Mortgage lenders are increasingly deploying electronic technology to empower consumers to shop for and compare mortgage loans and obtain loan preapprovals — but are these companies using the technology to its fullest potential?
Susan McHan, a 30-year mortgage industry veteran who has had a front-row seat for several reincarnations of the real estate buying and selling experience — and whose latest project, Opes Advisors, offers some extras for both agents and clients — doesn’t think so.
‘Lead generators for mortgage companies’
“I believe all mortgage providers will have to go into a digital direction in order to stay in the mortgage game,” McHan said.
“But a lot of the apps we’re seeing in the marketplace right now are focused on helping consumers figure out how to qualify for a mortgage and process their mortgage application. Many, in fact, are just lead generators for mortgage companies.”
While serving as the regional president and director of wealth management for First Horizon Bank Corp.’s California region in the early 2000s, “we had the largest mortgage market there had ever been,” McHan recalled.
“But that’s because crazy, stupid mortgages were being done,” she said. “Not many people could have predicted the financial debacle in 2008, but I knew at the time that we were headed for something horrible because you don’t do this or grow from that size of a market without consequences. I thought, ‘I can’t lead my people in doing something I can’t believe in.’”
Mortgage + technology + advice
McHan also took notice of the toll the financial crisis and recession took on consumers’ financial stability.
“So many people were losing their homes, their jobs and their pensions,” she said.
That’s why in 2004, McHan partnered with Jonathan Lee, an entrepreneur, technology and financial service firm executive and pioneer in cloud computing, to found Opes Advisors, a mortgage lender and wealth and asset management firm whose slogan is “mortgage + technology + advice.”
“We didn’t think the world at the time needed another mortgage company. We thought if we could offer people financial advice when people are buying homes, that would be great. We thought if you could blend these two things together, it would have a bigger impact on consumers’ lives,” McHan said.
Opes — taking its moniker from the Latin term for “wealth” — helps consumers find the right mortgage products for home purchases, refinancing, reverse mortgages and home improvement projects, with an added feature that McHan says sets the company apart from the Rocket Mortgages of the world: Opes Advantage, a proprietary technology that gives consumers a glimpse of how their loan and real estate asset will impact their financial situation, even decades into the future.
“We call it ‘twice the advice,’” McHan said. “We offer normal mortgage services, but then we show you how your home purchase will affect your financial future.
“Our technology has a lot of bells and whistles, because it can contemplate inflation, interest rate changes or investments if they improve or don’t do as well. We can show you what could happen in a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios, like if your husband stops working or you have children and you help pay for their college education.
“We don’t believe anyone else is offering this kind of service at the point of sale, and this is where we think we have a distinct advantage in the marketplace.”
Like its competitors, Opes has introduced a mobile companion to its technology. OpesView helps consumers see what kind of home they can afford. The app also offers a “quick call” feature that displays real estate agents’ names and photos, and connects the agents to potential buyers with the push of a button. The free smartphone app is available for Apple and Android users.
“It’s a great service for agents because they may have sellers who want to list their homes — but maybe they have financial concerns, like whether they will have to pay capital gains taxes, or there is an inventory problem in their area and they don’t know how to financially untangle the gains in their homes and are living cash poor,” McHan said. “If their clients are undecided, they can send them to us first to advise their financial decisions.”
Cupertino, Calif.-based Opes currently serves customers in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Beyond a planned expansion into Arizona, Opes is not considering adding any other states “because we think there is plenty of growth where we are today,” McHan said.
“We’re a West Coast-based firm, and we’ll probably stay that way,” she said. “We think there is plenty of growth where we are today. We’re a boutique type of company, and we want to make our mark in an area that is not well known, and that is a big undertaking.”