may have available.

Ultimately, this is the kind of do-it-yourself functionality that mortgage customers want at their point of need. They want to be educated about what they need to know, review different scenarios, compare options, and act when and if they decide to. They want quick access to customer support if they need it, without feeling intruded upon. This is customer empowerment at its finest, and can help build the kind of customer satisfaction – and customer retention – that will last. 

About The Author

Leading-Edge AI In Mortgage Lending

Previously CEO of HeavyWater Inc., the mortgage-focused Artificial Intelligence (AI) provider recently acquired by Black Knight, Inc, Soofi Safavi now serves as Managing Director of Black Knight’s Applied AI group, bringing leading-edge AI and computing capabilities to the Black Knight product portfolio. With over 20 years of experience in mortgage and banking technology, and deep expertise in IT strategy, architecture and machine learning, Soofi is uniquely suited to discuss AI’s role in the mortgage industry.

Q: It seems as though Artificial Intelligence (AI) has resulted in incredible advancements across so many industries, but we haven’t seen the same in the mortgage industry. Why is that?

SOOFI SAFAVI: I would say that we simply haven’t seen it –yet. The mortgage industry is a very complex environment that requires vast amounts of expert knowledge to navigate effectively. That is why there is still so much work to be to be done despite a never-ending quest for increasing efficiency through technology. AI will be key for not only increasing efficiencies, but also identifying and eliminating deficiencies.

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Every day in our industry, we have thousands of experts leveraging technology to perform a series of activities and tasks that are essential to the mortgage process, from origination through servicing. The goal with a mortgage industry-focused AI is to capture that knowledge and replicate it within algorithms via machine learning.

From a high level, AI is about using computer systems that are able to perform tasks normally requiring human intervention. Machine learning is a type of AI that allows computers to learn without being explicitly programmed. It is a technology that uses algorithms to learn from and make predictions on data. It reads, comprehends and draws conclusions based on context to mimic human thinking and build expertise over time.  

An AI that can learn from the experts who are currently performing all of the many tasks involved in the mortgage process can offload much of the manual effort to technology. The mortgage professionals doing that manual work today can then shift into a different role, one more suited to the knowledge worker-based economy of the 21st century. They become teachers and guides of the AI, and make the decisions only humans can make. 

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Q: That raises an interesting question. There is a lot of uncertainty associated with AI. Many feel that individual’s jobs may be at risk if AI takes over much of the manual processing associated with the mortgage industry. What would you say to these people?

SOOFI SAFAVI: My answer would be twofold. First, I’d say look to history. Repeatedly in our industry – and others – the introduction of new technology has spurred fears of machines replacing people. When automated underwriting systems first came on the scene, many underwriters feared for their jobs. In fact, what they did was reduce friction in the mortgage process, allowing for what had been an entirely manual process to become more streamlined. The end result was increased efficiency and throughput, calling for far moremortgage professionals, not less.

While AI is light years ahead of automated underwriting, I expect the same will be true today. In the current environment, there is a significant amount of rigidness in mortgage origination, and people tend to go through this process a handful of times in their life. The potential for reducing friction in the mortgage process has increased exponentially with the advent of AI. What has for many years been a long, exhaustive and laborious process – on the part of the homebuyer as well as those of us in the industry – will see reduced friction via the automation afforded by AI. 

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An AI that has been taught to perform traditionally repetitive functions can do so more quickly and accurately than traditional methods. For example, verifying income, assets and insurance coverage; all traditionally manual activities that take hours to complete and are prone to error. Putting AI to work on these stare-and-compare tasks frees up highly-skilled mortgage professionals to focus on creating value, enhancing the customer experience and expanding production rather than simply executing repetitive functions.

Reduced friction equates to increased opportunity, for borrowers and mortgage professionals alike. If you remove that friction, and the underlying operational inefficiencies behind them, the home buying process will become much more fluid. A smoother, simpler process augmented by technology becomes one that can occur with more frequency throughout an individual’s life. And that opens the door to more innovation around products – loan products, technology products, credit products, and more – to support that increased frequency.

I would imagine that, much like was experienced with automated underwriting, a frictionless process will result in more loans being made, and more jobs for skilled professionals using AI-empowered tools. Not only that, but it will result in more jobs across the housing spectrum. All in all, we’re going to be looking at a much more interactive, more fruitful marketplace.

Q: The promise of AI in the mortgage industry seems incredible, but realistically, what sort of resources are required for an implementation of that level? 

SOOFI SAFAVI: The benefits of AI are not dictated by the size of an organization. In fact, mortgage industry players of all sizes can benefit from AI today. Black Knight’s own AI virtual assistant – AIVA – can be brought into an organization in much the same way as any other resource. An originator, or servicing shop, can “hire” AIVA to assist with specific functions or tasks. 

