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Quickening Mortgage Innovation in an Industry Slow to Change

Stacey Caster Quicken LoansStacey Caster is VP, Technology Communications at Quicken Loans, where she previously worked as Director of Telecommunications. Prior to joining Quicken Loans, Caster was Director of Infrastructure Operations at DTE Energy, working to oversee back-end infrastructure for over 10,000 employees serving 3.1 million customers in southeastern Michigan. DS News recently spoke to Caster about her role at Quicken, incorporating technology to streamline and improve processes, and whether blockchain is poised to come into its own.

Tell me briefly, what does a typical day look like for you as VP, Technology Communications for Quicken?

I have all the telephony and the communications. I have half of an infrastructure team and half of a software engineering team. It's an interesting mix, so a typical day can be not typical. We have major projects. It could be development projects that we're working on. We're doing a lot of research, a lot of R and D, a lot of proof in technologies. We have teams that work with the businesses to understand their business, to make sure we're bringing the right technology to them to make them better.

Is there anything you're working on, researching or developing, that you're particularly excited about right now?

We're trying to look at our whole communications platform and say, "How can we make this better?" Not only for our team members but for our clients. It's all about the client experience. It's like when you talk to your family, you're talking over text. You're not necessarily doing phone calls anymore. We want our clients to be able to communicate to us in the way that they do naturally, how they do with their friends and family. That's something that we're working on.

What are the challenges you're seeing towards realizing those goals?

I think that the shift changes quickly with clients. Think of social media, for example, people used to use Facebook all the time, and now they're using Snapchat all the time. What's coming next? By the time you catch up, they're on to the next thing.

Let's take Snapchat, for example. They only want the consumer. They don't care about businesses. They don't want to work with businesses. So, when you want to try to communicate to clients via the way that they communicate all the time, you're very limited on an option like that, and how to integrate it into your own enterprise applications and how you run your business.

Are there any particular technologies that you guys are seeing that you think is really going to have an impact on the mortgage industry, such as blockchain or cryptocurrencies?

Somebody said to me the other day, "Blockchain is a solution that's trying to find a problem." If you think about it, simple innovation is that way, right? If you think about microwave technology, that was there a long time before they thought of the microwave. Or the glue for Post-it Notes. I think blockchain is that way. Eventually, we'll find the right thing for it, but they haven't yet. I think it's a little ways off, till we find what that problem that we're trying to solve.

Machine learning is obviously a big, big piece, which is part of the whole IOT, with the internet of things. When you think about the Alexas of the world and the Google Homes of the world, that's big. It's all about automation, and how do we make things better. Again, going back to the client. What are they using? Alexas aren't that prominent, but they’re growing.

It’s become part of the cultural lexicon at this point.

Right. And when you talk about the mortgage industry in itself, if you think about when you get your mortgages—it's very traditional, and it's been the same way for many years. The way your parents got a mortgage is the same way we get a mortgage. If you think of any other industry, it's not like that. So that's where machine learning and automating is going to be a huge thing for the mortgage industry.

What do you think has made the mortgage industry resistant to evolution?

Obviously, you have regulatory. That's a big piece. It's not easy to turn that boat. But also, it's working. It's been working. If you don't have somebody saying, “Well, change it,” [it’s hard to make change happen.]

What are the challenges of working in such a heavily regulated industry?

You just do it. Now obviously, as a business, it's best if you have those relationships with Fannie and Freddie so you can have those conversations, if they're the ones helping with those regulations. Having those relationships as a business and working with them is going to be extremely important. You make it work. You do it.

Now, the way you do it, and how you do it—as long as you're following to the guidelines, that can be very different. That's where you can be successful or fail.

What are the ways that you guys are trying to simplify or streamline your own processes or make customer interactions easier?

Automate. Automate. Automate.

It all comes down to that?

It doesn't all come down to that, but that is the biggest piece, absolutely. Automate where we can. Make it as easy and natural for the client as we can. That is absolutely the biggest thing.

Is that challenging to deal with the fact that so much of our lives have conveniences such as the ease of text messaging, which we take for granted? Is there a level of customer expectation where people don't realize how much work goes into making all those “easy” little things?

Yes, there's some of that. A real easy example is, real estate agents—they text. That's how they do their business, because of the way their business is. They would just be texting people assuming that their phone number is textable. But what if it’s a business line that might not be textable? We learned about this and we corrected it. But, like you said, it's part of the way that they do business. They just made assumptions. You could be losing because you don't realize that they're trying to connect to you this way, and they can't. So they move to somebody else.

About Author: David Wharton

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