How mortgage software giants manage client perceptions

It’s not uncommon for ambitious CEOs to cite Amazon or Google as inspiration for their own company’s future growth but becoming such a giant in mortgage lending requires two qualities that may seem diametrically opposed. They must cover every aspect of the lending process, or as much of it as possible, while remaining quick to launch new technologies that address needs that arise in a rapidly changing world.

There are drawbacks to being perceived as only one of either of those things. Innovative, fast-moving smaller players may seem too limited in their offerings. If large, a firm risks appearing stodgy or simply too expensive to accommodate smaller operators in the business.

“A common misconception we see in some corners of the market is we’re somehow too large or too expensive for anyone except the nation’s largest lenders and servicers,” said Shelley Leonard, Black Knight’s chief digital and product officer. “Institutions of every size rely on our solutions and we have streamlined our implementation processes so the entire industry could benefit from our advances, regardless of their tech stack.”

That’s where careful marketing strategies and strategic acquisitions come into play for the larger figures in the field. Take for example another giant, ICE Mortgage Technology. Its cloud-based platform allows lenders and investors to reach borrowers, and originate, close, sell and purchase loans. But the company has also worked to position itself as a nimble innovator.

“New tech isn’t the sole ownership of young companies. Our leadership is maniacally focused on striving to be the best, we definitely don’t sit on our hands,” said Jonas Moe, senior vice president of marketing and market strategy at ICE Mortgage Technology. “I’ve never met a person who has more burning desire to achieve and excel than our president Joe Tyrell, he’s definitely not the person to sit back, relax and be proud of what we’ve done.”

Its size and status as a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange allows the company to vault ahead of competitors by making acquisitions. ICE targets companies that can challenge any aspect of its systems, Moe said. It bought Merscorp Holdings in 2018, Simplifile in 2019 and Ellie Mae in 2020, along with the electronic vault technology from DocMagic and loan trading capabilities from Polly this year.

Black Knight, too, cultivates an in-house-innovator image while buying up smaller companies. Newly installed CEO and chairman Anthony Jabbour is seeking to instill the spirit of a start-up, Leonard said, adding that the financial services and data provider heavily invests in incubating its own projects. But the company also made six acquisitions since 2020, with NexSpring Financial’s mortgage broker-targeted loan origination system and marketing firm Top of Mind being the most recent.

But certain acquisitions could soon be harder to execute. In July, President Biden signed an executive order that called for greater scrutiny from the Justice Department and federal regulators on mergers and acquisitions, concerned that some have stifled competition in the marketplace and have raised costs for consumers.

When asked about their concerns regarding the executive order, Black Knight representatives said the company “believes that strong competition within the industry is essential to fueling innovation and positive change. We’ve always sought and secured all regulatory approval for any planned acquisitions, and we will certainly continue to do so.” ICE did not return a request for comment on the topic as of deadline.

Separately, the marketing messaging needs to sell a seamless digital experience and strong return on investment. ICE takes a targeted approach when it comes to managing the perception of its potential customers.

“We’re not sending the same message to 20,000 people with a spray-and-pray approach. We might send a single message or create a webinar for 20 people,” Moe said. “Whether you’re a broker, correspondent, wholesale, retail or direct-to-consumer lender, we want to be able to identify your need, then make sure we’re positioning the right product to the right people at the right time.”

Timing the campaign roll-outs carefully is key to a successful product launch. Start too early in the development lifecycle and run the risk of overpromising and under delivering if the product runs into any hiccups. Deploy too late and the new offering loses some of its shine.

“We typically wait until the product is ready to ship: it’s gone through multiple rounds of user acceptance testing, we know it’s going to be a viable solution, and it’s been quality assured and stress tested,” Moe said.

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