AwardsIn The NewsThought Leader Award

The 2023 Thought Leader Award Winners Are …

We need industry thought leaders if mortgage lending is going to advance moving forward. Our existing awards all acknowledge the good work that executives are doing now, but we think it’s time to reward future work and initiatives. We need thought leaders that are not afraid to step forward and blaze a new trail. We need creativity. We need bold new ideas. As a result, for the fourth year in a row PROGRESS in Lending is honoring industry thought leaders.

In alphabetical order the 2023 Thought Leader Award Winners are:


CEO & Co-Founder

Lender Price

Amidst a digital transformation, the industry puts lenders in the position to seek technology that helps to automate even more tasks and ultimately reduce operating costs. This shift has planted a higher focus on modern lending technology to drive process improvement. Lenders, banks, credit unions, and IMBs now have access to innovative technology solutions that weren’t available just a few years ago.

A perfect example is our cloud-native pricing engine. Our highly modern and configurable technology helps lenders drive automation even deeper across the organization. Lenders can create custom workflows and configure the platform around their business to increase overall efficiency. With our custom UI, lenders also have the ability to customize their own pricing engine and create a personalized pricing experience for loan originators, giving them greater control over their products and the advantage of standing out from the competition in a tighter market. Additionally, with the ability for a pricing engine to manage thousands of loan products, borrowers can benefit from the various options they can choose.

Innovation in lending continues to improve and is much more advanced than ever.




Jeff Bell, President of Uplist, and a 22-year veteran loan officer and mortgage company owner, has understood for some time that innovation in lending can be difficult and slow. The rapidly evolving landscape of the lending sector, especially in homebuying, has remained starkly traditional and inefficient. Despite fintech advancements elsewhere, homebuying processes are yet to witness significant innovation, specifically at larger companies. This stagnation in innovation is particularly glaring in a couple key areas: an overcomplicated process and the absence of retail lenders providing real-time rate and payment data.

The innovation deficit in lending is striking. While other industries have embraced digital transformations, the homebuying process is mired in outdated practices. The use of technology in lending is often limited to digitizing paper-based processes, not rethinking them. There’s a notable absence of impactful technologies like reliable AI, machine learning, live data, and smart technologies, which are leading to inefficiencies and a service quality that falls short of today’s digital-first expectations.

Furthermore, is the lack of real-time rate and payment data. In a world where instant information is the norm, the lending industry’s manual process for providing accurate rates and payments is outdated. This lag forces homebuyers to make significant financial decisions based on old or estimated data, potentially leading to suboptimal choices. Access to real-time information would allow for more informed decision-making, benefiting buyers and the market.

These issues combine to create a slow, uncertain, and inefficient process. The inefficiency dampens consumer enthusiasm and impacts the real estate market’s dynamics. A faster, more transparent lending process could encourage more transactions, boosting economic activity.

The current state of lending in homebuying is a remnant of a bygone era, characterized by a lack of innovation, cumbersome procedures, and outdated financial information. As the world moves forward, the lending industry must embrace a true digital transformation. This involves simplifying processes and providing accurate, real-time data, which is essential for keeping the industry relevant and responsive in today’s fast-paced world, according to Jeff.


President and Founder

MortgageFlex Systems, Inc.

This is the golden age for technology development and you don’t have to look far to see that the lending space is dominated by innovation, with new offerings becoming available almost constantly. But the vast majority of this is happening on the origination side of the business. Very little has been done for mortgage servicers. At a time when the servicing asset is the most valuable thing the institution holds, it’s time for this to change.

There is little question that the innovation the industry needs now should be delivered in the mortgage servicing business. The Servicing space has long been supported by a single, dominant provider that has not delivered a significant innovation to its technology in decades. This has led to significant need in its user base for, among other things:

1. Online customer self-help tools for Loss Mitigation.
2. Pre-configured Default Templates for Bankruptcy, Foreclosure and Loss Mitigation.
3. Built in default queueing based upon template milestones and or contact follow up.
4. Fully functional data exports to be uploaded for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac reporting (LAR, LLR, EDR) where all Status and Reason codes are captured from within the Collections Follow-Up or Default status queues.

Lester saw an opportunity here to provide better software and the result is the industry’s first web-based servicing platform accompanied by a multi-lingual consumer facing portal. His thought leadership guided the project, and its positive impact is already being felt by the industry.


