Embracing Fintech and Finding the Positive

A talk with outgoing California MBA Chair Susanne Livingston about educating the next generation of mortgage professionals, the impact of technology, and the importance of industry cooperation.

Mortgage Media’s Eric Souza caught up with Susanne Livingston at the California MBAs Western Secondary Market Conference earlier this month in San Francisco, CA to talk about the Innovators Conference for California MBA next month, how the industry has evolved in the last 25 years,  the impact of technology and innovation, and using positivity to grow a successful mortgage business.

Livingston, who in 1994 founded RWM Home Loans, a residential wholesale mortgage in San Diego along with her husband Brad, is the outgoing Chair of the California MBA and will assume the position of secretary for the association next year. 

She’s looking forward to her new role and the group’s inaugural Innovators Conference for California MBAs next month in her hometown of San Diego. 

“I’m going to bring as many of my employees as I can to the event.” she said. “We have some really excellent speakers and lender’s attending that conference.”

The Innovators conference is aimed at helping small and medium-sized companies get a broad picture of what technology, processes and products are available and can be leveraged in the mortgage space.

Livingston views technology adoption as critical and said fintech is affecting the way all traditional retail lenders do business. 

“I think that fintech is very important because the bottom line is it’s making it easier for our consumers to do business, and this is all we’re going to need in the future to complete a transaction.” Livingston said. 

She likened the technology shift for lenders to what’s happened in the auto industry, where consumers can get an approved auto loan, buy a car online, and have it delivered to their home.

“That’s the kind of service I think that our borrowers ultimately are looking for, something easier, something streamlined,” she said.

And while fintech can make things easier, the process of implementation and adopting can be a little overwhelming, according to Livingston.

“Unfortunately, when you purchase an LOS and integrate into your system, it doesn’t come with everything you need to be fintech savvy,” Livingston said. “We have a point of sales tools. We have loan comparison software tools. We have all kinds of exterior software to bring it together to have that end result. And we use Ellie Mae, so everything has to integrate through Ellie Mae. It’s quite a chore, but it’s going to change. I do believe that we need to be prepared to do everything online, and quicker.”

Still, Livingston knows that a human touch will always be needed. 

“We’ve talked about you can go through the process, you can fill out a loan application online, you can upload documents, but at the end of the day you still want to have that human connection.” she said. 

She noted that 75% of borrowers are actually putting their applications in online. And  70% are willing to upload the necessary documentation to get pre-screened and be qualified in a timely manner.

“But then you ultimately need someone to call them. They can’t choose a product and know everything that we know without your guidance. That’s our job. We’re supposed to educate our customers and guide them through the process so they know what’s coming next.”

Keeping up with technology changes and developing close relationships with others in the industry has helped RWM start as a broker with $1,000 in its checking account in 1994 and grow to a medium-size independent mortgage bank that’s licensed in 15 states across the country.

“Our company would not be as strong…Even people who you would perceive as our competition, they’re friends, they’re colleagues that I can count on and they’ve really helped us being good mentors along with us over the years, over the last 25 years, to continue to grow, withstand the changes and just have a network of people that are there for you.”

And RWM has also been  recognized as one of the top places to work in San Diego. Livingston attributes that to having a positive workplace. 

“We try and keep in contact with our employees in terms of giving, empowering them to help us make the best business efficiencies in our process as possible,” she said. “So, rather than leading from the top and telling people how they should do it, we really look to them and ask them, “How can we make this a better funding department? How can we make this a better processing department?” And, from that collaborative effort and working through the difficult times to come up with better solutions, I think that’s made us a strong team, as well. it’s just keeping communications open, I think, and staying very positive and empowering people to be a part of that process is very important.”

Livingston also thinks it’s important to emphasize workplace diversity and works hard to help educate the next generation of industry professionals.

“I encourage young people, no matter what their background is, to learn more about our industry. And I certainly try in San Diego to mentor a lot of people and expose them to the great things.” she said.

Looking forward, Livingston said RWM will continue it’s M&A strategy and is poised for a good second half of 2019. She noted that RWM has been very successful at attracting like-minded mortgage bankers that have gone through either the crisis of 2008 or unexpected loan buyback that they weren’t prepared for. The company has also acquired other mortgage bankers that lack a complete tech stack. 

“We’re able to align ourselves with other mortgage bankers who need that depth of platform, who understand the business, and we have all the processes so they can just come in, in our fold, and have more efficiencies and just originate,” Livinston said. “So, they don’t have to manage anymore. We take over that part of it for them. Our processes that we’ve aligned and defined over time, which we continually try to improve, are pretty solid. If they can come into the fold, feel comfortable, fund more loans and have fun with us, it’s all good.”

And the second half of 2019 looks positive for RWM. 

“In the first quarter everybody was really sweating bullets a little bit.” she said. “It was very difficult, and now everybody, our funding volumes have doubled. So, I think everybody is trying to just deal with the volume. Our employees are working overtime. It’s a good thing for them. We’re going to look forward to a strong closing in December.”