A rural mortgage company from South Dakota has simplified the home-buying process for borrowers as it transformed itself into a player on the national stage. All the while, the firm has retained the personal approach to home financing it has offered from the very beginning.
Affiliated Mortgage of Rapid City is using automation and digital technology to simplify the home-buying process, said Jason Blair, founder and CEO of Blair Allen Corp., a digital marketing automation company that handles marketing and software for Affiliated Mortgage. At the same time, Affiliated expanded its services across the country by becoming a partner with Epoch Lending of Philadelphia, which affords Affiliated Mortgage the opportunity to do business nationally.
Affiliated offers a variety of home mortgages including jumbo mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages, conventional mortgages, FHA home loans, VA mortgages and USDAs. Services are also available for refinancing homes or purchasing rental property.
The company, which has processed billions of dollars in loans to thousands of clients through the 18 years it’s been in business, is “disrupting” the way business is done in the mortgage industry, Blair said.
He continues that what he thinks is very interesting about the vision of Affiliated Mortgage is that they’ve taken on some of the biggest challenges around the lending process itself, like acquiring customers, communicating with them and taking them through the mortgage process.
Embracing what’s called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” also known as the digital revolution, that has transformed many facets of business, Affiliated branch manager Troy Trombetta embarked on a mission to simplify the mortgage process through the use of automation and digital technology.
Blair called Trombetta an “innovative mortgage lender who realizes the industry is challenged and also recognized the digital revolution is changing the way customers interact. He wanted to go out and do something about it.”
Trombetta uses cutting-edge technology in a variety of ways. For example, he uses an automated customer relations management system that ensures all customers get a response within three minutes of entering a request form.
And he uses technology to gain new customers.
“Acquiring customers is very hard,” Blair said. “Troy has built a lot of syndication tools to distribute blog content into various social platforms and direct people back onto his website.”
Technology also enables borrowers to get the right loan program at the right time, he added.
Troy was asked what’s next for Affiliated Mortgage? “It’s always been about improving the way we can help customers refinance their existing home or purchase their new dream home. Technology has given us a broader reach and helped us to make the customer journey more pleasant said Trombetta. Now we get to do it in a better more expansive way.”
“Cheaper, quicker, more efficient”
Affiliated Mortgage realized before the Fourth Industrial Revolution that the industry is very complex. “It’s tedious, it’s expensive, it’s never been customer efficient,” Blair said.
Anyone who has ever purchased a house knows that’s true.
The whole process is complex, with many different types of loan programs and ever-changing regulations ,” Blair said. “Lots of things have to go into a mortgage — appraisals and inspections, title searches, taxes, the underwriting process. It’s overwhelming, which makes it super important that you hire a seasoned expert.
Mortgages also have a lot of working parts — interest rates, down payments, origination fees, points and more. “The goal is to take this overwhelming process and make it simple,” Blair said.
And they did. They made the process “cheaper, quicker and more efficient,” he adds. “Affiliated Mortgage makes sure that its customers understand everything about their mortgage process.”
In simplifying the mortgage process, the company more than doubled the dollar amount of loans it does in two short years.
But Trombetta’s goal in maximizing the company’s use of technology wasn’t to get more revenue or more business, Blair said.
“His goal was to invent, create and deliver technology to enable customers to get through the mortgage process more quickly and more cheaply,” he said.
The broker path
In addition to using technology enhancements, Affiliated Mortgage pulled away from being a direct lender and is going down the path of being a mortgage broker, Blair said.
A big advantage a mortgage broker has over a bank or a direct lender is the direct lender has only one rate for the underwriting process, and they really can’t compete with private investors, he said.
However, most mortgage brokers work with a variety of lenders, including banks, credit unions and private mortgage companies, allowing them to offer the buyer a wider range of choices.
With a direct lender, the purchaser gets the rate offered to them. But in its expanded business as a mortgage broker, Affiliated Mortgage can “put the mortgage out there like an auction for investors to bid on it and compete for it,” he added.
“The value of being a broker organization is you establish relationships with both private investors and lending institutions around the United States,” Blair said. “That gives you the leverage to let them compete to give the consumer the best price.”
It’s always about little to no fees, better rates and the best prices, he said. “And now a local organization is all of a sudden national, and they have the ability to compete and outdo their competitors,” he said.
Affiliated Mortgage is no longer just serving the Black Hills area, but also Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and Colorado, as well as other states. They now have a portfolio of investors. Instead of being licensed in six or seven states, they can do business nationally and get better rates.
“By doing business in many states, it’s no longer about ‘you go to your local institution, and they tell you what you’re getting,’” Blair said. “When you have the ability to have multiple investors competing for your business and you can do business in many states, you’re going to get the best price.”
And by adding more potential lenders to the mix, the company can focus on its motto: “All roads lead to a closing,” Blair said.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution has given the buyer more choices,” he said. “There are no longer barriers and borders to prohibit you from having an opportunity to do business with anyone you want, to get what you want.” That translates into the best rates and terms possible for the buyer, he added.
Personalized customer service
Growth gives mortgage brokers more access to money to lend, but that also means, like other large institutional organizations, they have the tendency to sacrifice customer service, Blair said.
"You’re no longer a boutique firm,” he added. “But Affiliated Mortgage prides itself on delivering the same white glove service it has always given while now being a nationally competitive lender.”
Dealing with a broker means customers have more access to the system, Blair said.
They’re not bankers, he said. “The difference between a mortgage banker and a mortgage broker is a banker works 8 to 5 or 9 to 5. A mortgage broker is basically working 24/7/365. That’s how they provide that personalized boutique service.”
But with the growth that came with streamlining the procedure, Affiliated Mortgage does not want to dilute their service in the process, Blair said.
“National lenders are competitive, which is why people go to them. But the problem is if I go to a large national mortgage lender, I start off talking to somebody, then I talk to somebody else and I talk to somebody else and then I talk to somebody else. By the time I actually close on my loan, I’ve talked to five different people. I never finish with the same person that I start with.
“You have a warehouse of people who start the process and then hand it off to somebody else and then hand off to somebody else (again), so you’re in an assembly line. That doesn’t happen at Affiliated Mortgage,” Blair said. They want to create personalized customer service that can compete on the national stage.
With Epoch Lending, Affiliated Mortgage is ultimately going to provide a better customer experience and a better end result for the customer regardless of whether they are in Illinois, Florida, South Dakota, Arizona or Colorado, he said.
Evan Wade, president of Epoch Lending was asked, ‘Why did you partner with Affiliated Mortgage when there are so many mortgage companies out there?' He stated, “It was a simple decision when we met Troy and his team and saw how he was transforming the mortgage industry one customer at a time. We had to be part of this story," said Wade. "We have great plans to hire more branch managers and experts across the United States who want to adopt our innovative technologies. After all, our mission is to hire the best mortgage professionals and continue to build technologies that improve the way customer’s receive a mortgage.”
Leads and loans
Unlike some other sectors, the mortgage industry has never talked about improving the customer experience, Blair said.
“The mortgage industry hasn’t really thought about that. It’s been about loans and leads, leads and loans — get more leads so you can do more loans.”
Affiliated Mortgage is unique in focusing on improving the process for the customer, Blair said.