Director, Sales and Marketing

LodeStar Software Solutions

According to Alayna, to embrace innovation, lenders are in desperate need of a shift in priorities. Right now, many lenders can’t see much further than the current financial downturn. They obsess over headlines about rates, they chase shiny new tech hoping for a silver bullet solution, and they fire people en masse, knowing full well they’ll hire en masse as soon as things “turn around.” For these types of lenders, Laura Escobar’s advice—“Survive till ‘25”—is taken at face value and doesn’t include the building of long-term strategies. That is to say, “What if you took a closer look at your current operations, processes, and lending workflow?” isn’t a question that ever crosses their minds. There are lots of people out there who really get it, to be sure. But for every industry thought leader, there are lots more people who aren’t taking their advice. Troubleshooting your workflow will make you more efficient. Being more efficient makes you more money and builds confidence.

“We need more discernment among our leaders. We need leaders who build their business, not just for the current bad market or a hypothetical good one, but for the ongoing ups and downs inherent in history of mortgage lending,” says Alayna. “And for this, there is no silver bullet. There’s no one interview question, no single piece of tech, no social media strategy. You need to leverage many different small solutions, all of which will be complimentary to one another. Hence the need for discernment. You need to automate with tech, sure. Everyone knows that. But your automations won’t be effective unless you have equally effective ways for your teams to communicate deliverables and earmark progress on key initiatives. And you won’t be able to earmark initiatives unless you identify and agree upon KPIs. And meeting those KPIs will be really tough, unless you have a solid, respectful rapport among your team members. And that rapport depends, not only on providing space for current employees to voice opinions and concerns, but also on hiring and interviewing with an eye to long-term teambuilding. For innovation, there are no silver bullets.”



RGA Public Relations

As a former editor of a mortgage technology publication, Rick Grant has trained himself to see innovation everywhere. And, like most industries, the mortgage business is filled with innovative people and companies. In the past, the stories Rick wrote about technology were primarily focused on one or more of three promises all technologies were intended to deliver: better, cheaper or faster. Today, most of the stories he writes are about tools that are better for the borrower, cheaper for the lender and fully compliant.

“The mortgage industry has traditionally been very transactional,” says Rick. “We focus on getting the loan closed on time, especially now in a purchase money market. Innovators have been working very hard on taking time and cost out of the lender’s process and reducing the friction that annoys lenders. But it’s still all very transactional.”

 What the industry needs now, according to Grant, is a more strategic focus. That’s why he launched his new podcast: Strategic Targeting. He seeks out guests who can take a step back from the transaction itself and think about the business of home finance more strategically. This is where the next generation of lending innovation will be found. Now, when volumes are low and executives have more time to think about their businesses and the borrowers they serve, is the time for them to begin to think more strategically.



Forta Solutions

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is the opening line of Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” The opening line used to convey the extreme contrasting nature of a historical period. Dickens’ was referring to the 18th century and the French Revolution, but could just as easily been describing the state of innovation in lending today! In a broader sense, the phrase has been used metaphorically to describe situations where there are both positive and negative elements concurrently. Today we are blessed with an unbelievable and unending string of new ideas entering the marketplace. And at the very same time, a Byzantine Era maze of regulation and compliances stifling the very life blood of innovation.

“It was the best of times for Innovation” Lending institutions are experiencing a digital transformation. With an increased adoption of digital technologies, we have seen streamline processes, enhanced customer experiences, and reduce operational costs. Additionally, Fintech companies are playing significant role in reshaping the lending landscape. They introduced innovative lending models, leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence. Some institutions have explored initiatives to use the blockchain technology to enhance transparency, security, and efficiency in lending processes.

“It was the worst of times for Innovation” Regulatory authorities actively monitor and supervise businesses within the industry, conducting audits, inspections, and investigations to ensure compliance with established standards resulting in a regulatory landscape is often intricate, with a complex web of laws, policies, and guidelines that businesses must navigate to remain in compliance. The current negative economic conditional creates a more cautious lending environment, leading to a credit crunch. This can limit access to capital for businesses and individuals. Companies may scale back on investments in new projects, expansion, or research and development during challenging economic times, contributing to a slowdown in economic growth.

Furthermore, the high interests continue to create a challenge for mortgage originators to be profitable. How we find our way out of this is not entirely clear. We intuitively know it will require some new thoughts and new ideas.