Much like any other employee, AIVA arrives for work with a certain skill set – it’s why she was hired in the first place. Of course, there is also an onboarding period where AIVA learns what is expected of her in this specific role, and is taught the specific process intricacies of a given organization, but after that, she is then deployed in the same way as any of the organizations other employees. And the skills she develops in the process become part of her knowledge base moving forward. 

Of course, at the enterprise level, when an organization’s operations reach across multiple verticals within the mortgage arena, the potential benefits increase exponentially. Rich, deep data is the fuel on which an AI runs, and the more data is available to AIVA, the more implementations become feasible.

But it’s important to stress that AIVA is not something that is only available to the largest lenders or servicers, but it is a resource that can be made available to organizations of all sizes. AIVA is as applicable in origination as she is in servicing, or in other facets of the industry.

Q: So an AIVA in every shop?

SOOFI SAFAVI: Let’s back up a bit, because I think this will be helpful in painting the entire picture. At the point of origination, a great deal of information is gathered on a prospective customer. That information, or some subset of it, is of use throughout the loan lifecycle – from application, through origination, settlement, closing, servicing, and if need be, modification or default management. All of these different players are gathering and processing information, and there is a great deal of overlap.

Each player in the mortgage process needs to receive a full file, and extract their own role-specific data from that document and then push it through their core system, to effectively complete their piece of the mortgage process. When you stop to think about it, for many of the players involved, roughly 60 percent of the information they need, or the calculations they make, mimic – or at least closely align with – activity the originator has already completed. 

Not only can an AI do that analysis and ascertain the 60 percent of information and analysis that has already been done, but it can go further. Rather than starting fresh each time, with the time and cost associated with these activities, those conclusions are presented by the AI, because it’s looking at the entire process holistically. Which adds to the unseen value. 

This points to the larger benefits of AI, its ability to learn. The more information an AI has at its disposal, and the more skills it is taught, the more places in the process it can add significant value. That same 60 percent share of information – perhaps more – that carries over from origination to, say, a title provider, also has value across the entirety of the loan lifecycle, to multiple players involved in the process.  

Not only can AI cut significant amounts of time from the process, it can also make data-based decision-making much more easily accessible for the all of the constituents involved. And that improves the process all across the board.

Q: Any final thoughts on AI in the mortgage industry, particularly for originators?

SOOFI SAFAVI: Black Knight’s first goal for AIVA is to drive down the cost to originate a loan by maximizing efficiencies and eliminating inefficiencies through the introduction of cognitive automation.

Whereas today’s workflow orchestration engines do a fantastic job of increasing efficiencies by alerting users to tasks that must be completed – a bank statement or paystub has arrived and is ready for review – AI can proactively evaluatethat document based upon its understanding of the mortgage lexicon. It leverages that expertise – which is continually expanding via machine learning – and a deeper understanding of associated data/behavior to see if there are any red flags or missing elements and inject a sense of urgency in getting those things addressed. 

Orchestration engines exist to help humans work more efficiently. The intent of AI, and particularly AIVA, is to help them to work less on mundane tasks so their capacity grows.  In short, work less, work better, by delegating some of the work to your virtual assistant. Then, the mortgage professional and his or her expertise shifts to verifying what the assistant has produced, providing the all-important human level of interaction our industry depends on.

Other goals focus on improving servicing functions and creating actionable intelligence, for improved efficiency across a company.

Ultimately, the name of the game is applied AI, not simply AI for AI’s sake. With applied AI, our goal is to bring cognitive automation to where the bulk of work and activity is happening. Our industry has come to accept a 45-day average mortgage cycle time, an $8500-$9500 average cost per loan, and the need for some 15-20 people having to touch a loan to get it through closing and beyond. What we’re trying to do is shake that acceptance and teach AIVA to automate the bulk of that work is being done. Again, rather than simply using AI for AI’s sake, we’re trying to introduce cognitive automation where it will have the biggest possible impact in terms of reducing cycle times and costs. And thatwill transform the mortgage industry.


Soofi Safavi thinks:

1: The industry will face a human resources challenge, as it will become increasingly difficult to entice the digital native college graduate who leaves her smart home to commute to work in her self-driving car into processing underwriting documents all day long. 

2: Technological innovation – and perhaps more importantly – adoption will continue to accelerate; expect more cutting-edge innovations. 

3: Along the same lines – much of the technological innovation in the mortgage industry has been on low-hanging fruit (point of sales systems, etc.); we will see innovators begin to tackle the more complicated parts of the process.


Previously CEO of HeavyWater Inc., the mortgage-focused Artificial Intelligence (AI) provider recently acquired by Black Knight, Inc, Soofi Safavi now serves as Managing Director of Black Knight’s Applied AI group, bringing leading-edge AI and computing capabilities to the Black Knight product portfolio. With over 20 years of experience in mortgage and banking technology, and deep expertise in IT strategy, architecture and machine learning, Soofi is uniquely suited to discuss AI’s role in the mortgage industry.