Georg Gerstenfeld: Making the Mortgage Process More Agreeable

Tom Wilkins of Mortgage Media recently sat down with Georg Gerstenfeld of DocuSign to discuss streamlining mortgage transactions, making it easier for all parties to work in “agreement”, weathering a possible market downturn, and much more.

Tom Wilkins: This is Tom Wilkins of Mortgage Media, and I’m here in Austin, Texas at the MBA Annual Convention. I’m sitting with Georg Gerstenfeld, VP and General Manager of Global Real Estate and Digital Closing Solutions for DocuSign.

In his five years at DocuSign, Georg has led his business unit on a mission to empower the industry and their consumers to simplify complex workflows, improve compliance while reducing costs, and enhancing collaboration. Georg is a Silicon Valley veteran, having run sales and marketing for many startups including Trulia. Georg, great to see you and welcome. As always, good to catch up with you.

Georg Gerstenfeld: Thank you. Nice to see you, Tom.

Wilkins: Tell me why attend this conference? What do you hope to get out of it in networking, meeting with people, attending some of the sessions that you can take back to your team?

Gerstenfeld: We look at the MBA Annual as the top tier event in the industry. It brings everybody together from lenders and settlement; and technology companies are here. It’s the ability for us, from a business development and sales perspective, to talk to customers and existing partners. I learn a lot from them.

The ability for our product team, we have quite a few people from our product organization here attending some of the sessions, to really learn what some of the trends and impacts are that are affecting the industry – whether it’s both compliance and financial and regulatory things, or if there are new innovations and technologies that companies are looking for.

Wilkins: This really is the mother of all conferences. I know there are over 4,000 people here. The MBA does a great job in having all of these other subject matter conferences around the country throughout the calendar year. But you’re right, this is really one of the ones that you really need to be at.

Gerstenfeld: It’s a fun place to be able to have higher-level conversations about what’s happening in this industry and how we can work together to further the borrower experience. And make the lenders and settlement agents’ work a little easier for them along the way.

Wilkins: Well, and our industry is tight, but it’s spread out. You can’t help but walk around these halls, and as soon as you turn a corner, you see two or three people that you know. I hate to use the word “incestuous,” but it kind of is that way; you know people from previous incarnations and things like that.

Gerstenfeld: Yeah. Well, every industry has, it’s a small world at some point. Every industry, right. You get to know the who’s who quite quickly.

Wilkins: Yeah. One of the interviewees I had yesterday said to me, I think it was Joe Tyrrell from Ellie Mae. He said, “Yeah, you know what? But I can’t help but think that because I know all these people and everything, it means I’m really getting old, having had all these relationships!”

Gerstenfeld: Yeah.

Wilkins: How would you view current industry trends and what DocuSign’s “mortgage solution rooms” for mortgage can do for companies in the industry?

Gerstenfeld: There’s a lot of technologies that are trying to come in and solve what has been an age-old question of how to digitize the mortgage transaction and how to streamline it.

I think we’ve had regulatory situations along the way with the CFPB and TRID, and that sort of thing, that have come in and complicated things further since 2008. There are a lot of technology companies trying to come in and simplify that.

In some ways that glut of technology companies is actually making it a little bit harder for lenders to know who to work with and who to partner with. Our Rooms for Mortgage product is a relatively new product for mortgage for DocuSign. It’s built off of something that we’ve been doing in real estate for the last five years and has had a lot of success in the real estate industry of simplifying and streamlining the real estate transaction.

We’d like to do that for mortgage. And what the differentiator for us in this Room is it’s a collaboration space that brings all the parties of the transaction together, that creates one borrower experience. The big differentiator in there is our philosophy around integrating with other technologies.

We integrate with loan origination systems and DocGen providers and notes and vaults on the back end, so that if a lender or settlement company is using a particular piece of software, they don’t have to change and adapt that software. They can plug us in to integrate into that to streamline the workflow.

Wilkins: I’d forgotten until I read the title earlier in the introduction that that your charge involves real estate and mortgage.

Gerstenfeld: Right.

Wilkins: So, you have a very broad spectrum as your responsibility.

Gerstenfeld: Right.

Wilkins: There’s a lot of overlap, of course.

Gerstenfeld: Yes. Every real estate transaction isn’t done until a loan is completed and a deed is recorded. Every mortgage experience starts with some real estate transaction at some point. They’re interconnected, for sure.

Wilkins: How does DocuSign’s Rooms for Mortgage fit into your larger strategy? Since launching that, has it caused you to change any kind of strategic goals, or just made things easier and clearer? Because you must have some kind of an educational process with your prospects and client base when you launch something like that.

Gerstenfeld: We think of ourselves, it’s a little tongue in cheek, but we like to joke that we want to make the world more agreeable. We look at all the agreements that are out there and all the processes that are involved in getting to an agreement.