NexLevel Advisors

Michael says, “The landscape of innovation within today’s mortgage market is characterized by its vibrant dynamism. In facing a notable decline in origination volumes coupled with soaring loan origination costs, the industry has encountered a stark decline in profits. This pivotal juncture has set the stage for a crucial choice: either adapt swiftly or face the prospect of failure.”

He believes that this challenge serves as a catalyst for the mortgage industry and its stakeholders to rise to the occasion and forge ahead. Meeting this demand necessitates a paradigm shift—a departure from conventional practices and a rapid integration of pioneering technologies and methodologies. The goal is not merely survival but a robust and thriving industry. Forward thinking lenders must embrace technology to help lower the cost to originate loans while improving profitability.  It’s this urgent need for innovative thinking and bold operational strategies that makes the present state of innovation in the mortgage market both dynamic and critical.

“First and foremost, we have to stop being so transaction-focused and start focusing on the relationship as an industry. We need to deliver a much better borrower experience that focuses on the relationship and lifetime value instead of just the transaction in front of us,” Michael points out. “Technology and innovation can be great enablers to address this challenge. Another area that needs innovation is finding ways to drive down the costs of originating loans while still delivering a superior experience that creates customers for life. What technologies will help accomplish that? AI, Intelligent Automation, new appraisal innovation, AI in underwriting, customer experience platforms, and the like? I hope that we continue to lean in and embrace the vibrant and dynamic innovative mindset that not only allowed us to respond to challenging market conditions but one that allowed us to thrive moving forward as an industry.”


Co-Founder and Managing Director

Worthy Performance Group

In her 40 years of helping families with Home Ownership, through Home Financing, Real Estate Sales and Development, Laura Lasher will tell you that she has never seen innovation stop. Not even slow. It’s a constant and that’s a good thing. When she was sitting on BlackFin Group’s Innovation Leadership Cohort, she discussed the fast pace of lending innovation with other industry leaders. She will tell you that leaders expect constant innovation. It’s how we become better at what we do and provide ever better offers to the consumers we support.

Laura says, “There is no shortage of opportunity for the person who wants to create positive change in our industry.” That’s not to say that everything is broken, but Laura says everything could be better. It’s largely a matter of focus. If we only focus on our bottom lines, to the exclusion of everything else, we will never be really successful as an industry. There is plenty of evidence that companies across the space have realized this, most significantly in the rise of the customer experience as a strategic and competitive mandate.

Laura counsels her clients to think about the legacy that they will leave behind, both in terms of the companies they are building and the well-trained teams they leave to take over the work. Failure to focus on what we’re going to leave those who come after us opens us up to the mindless pursuit of short-term gains. This can only lead to increased scrutiny from government regulators. Laura says, “When we put our focus on building stronger institutions filled with well-prepared executives who know the value of an excellent customer experience, we will leave behind a lasting legacy of excellence that we can be very proud of.”


Founder & President

Mortgage Technology Advisors

Roughly 80% of originators do not leverage available automation today… and they are suffering for it. Self service mortgage application, lock and approval are available TODAY (including remote close). App to close (retail) in 11(ish) days can be achieved TODAY. Cost per loan TODAY (which of course varies with each lender) should be at least 30% of what the MBA reports quarterly. All of this is available TODAY by leveraging self-service UI design. end-to-end application integration, task-based workflow and Machine Learning.

AI, automated workflow and decisioning, portable personal financial profiles and AI personalized marketing will attain guide-rails over the next couple of years to enable real-time mortgage decisoning. As personal data aggregates across the cloud hosting providers and is leveraged by CRM providers, the mortgage origination process will move from reactive to proactive and predictive analytics will become a mainstream reality.

Consistently, as tracked by the MBA, 60-65% of cost per loan is directly associated with lender labor costs. Automation can impact this percentage (cost to originate a loan) dramatically. Automation can only occur at the task level. Task level workflow is TODAY available in multiple LOS and POS applications. The quarterly MBA cost per loan stats, as well as the annual HMDA statistics, clearly show that most of the lenders are not leveraging task-level workflow. Lenders need to stop managing to the 45 day industry average (retail) app to close timeline (by manipulating staffing levels at specific roles based on volume) and commit to task level process automation. This will improve their profitability, turn times, customer satisfaction scores, and scalability dramatically, but will also alleviate the seasonal hire/RIF process that currently plagues our industry, according to Randy.



Incenter Capital Advisors

Long believes that the industry is well positioned for innovative technology adoption given recent actions of the CFPB and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The CFPB’s launch of the new Office of Competition and Innovation, and the OCC’s establishment of the Office of Financial Technology are clear indicators that regulators are focused on transformative innovation that will help push the industry forward.

