April 28, 2006

Get a loan on the phone when nobody's home

Consumers can now apply for mortgages at 3 a.m. on the phone if they choose, thanks to Voice2Form, which makes it possible to fill out a mortgage loan application via telephone without talking to a human being.

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Voice2Form's mortgage application system collects applicants' voice entries, converts the answers to text and enters the information into most popular loan origination systems, creating a form that can then be used in various automated underwriting systems.

Of course, potential loan applicants can use Web sites to apply after hours as well. Voice2Form adds another option for the non-'Net-literate and people on the move, according to Kenneth Barash, the company's CEO.

"More people use phones than use computers," Barash said. "This can be useful for people who are not computer literate, and also can be more convenient than using a PC."

The most computer-literate folks are also probably the kind of people who like to multitask and do things on the run, and hence might gravitate to the phone service, the CEO said.

The system comes with a one-time setup fee of about $1,500 and then a charge per application in the $15 range, Barash said.

The company has created a template mortgage loan application that is customized for every client, Barash said. Voice2Form provides an 800 number and puts the company's name on the recordings that prompt the applicant through the process.

When an applicant calls, the system welcomes them, then asks if they have a PIN number from a previous transaction. If not, the system prompts the caller to give his or her 10-digit phone number. Using reverse lookup, the name and address of the caller are identified and repeated to the caller to make sure they're correct.

"That way we can call you back -- maybe the kids were screaming or they were driving and hung up so we can call them back and say, 'May we help you?'" Barash said.

Hang-ups are obviously one of the major pitfalls of this approach, as the application process can be tedious even when done in tandem with a loan officer. Barash says the quick capture of the caller's phone number is one way to deal with it -- a callback doesn't violate Do Not Call guidelines because the consumer reached out to the company first.

Also, each caller is assigned a PIN number early on in the call, so if the loan applicant doesn't have all the necessary information or has to run before completing the process, they can return without having to duplicate all the steps. How likely it is that an applicant will do so is uncertain.

Taking the information necessary for a loan can be time- and, hence, money- consuming, Barash said, and Voice2Form can help keep those costs down, because the information is entered automatically.

To access the Phone2Form applications, lenders log onto a password-protected Web site and a notice tells them whether they have applications. "It gives them the names of those people and they can look at the applications online with all the answers in the right places," Barash said. It takes about an hour for the system to change the voice responses to text and plug them into the right part of the application, the CEO said.

The company, which launched in 2004, serves other industries including insurance companies "anything that converts voice to text and fills out a form," Barash said. Other clients in the mortgage industry include Walkford Funding, in Staten Island, N.Y., America's Best Lending Network, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and HomeStar Direct in New Jersey, Barash said.

"People a lot of times don't want to deal with what they perceive as a salesperson. They just want to enter information and not have to deal with people, " said Michael Anthony, president of mortgage lender Atlanta-based Mid- Atlantic Financial Services, which has been using the service for about a year.

Anthony said his company has captured 1,000 after-hours applications using the service and is processing an extra 20 applications per month thanks to the system.

"We convert about one out of four, one out of five, I'd say maybe 20 percent, " Anthony said. "That's a guesstimate. We feel that at least half of those we wouldn't even have received if we didn't have a system like this." Anthony wouldn't venture a guess as to how much money his company has made from the applications.

Anthony said a number of the applications have come in after midnight, even as late as 3 a.m.

"They can also apply on our Web site," he noted. "This is another option for them. If we give people the Web address and the phone number, we get more people calling."

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