For many in the mortgage industry, 2019 has been a year of anxious anticipation.
It was supposed to be the year in which lenders would adopt and roll out an updated Uniform Residential Loan Application form — the first comprehensive update to the most important document in mortgage lending in more than two decades. Instead, 2019 has brought numerous delays and revisions to the form and its rollout process. In fact, mandatory adoption of the new URLA form has moved from February 2020 to November 1, 2020.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored enterprises overseeing these revisions. And while they've laid out the numerous benefits of the new URLA — more relevant information, better design and user experience, more consistent data, and so on — they've also warned lenders that the change could be disruptive. This uncertainty is reflective of the broader instability in the mortgage industry that the new form was meant to address: In an industry trying to keep pace with escalating consumer demand for faster, cleaner, and more digital processes and products, change has been quite challenging for lenders and vendors alike.
For those lenders who have yet to go digital, adopting the new URLA should be a part of the digital transformation journey. Adopting the new form seamlessly will be much easier if they can start building a truly end-to-end digital mortgage experience.
The drive for digital
At this point, it's no secret to anyone in the mortgage industry that homebuyers want a digital mortgage experience. According to a survey from Fannie Mae, two-thirds of all mortgage buyers are interested in a fully digital mortgage process, and many lenders have rushed to provide a digital consumer experience in recent years. Unfortunately, adopting that technology on the consumer end hasn't always translated to more efficiency for lenders.
Adopting new technology has driven up industry costs, and creating updated documentation and data standards — as the new URLA add to — often makes adopting that technology more cost-efficient. However, this is somewhat of a Catch-22: The new URLA should make digitalization easier, but digitalized processes will make adopting the new URLA more seamless.
Digitalization with the URLA in mind
Ultimately, both changes have a similar aim: Make relevant information clearer and more accessible for all in the manufacturing process. And while the timeline for industry-wide URLA adoption is still in flux, digitalization's benefits can be realized immediately.
Every mortgage lender should strive to get as close to an end-to-end digital solution as possible. This ensures that the information necessary for a new URLA rollout will be accessible. Starting with these three focus areas can help:
1. Identify any important data that isn't digitalized.
GSEs have already updated their automated underwriting specifications to accommodate the redesigned URLA, and all lenders should as well.
Is there any data you have on hand that's needed for the URLA process and isn't currently digitalized? If so, work toward integrating it. Starting here will ensure you have all the key components to begin leveraging your data throughout the origination and lending processes.
2. Put user experience at the forefront.
As you adopt a new digital platform or optimize your current one, ensure you have clear instructions and an intuitive design. Improving user experience is a key objective for the new URLA, and it should be central to all digitalization efforts as well.
3. Stay up to date.
GSEs published new and updated AUS data specifications and form designs in the first week of November — and similar news surrounding the URLA is likely to keep coming. With all of this change, make sure your digitalization plans reflect the freshest, most relevant information.
The mortgage industry is certainly undergoing change on multiple fronts. With the right strategy and vision, however, lenders can make those changes a significant advantage rather than a burden. This will simply require a healthy dose of agility and long-term thinking.