The CFPB puts a finer point on its innovation expectations by emphasizing solutions that will remove “structural problems blocking success” and address “commonplace obstacles”. To date, lenders have primarily adopted innovation that personalizes consumer experiences, supports operational and workflow efficiency and reduces costs.

That said, Long believes that the costs of originating and servicing loans remain at an all-time high, origination and loan lifecycle management processes are still full of costly friction points, and a large cohort of Millennials and Gen Zers who can afford to buy a home are unable to qualify for a traditional mortgage. The irony is that solutions exist now to solve these challenges and more, but lenders are reluctant to invest millions of dollars into deploying them until they’re confident that they can do so and stay on the right side of regulators.


Chief Technology Officer

Blue Sage Solutions

At a time when mortgage companies must extend their very limited resources to continue serving a more diverse array of borrower needs, Steve Octaviano believes that innovation has become a requirement for lenders and just as critical as any other aspect of their business. At the same time, the overall state of innovation in the industry is nothing short of remarkable. In fact, Steve believes mortgage lenders are at a pivotal moment, in which the rapid adoption of cloud-based digital mortgage technology is finally ushering in a new era of efficiency, accessibility, and better borrower experiences.

Much of this transformation is being driven by two factors. The first is the need for lenders to reduce costs and improve efficiency to sustain business in today’s challenging housing market. The second is growing consumer demand for the type of seamless, integrated experience they have when shopping for other products and services. To be sure, today’s consumers expect anything that can be delivered electronically or performed digitally to be done so.

At the same time, Steve believes too many lenders are still burdened by legacy systems and cumbersome manual labor and paperwork, which is why he has led the development of several major innovations to the Blue Sage platform, so it continues to stand on the forefront of the industry’s digital transformation. For example, Steve incorporated a fully integrated customer journey within the Blue Sage Digital Lending Platform, the industry’s first cloud-built loan origination system built with modern technology that serves retail, correspondent, and wholesale lenders. This culminated in the development of Blue Sage’s LION product, a cloud-built point of sale (POS) system that revolutionizes how lenders and loan officers interact with borrowers. In addition to enabling borrowers to shop for loans and rates while using the same pricing, fees, APR calculations and other components within the Digital Lending Platform, LION provides borrowers with automated verifications of employment, income, and assets—the same options already configured in the LOS. Once the borrower submits an application, LION presents documents for eSigning, all without a loan officer’s assistance. Borrowers can even pay fees using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay. It was Steve and his team who conceived these features as being crucial components of an integrated consumer journey, all through one platform.

Steve’s visionary approach didn’t stop there. Using APIs to facilitate real-time data exchanges, he introduced seamless vendor service integrations within the Blue Sage platform that help lenders simplify complex interactions with third-party service providers. He designed and helped the development of an intelligent document management system that leverages automated document classification and OCR technology that automatically compares data collected from the borrower with a lender’s business rules to clear loan conditions. And he oversaw the development of Blue Sage’s Delphi Configuration Management Platform, which allows lender clients to manage and test changes to the Blue Sage platform before rolling them out to production. In short, Steve’s innovations at Blue Sage have embodied his vision for smoother, more cost-efficient mortgage operations.


President and CEO

Williston Financial Group

As President and CEO of Williston Financial Group (WFG), Steve Ozonian is a firm believer in the transformative power of technology in reshaping the lending landscape. Leveraging his extensive experience and holistic view of the industry, he’s been instrumental in driving innovation within WFG, with a key focus on enhancing the consumer experience. His insights into the consumer perspective have led to the development of novel tech solutions aimed at simplifying and integrating real estate transactions, a crucial factor considering the significance of these events in the lives of consumers.

Ozonian’s leadership has been integral in implementing technologies to improve transaction transparency, reduce time and cost, and empower all participants. His dedication to creating a positive homebuying experience, coupled with his voluminous experience in leading multiple real estate-related businesses, provides him with a unique vantage point to drive an industry-first agenda for change.

His recent technological advancements have allowed for the streamlining of end-to-end real estate transactions, making them more user-friendly and efficient. As the market continues to evolve, Ozonian remains committed to pioneering initiatives that align with the company’s goal of enhancing the overall real estate experience for WFG, its customers, and their clients.