Our goal is to actually just become and streamline the agreement process, regardless of whether that’s an offer letter for an HR use case, or whether that’s a mortgage agreement. Every one of those agreements has four stages. You’ve got a lot of preparation in mortgage in particular, right? You’ve got point of sale or loan origination to get borrower information in the documents that need to be signed and notarized. There’s actions that come out of that.

Maybe there’s a rate change. That triggers an opportunity for a refi or there’s a secondary market for that loan product. Then you need to manage that. The DocuSign strategy is about helping companies come to an agreement more quickly and easily, and helping them in those four stages: prepare, sign, act,and manage. Mortgage fits directly into that. It’s sort of the poster child for a lot of complicated agreements that touch all four of those process elements.

Wilkins: Well, making the world more agreeable is certainly a lofty goal. Maybe somehow incorporate that into the 2020 election next year.

Gerstenfeld: Yeah, that’s right, start with our country. That’s why we say “tongue in cheek” because it can lead us down some paths that are outside of the scope of what technology can solve.

Wilkins: Can’t hurt to try. So, one of the questions that I’ve been asking everyone is what is your best tip that you would give as advice to someone in the industry to help them navigate through a potential downturn?

Many people, including some of the folks I interviewed yesterday said, “Well, gosh, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.'” I don’t know if that means that they’re thinking it’s going to be as severe as the 2008 downturn, but it feels like something may be on the horizon.

Gerstenfeld: I saw a great interview with Bill Gates recently where he talked about how he’s only got a certain type of intelligence, that he’s only good at certain things. I won’t pretend to give people advice on every aspect of their business because I’m not nearly as smart on certain parts of what a lender goes through.

But on the technology front, I think a couple of things that I would advise is the more that you can digitize your processes, and the more that you can apply technology to enhance compliance and speed things and help track and manage a transaction, that is a place that is a valuable investment that will help you quite a bit.

It can be daunting where to start on technology.  I always give people advice to start small and look for a quick win, but have an end vision in mind. Know where you want to be down the road and what you’d like to do for your full roadmap. But just pick a thing, and do that one thing well first, then move on to the next and the next, in sequencing your technology implementation.

Wilkins: It’s all about data. One of the other issues that came up many times in my conversations with people is data privacy and security. Obviously, it’s huge.

I know that Bob Broeksmit said something in his address yesterday at the opening general session about ransomware. Tell me about DocuSign’s policy. What are you doing to ensure, as best you can, data privacy and security for your customers?

Gerstenfeld: We think of ourselves, to a large degree, as a security company first, because we handle so much sensitive information and data.

We have something called the DocuSign Trust Center. In that DocuSign Trust Center, we outline all of our uptime and how are our data centers are performing for reliability, as well as all the security protocols that we go through, the different ISO certifications that we have,  trust stamp certification and that sort of thing.

We just hired a new Chief Information Security Officer from VISA. It’s something that we’ve taken very, very seriously from day one – the way that we encrypt and protect customer data – and have multiple secure backups for that.

Wilkins: Being, I think, and maybe I don’t know all the players or who your competitors might be, if there are any, that DocuSign is the original e-signing digitizing process that has been developed in our industry. Is that a fair statement?

Gerstenfeld: Certainly. We’ve become a verb in the industry, to DocuSign something now. We like to think that we have established ourselves as the preeminent e-signature solution out there. That’s come with a lot of investment in security and technology. We’re not just a regular scribble scratch type of signing mechanism. There’s a lot under the hood on signing, but we’re also a multiproduct company now with our Agreement Cloud.

We have the Rooms for Mortgage product. We’ve got a contract life cycle management product. So, we’re really expanding the portfolio of products. It all goes back to helping companies come to an agreement.

Wilkins: My wife’s a real estate agent in Palo Alto. When I’ve shown her the Roundtable book and things like that and she said, “Oh, DocuSign. Boy, I couldn’t live without DocuSign. I use it 20 times a day.” So, to your point, it really has become a verb and a household word in terms of that industry.

Well Georg, the last question I ask most of the interviewees is tell us a little bit about yourself on a personal side. Do you have hobbies? Do you have any sports you like to do, family things? What do you do in your spare time, if you have any?

Gerstenfeld: My wife and I have a pretty regular ritual every weekend of going hiking. We live up in Napa Valley, so we have a lot of great trails right near our house. So, that’s an every weekend thing. We’d like to travel the world too. We met when we were traveling, so we share that passion. Mostly to Europe, but around the country and Canada. Get out there and see the world. Most of those trips have some hiking or kayaking adventure tied to them as well. We’re past the beach stage of our lives and into trying to experience the great outdoors a little bit more.

Content has been edited for length and grammar.