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The Art of the Possible in Mortgage and Tech

When asked what an average day is like for her, Tracy Stephan, Director of Enterprise Innovation for Fannie Mae, laughs and replies, “I think we don't have any average days in Innovation.” As head of Fannie’s Enterprise Innovation Team, Stephan says her focus is to “bring external insights and research into the company and share it broadly with employees.” Her position requires her to stay on top of the trends, to listen to Fannie’s business partners and understand the “pain points” they’re encountering in their own day-to-day operations.

In her role as Director of Technology—Enterprise Innovation, Stephan helps Fannie create pilot programs designed to address these “pain points” and test out solutions, or experiment with other new technologies or systems, usually during a window of around three months’ time. “If it's something that meets our requirements and we feel is worthy of being rolled out or scaled,” says Stephan, “then we would follow tradition IT methods to transition and roll out to production.”

Stephan spoke to DS News last week at the Next mortgage technology conference in Dallas, Texas. She was one of several noteworthy guests from across the mortgage, housing, and fintech industries. On Thursday, she spoke before the conference on emerging fintech trends and their impact on mortgage lending.

So, how do Fannie’s pilot programs work? Stephan explains that the programs usually begin with a problem one of Fannie’s customers is seeing, and trying out a potential solution or new system that could help solve it, prioritizing test programs that could help build the customer’s return on investment or shorten the lifecycle from application to close. “We do not just say, ‘Shiny new object, let's go run with that,’” says Stephan. “So we really try to maximize the value for the start-up, as well as the Fannie Mae team to make sure that we are actually doing something of value which could have the potential to scale and lead to lasting impact.”

When asked what technology trends she was seeing that had the potential to have a real impact on the mortgage and housing landscape, Stephan pinpointed one commonality: a focus on improving the customer experience. “Our customers are our lenders, our servicers, and our investors,” said Stephan. “What it means for Fannie Mae is that we need to invest in our Application Program Interfaces that make it easier for [our customers] to interact with Fannie Mae. How can we reduce that burden with technology?”

Stephan added that “You can’t talk emerging tech without talking about blockchain.” Stephan said that Fannie has been examining blockchain’s potential a lot in recent months, but added that she believes the technology’s real transformative potential is still a little bit down the road at this point. “The first rule of blockchain, in my mind, is if you don't need to use blockchain, don't use blockchain.” Stephan says she believes the industry is at a point where it’s time to discuss about how blockchain can best be used in the mortgage industry, but those questions have to be answered before the technology can really begin to reach its full potential within the industry.

“It's coming down off its peak of the hype cycle,” Stephan continued. “I think people have to sit back and say, ‘What is the pragmatic ability for us to actually implement that technology?’ I think it's just managing people's expectations. … In my job, I have to be able to get excited about the art of the possible.”

One of the projects Stephan was keen to highlight is the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge. The Challenge is a two-year, $10 million investment into exploring new ideas about how to advance sustainable communities—as Fannie’s official site for the Challenge describes them, “those providing residents opportunities for employment, health and wellness, and education.”

The first phase of the initiative launched in December 2017 and runs through February 23, 2018. To learn more about Fannie’s Innovation Challenge, click here.

When asked what one thing she wishes more people understood about her job, or about Fannie in general, Stephan keeps it simple. “We are here to improve home ownership and get more people into homes.” Stephan says Fannie is passionate about expanding the supply of affordable housing however they can, “whether it's through technology or investment or just being a partner at the table to move ideas forward, we want to be there.”

To stay on top of all the cutting-edge discussion and developments in the realms of fintech, be sure to register for the first inaugural Five Star Fintech Summit, set to be held March 21-22 at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. To learn more and see the lineup of panels and guests, click here.

About Author: David Wharton

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