One of Ozonian’s major contributions has been spearheading WFG’s current tech transformation, with efforts focused on redefining homebuyer engagement. He has overseen the shift to remote online settlement processes and directed the strategic rebranding of WFG’s fintech solutions subsidiary, MyHome, to bolster its flagship technology offering.

Under Ozonian’s supervision, MyHome provides a single, user-friendly platform that enhances communication, transparency, and the consumer experience. He has also overseen the development of WESTprotect, an enterprise security system aimed at preventing cybercrime attempts, a testament to his commitment to ensuring a safe and secure transactional environment.

In conclusion, Steve Ozonian’s innovative approach and persistent pursuit for change have been instrumental in redefining the lending experience. As a forward-thinking leader, he continues to explore tech advancements to create a more integrated and consumer-friendly real estate transaction landscape. His contributions to WFG and the wider real estate industry are a testament to his visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to innovation.


Co-Founder & CEO

LodeStar Software Solutions

Innovation in lending today is all about saving time and protecting your employees with strategically implemented tech, according to Jim. If only those two things weren’t so elusive in the mortgage industry… Jim has been a longtime proponent of steady progress and human-oriented planning. As the founder and CEO of the mortgage technology industry’s leading provider of closing cost data, he’s no stranger to market ups-and-downs. Every recession ends. Every bubble bursts. Building your company to reap the short-term benefits of a given market upswing—like we saw during the refi boom just a few years ago—is a recipe for disaster. And wouldn’t you know it: no sooner did refis dry up than TONS of lenders lost their jobs.

But Jim has been saying for years that people should bypass the seemingly obligatory hire/fire cycle in favor of implementing tech for scalability. If you, for example, automate your underwriting or (ahem) your closing cost disclosure, you no longer need checkers checking checkers checking checkers. Leave the staring and comparing to the computers. Let lenders log irreplaceable face time with their clients, invest in social media and content marketing, reach out to new leads, cultivate local expertise, etc. You’ll close more files faster, but without sacrificing data accuracy or risking tolerance cures. And that’s innovation: leveraging the cutting edge of technology and implementing best practices to design an ironclad, efficient, and recession-proof lending operation rooted in goodwill. If lenders could do that, that would be a huge step forward for the industry.


EVP, Property Solutions – Flood


Josh believes that while lending institutions have made great strides in embracing innovation in recent years, there is still work to be done. Regulatory compliance constraints can sometimes slow down technology adoption. And while companies often have innovative ideas, until the big players adopt them, they are not generally used.

Josh thinks there is significant, untapped potential in incorporating innovative technologies, particularly when it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI). He believes that lending institutions can revolutionize their operations by harnessing AI and introducing a conversational interface that streamlines the borrower’s interaction with the lender’s system. Instead of navigating complex systems, borrowers could simply express their intentions in a single sentence to the AI platform, which would promptly provide a list of options, thereby kickstarting the entire lending process. Josh views the integration of AI as the means by which efficiency can be significantly enhanced, and time and costs can be dramatically reduced. Moreover, it is a solution that can be implemented today, without the need for extensive training. He sees AI-driven innovations as having the potential to transform lending into a more streamlined and cost-effective process, ultimately delivering greater value to all stakeholders and advancing the modern mortgage.

Josh also believes lending can benefit from blockchain technology in a very specific way. There is a lot of conceptual discussion these days around self-custody of origination documents. This means an applicant can buy (and therefore own) their credit report, VOE, flood assessment, and all other documents, and secure them through non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are unique cryptographic tokens that are secured in a blockchain and cannot be replicated, enabling lenders to validate that the documents are real and have not been tampered with. That means applicants could send documents to whomever they want, enabling them to shop for rates and lenders, reducing the cost of origination, and giving the customer more control more easily. Using blockchain technology in this way would be a be a significant game changer – one that all players would have to accept and embrace.



LSK Consultants

Lisa continues her work with mortgage originators, investors and technology firms enabling process efficiencies and growth opportunities for each. With a rapidly changing environment, Lisa is focused on how best to create processes and platforms that are dynamic so that they can “flex” with the market fluctuations while ensuring her clients are not adding additional risk to their businesses. In times of change, Lisa’s experience in managing through previous economic cycles is being sought out.

“In times of change there is a two-fold strategy that most look to deploy,” she says. “First is managing margins and costs which typically relates to finding holes in processes and gaining efficiencies wherever possible. By listening to those who perform the work, it becomes clear what is needed to prioritize. Secondly, there are growth opportunities, whether to diversify into other business channels, expand product offerings (that will bring real results while managing risks) or even looking at ways to monetize aspects of a client’s current business that they see a need for in the market. This is my current focus.”


