HomeownerConnect: The High-Tech & High-Touch Consumer-Direct Portal
By Camillo Melchiorre
January 14, 2019
Camillo Melchiorre is President & director of Regulatory Compliance with IndiSoft, Columbia, Md.
Since 2012, HLP (formerly known as Hope LoanPort) has maintained the nation's only neutral, non-profit consumer-direct portal (HomeownerConnect) for at-risk homeowners to engage their mortgage servicers in pursuit of a foreclosure alternative and more.
In an age where it is all about the consumer experience, servicers supporting HOC note that many distressed homeowners prefer this communication channel, and its unique support features. This was one of the catalysts for the 2017 reengineering of the site, which is powered by IndiSoft's RxOffice platform. HOC is now a better communication channel for distressed homeowners and one that incorporates rich functionality with a user-friendly experience. The result is a singularly unique national resource for homeowners that is shattering servicers' loss mitigation processing metrics while providing numerous options and support services to borrowers who may be in the most stressful circumstances of their lives.
Make Hay While the Sun Shines
In the midst of low non-performing loan frequency and severity rates, technology for investment in default servicing has been minimal. Yet, there are many in the servicing industry who see these "good times" as an opportunity to upgrade loss mitigation technology, especially that which focuses on borrower engagement in the loss mitigation process.
And while the mortgage banking industry is investing heavily in consumer self-service technology, the loss mitigation component is not a priority. So, at the behest of mortgage servicers who participate in the HLP consortium, a modernization plan for HOC was created.
Many of the HOC-participating servicers were enthusiastic about improving this national, neutral portal despite having their own proprietary consumer-direct portals. They view HOC as an industry resource with some special qualities that acts as an adjunct to their proprietary portals giving their customers more options regarding how they want to engage in loss mitigation.
The project, which began in the spring of 2017, saw phase one implemented that fall. Major components of the new features increase self-service capabilities for consumers; improve the servicer-side functionality of the portal and incorporate on-demand support services for consumers. Enhancements continue to roll-out at eight-week intervals and the success has been measurable and profound.
High-Tech Meets High-Touch
A key service that is now fully integrated into HOC is live-chat and phone counseling provided by HUD- certified nonprofit housing counselors. An article by Steve Olenski on Forbes.com, "It's Alive: Why Live Chat Is So Important For Brands" (https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2016/08/10/its-alive-why-live-chat-is-so-important-for-brands/#6dfd47553d1a) states, "The importance of live chat cannot be overstated as witnessed by the results of a study by Zendesk (https://www.zendesk.com/company/press/zendesk-benchmark-live-chat-drives-highest-customer-satisfaction/) which revealed 92 percent customers feel satisfied when they use the live chat feature, compared to other communication options like voice (88 percent), email (85 percent), web form (85 percent), and social media (Facebook 84 percent, Twitter 77 percent)." Many consumers have come to expect and actually prefer this type of real-time assistance, and now we have witnessed that the success of HOC is in a large part driven by this capability.
At-The-Ready HUD Certified Housing Counselors
During the foreclosure crisis, housing counselors played a critical role as trusted advisors to consumers and effective intermediaries for servicers in the loss mitigation process. In fact, one of the main drivers for the creation of HLP was the National Mortgage Settlement requiring the establishment of a web portal for consumers and housing counselors who worked with them.
Now, with housing counselors imbedded in the HOC platform, consumers have many options in one place to engage in the loss mitigation process. Servicers also benefit by this confluence of self-engagement and counseling assistance since the entire transaction takes place in one communication channel providing optimal efficiency and transparency.
Servicers participating in the HLP consortium agree to a standardized set of status codes which communicate the progress of a foreclosure alternative application to the consumer. They also agree to update the status codes no more than every 10 days, which provides a baseline for service levels and relieves the consumer of lengthy wait-times when simply calling for a status update.
Communicating and exchanging documents and information through a secure, neutral platform also lends itself to rapid problem resolution. If there is a dispute, the facts can easily be determined by reviewing the same information since it is in a common audit trail. It is also easy to uncover and correct systemic problems quickly if patterns of non-responsiveness exist with a servicer.
Since its inception in 2009, there have been only a handful of consumer complaints that have gone beyond the problem resolution features standardization of status codes, the servicer service-level agreement, neutral audit trail and communication controls combined.
A key performance indicator for servicers and an important benefit to consumers is the pull-through rate for loss mitigation packages. The PTR is simply the percentage of completed workout packages submitted containing the required documents and information necessary for a servicer to determine eligibility for a foreclosure alternative. Anecdotally, according to HLP the industry average PTR is at best a 25 percent submission rate for workout packages begun through all channels: mail, fax and proprietary portals. In sharp contrast, the PTR for consumers choosing to submit a package via HOC is 52.9 percent over the last six months. In addition, during the same time period, 93 percent of consumers using the HOC application rate their experience as satisfactory or good.
Another important measurement is the cycle-time between a consumer opening a case on HOC and submitting a completed, actionable data packet to the servicer. On average it took only 10.6 days for a consumer to submit a complete package to servicers using HOC. Moreover, 27 percent of consumers are able to submit a full package on the same day they open a case.
After analyzing the performance data, it is clear that an important factor is the availability of on-demand access to HUD-certified nonprofit housing counselors via live-chat and phone counseling. Getting just-in-time advice and guidance from skilled, certified consumer advocates encourages distressed homeowners to share the full details of their situation. In addition, they receive immediate and meaningful assistance in navigating the loss mitigation process.
During the past year, live-chat has been the preferred option for consumers choosing HOC (83.7 percent) with on-demand phone calls (8.6 percent) as a distant second in preferred assistance methods. The chat requests are predominantly about loss mitigation processing mechanics (73.5 percent) followed by technical questions about uploading documents (10.2 percent).
The HOC portal is a one-of-a-kind industry resource that is helpful in "good times" and essential in "bad times." HOC has also been able to adapt to "changing times" becoming a robust, consumer-centric, multi-platform (available as a mobile app) communication portal.
HOC is also used by servicers and their customers to facilitate disaster recovery supporting quick registration and notice to servicers by those affected and staging rapid processing and approval of investor-required mortgage payment relief. Servicers using this feature have reported that HLP/HOC Disaster Assistance App properly deployed and communicated to consumers in distressed areas got them in queue for assistance rapidly while relieving overwhelmed call-centers. In addition, this platform also integrates live-chat and phone counseling from HUD-certified nonprofit housing counselors.
Regulators and federal agencies such as Federal Housing Finance Agency, Federal Trade Commission, Department of the Treasury, HUD and the Veteran's Administration should require their servicers to share the availability of HOC as a legitimate communication channel. It is an option for anyone seeking a foreclosure alternative. Delinquency notices, websites and Interactive Voice Response Systems should also be set up to ensure that consumers are aware of the HOC option similar to the notification of HOPE Hotline, which has been standard verbiage on most communications and websites related to assisting distressed homeowners. The same applies to state consumer agencies and Attorneys General who have marketing campaigns to warn consumers about modification scams. Unfortunately, despite these efforts post-scam enforcement actions are the only real weapon consumers have. However, if consumers are aware of a neutral, national and nonprofit alternative platform with real-time assistance of HUD-certified nonprofit housing counselors, HOC may be the best inoculation against these parasites.
An Industry Solution
The mortgage banking industry, regulators, investors and the advocacy sector alike collaborated to create Hope LoanPort during the height of the mortgage foreclosure disaster. Its continued success and progression into a new era with new challenges and issues is a testament to what can be accomplished when everyone works together for a common goal.
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA Insights welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at email@example.com.)