SVP and Head of Delivery for Fintech


The rate of innovation within the mortgage industry is definitely slowing down, within the last 12 months for sure. It is more about cost savings and making sure CIOs align their IT costs with the businesses that are in place. However, Pratip believes when it comes to the opportunity space for innovation, the mortgage industry is still at least 5 to 10 years behind similar industries like retail banking or investment banking. Should lenders decide to invest in these areas, say to the tune of $10 to $15 million, the result would likely be significantly lowered cost structures.

Pratip says, “There are two or three areas that are deficient within the mortgage industry, especially when compared to other areas within the financial services industry. Firstly, the mortgage industry has not matured when it comes to outsourcing and offshoring activities, as much as retail or investment banking has, for example. At the present state, there is a very large opportunity to embed this strategy within the existing mortgage process. However, for this to become possible, lenders and mortgage providers would have to reinvent themselves and figure out how to integrate things like cost arbitrage, engineering sales, and innovation-led sales into their mortgage process. Over the next 24 months, it is expected that this will be a very big deal within the industry.

“Secondly, there is a significant need to revisit the existing legacy technology stack, which in some cases, is technology that was developed in the late 90s and early 20th century. Updating this technology into a more contemporary supportive version is long past overdue. Simultaneously, it is important that mortgage providers incorporate more structured platform components like rule engines, decision services, and cloud optimization. However, for this to be achieved, it would require significant capital investment, if not within the next 12 months, then 24 to 36 months from today,” concludes Pratip.



Scott Schang has been a participant in the housing industry since 1998. Over the years, he has found innovation in the lending industry very common. Adoption, on the other hand, tends to be slow. But that doesn’t dissuade him. He is considered one of the foremost practitioners of AI-enhanced business analytics and teaches others how to use new tools to gain clearer insight into their businesses and find new ways to grow. Eventually, Scott says that lenders will adopt the new tools that are becoming available now, using them effectively to grow their businesses in any market.

Scott believes that there is plenty of technology available today to help lenders grow their businesses. What they need is the inclination to use it, the training to use it well and the discipline to use it consistently. Today’s technology, if used correctly, can offer great insight into the lender’s business. It can analyze the business and identify missed opportunities and even guide management in taking advantage of them. But what it cannot do is use themselves.

Scott will tell you that utilizing the new tools that the industry has available to it today starts with understanding what you want it to deliver. For an LOS, this is a simple problem to solve: we want more loans through the system, more quickly and lower cost. But when it comes to business analytics, executives are often not asking the right questions, not anticipating the follow-up questions that will allow them to turn information into insight and then, of course, taking the required steps to implement the innovations they have identified. This is what the industry needs now: a new class of mortgage executive that is dedicated to using the latest tools to analyze the business, harvest the insights this exercise produces and then guide the institution into their implementation, according to Scott.


Chairman and Founder

Williston Financial Group

Patrick F. Stone, Chairman and Founder of Williston Financial Group (WFG), views the state of innovation in lending today as a dynamic, technology-driven landscape. He firmly believes in leveraging technology to streamline processes and enhance collaboration.

From the inception of WFG in 2010, Stone has championed the creation of a single technology platform to unify all real estate participants. This vision has manifested in the form of WFG’s flagship platform, MyHome, a tool that brings together purchase and refinance transactions within a single, integrated platform. The platform enhances communication and transactional transparency, thereby streamlining processes and eliminating unnecessary touchpoints. The platform exemplifies Stone’s vision of a unified technology platform for the real estate sector, aimed at maximizing collaboration and efficiency.

Over the years, this focus on technology has positioned WFG as a provider of versatile solutions across the real estate and mortgage landscape. The company’s innovative approach has also led to the launch of the DecisionPoint Rapid Legal & Vesting Solution, a service that provides home equity lenders with automated legal and vesting reports in as quickly as 30 minutes. This solution, delivered through WFG’s proprietary Valutrust platform, is geared towards improving speed and efficiency in the lending process.

Stone’s commitment to innovation is also evident in his efforts to support the continuous learning and growth of the company’s title agents through educational programs such as the recently launched “The ABCs for Your Title Agency.” This program offers a wealth of industry and operational knowledge to WFG’s title agent network, enabling them to adapt to changes and ensure sustained profitability.

Throughout his career, Stone has demonstrated a visionary approach, identifying opportunities for collaboration and leveraging technology to transform the industry. His leadership, reflected in WFG’s “World Class” Net Promoter Score, consistently places client needs first. This commitment to service, alongside continuous innovation, is central to his strategy for navigating current changes in the mortgage industry and ensuring the future success of WFG and the industry as a whole.

Stone sees the state of innovation in lending as an evolving terrain that requires strategic use of technology, emphasis on collaboration, and a dedication to service excellence. His vision for WFG, to eliminate friction, increase transparency, and deliver a superior experience for real estate, lenders, title agents, and consumers, has been a guiding principle in the company’s expansion and adaptation to industry-wide shifts, like digital closings. This vision continues to fuel WFG’s quest for innovation in a rapidly evolving lending landscape.


SVP Strategic Partnerships


Between profitability challenges and a decline in demand, there is a tremendous need for lenders to control costs and improve their operations. Much of the discussion this year has been on how to scale, but lenders must hone their lending operations and uncover greater efficiencies that drive profitability and lower origination costs in the long term. Ultimately, lenders must have the ability to control costs at the loan level.

To do so, lenders must innovate and explore AI and a technology-component approach. Existing end-to-end systems are inflexible and often include services lenders may not need. One example is when a lender receives an income waiver. Typically, they are forced to pay for an income assessment to get the asset, liabilities and credit assessment. Unfortunately, very little has changed in this process. However, a new approach does exist. By leveraging a new type of technology infrastructure built using a microservices architecture, lenders are empowered to only utilize specific components when they need them. Not only does a modular design eliminate costly and time-consuming integrations, but it also allows lenders to assemble a system that best meets their team’s current needs, scenarios and existing manufacturing process. This approach also allows lenders to better understand the cost prior to underwriting to measure profitability.

An example of this approach is the FlexStack Component System, a new foundational architecture that allows lenders to revolutionize the underwriting process. Powered by Rapidio’s proprietary Al technology, this system is designed to transform the way financial institutions handle documents in mortgage underwriting by automating the collection, categorization, extraction, and verification of data from various types of documents. Through the various components that will be released by Rapidio, banks, IMBs, mortgage brokers, and mortgage insurance companies will be able to control technology spend at the loan level. Financial institutions will also better understand the cost prior to underwriting to measure profitability. The flexibility to use only the component necessary prevents technology overspend and keeps margins intact.

Rapidio recently introduced the first of its components, Income Assessment. Our automated income verification feature makes the process quick and hassle-free, ensuring accuracy and reducing processing time. With more components to be introduced throughout the coming year, underwriters will gain complete control over the underwriting process across various types of loans, including GSE, FHA, and VA. Built by underwriters, the platform provides the reliability and flexibility necessary to meet the demands of today’s mortgage industry.


Senior Director of Digital Lending


In examining the present landscape of mortgage innovation and with his knowledge and expertise in successfully advocating user experiences and growing his clients’ portfolio of digital businesses through cost-saving automation, increasing marketing effectiveness and conversion by improving the end-user digital experience, Matt sees a notable turning point emerged during the pandemic. The shift to remote work not only severed ties to traditional paper processes but also propelled long-existing innovations to the forefront.

This accelerated adoption of technology spans various facets of lending, from enhancing customer experiences to revolutionizing core loan origination systems and leveraging integrative data. Despite the economic shock, companies are strategically investing to substantially reduce the cost of loan origination. Labor costs remain significant, but beneath the surface, there are substantial gains in operational efficiency, translating to hundreds of dollars saved per loan. This trend underscores the industry’s resilience and adaptability.

Matt notes a significant stride in innovation is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into document processing workflows. This addresses a longstanding challenge in the mortgage industry—document recognition and data extraction. With AI-enabled natural language processing and large language models, companies can achieve accuracy rates in the 90% range. This marks a transformative development, offering newfound efficiency and precision in document handling. Looking forward, Matt anticipates the next wave of innovation to be driven by AI. This holds profound implications for mortgage entities, enhancing operational efficiency, mitigating risks, and positioning companies at the forefront of a technology-driven mortgage landscape.

Matt sees the state of innovation in the mortgage industry today as reflecting a dynamic and transformative landscape. Companies are actively shaping the future through strategic technological investments, adapting to change, and ushering in an era defined by efficiency, precision, and the intelligent application of emerging technologies.