Accessing your mortgage account online is fairly commonplace in the conventional mortgage world, but not so much in the reverse mortgage space – until now. Last year, Lansing, MI-based Celink, the largest subservicer of reverse mortgages, launched an online borrower portal at www.reversedepartment.com. This secure, interactive website allows borrowers to manage their reverse mortgage accounts online.
It’s one of the most important innovations for the reverse mortgage industry in a long time, and one of the key people behind the effort was Sergey Dyakin, Celink’s chief information officer.
Dyakin has extensive experience in managing technology development for mortgage and investment analysis products, as well as a deep expertise in modeling, acquisition, servicing and securitization.
Prior to joining Celink, he was the founder of Aldan Group, a consulting company focused on cloud adoption by financial services companies.
Dyakin’s involvement in reverse mortgages began at New York-based Fortress Investment Group from 2010 through 2016. During his time there, Dyakin helped Nationstar Mortgage Holdings Inc. create from scratch a leading reverse mortgage servicing business (Champion Mortgage).
Reverse Mortgage magazine sat down with Dyakin to learn more about this new online portal, enhancements being considered in future updates, and why this is an important step forward for reverse mortgage borrowers.
Reverse Mortgage: What’s your background? Where did you grow up? How did you become involved in mortgage technology?
Sergey Dyakin: I grew up in Russia, got my Master’s in physics and math there, and then worked for several years before I came to the U.S. to attend business school. I got involved in reverse mortgages around ten years ago while working to help build at that time the nation’s largest reverse mortgage servicer. By working in private equity on investments in mortgage-related assets, I had to use massive amounts of data to build investment models, or to conduct servicing oversight. I worked with my company’s IT department to build technology to develop, process and present the data. While doing that, I looked for ways to get better solutions for dealing with such data. This is how I got interested in Cloud and the opportunities that it offered and eventually decided to switch to technology.
RM: Why is Celink’s borrower portal such a big deal for borrowers?
SD: Having 24-7 access to financial data over the Internet has become the norm. Most of our borrowers are used to the convenience of managing their financial accounts online. Until the portal was up, borrowers could find information on their mortgages from monthly statements or by calling us. If they needed forms, they had to call Celink and wait for the forms to be sent to them. Our portal provides a self-service functionality for borrowers to access their information from any device at any time. They can request funds from their line of credit or obtain a payoff quote, all without ever needing to call us or submit a request by mail.
RM: What prompted its development? How long did it take to create? How many people were involved?
SD: Celink adopted a mission that emphasized providing technologically advanced servicing solutions. The portal was one such solution. Borrowers were clearly interested in having online access, so we rolled up our sleeves. The development team was small but experienced in website development and Cloud technologies. Lots of people across Celink helped us with functionality, compliance, testing, and so on. The portal was developed and launched in under five months. In this short time, we built many useful features, including access to loan data, statements, forms, commonly asked questions and the ability to upload forms. To build it so fast, it helped that once I joined Celink we began active adoption of AWS (Amazon Web Services) Cloud. We leveraged cutting-edge tools that allowed us to develop quickly and to deliver powerful functionality, such as real-time data access.
RM: What underlying goals were you hoping to achieve in creating the borrower portal? Did you rely on borrower feedback during the development process?
SD: We wanted to give borrowers at 24-7 access to information, including educational materials about reverse mortgages, as well as real-time information about their own reverse mortgage. We wanted to give them the ability to transact online and obtain and submit documents online. We wanted to raise the security of communication, compared to traditional methods, like email. All that was aimed at creating an immediate way for borrowers to access their mortgage information and increase borrower satisfaction. Once we had the first version of the portal, we began planning for usability studies. We conducted a number of interviews with borrowers to solicit their feedback. Overwhelmingly, the feedback has been that they love the website simplicity and how user-friendly it is.
RM: What percentage of Celink borrowers are using the portal?
SD: By now, we have seen many thousands of borrowers register on the portal, and we continue to see active registrations. Borrowers who signed up use it for getting to their statements, finding loan information, requesting line of credit advances and requesting payoff quotes. We plan to grow the user base by sharing information when borrowers communicate with us, or through statements and other methods of communication. Eventually, we hope to get over half of our portfolio using the portal.
RM: When did you launch the portal?
SD: It launched in January of 2020. Since then, we’ve added features, such as requesting line of credit advances and payoff quotes. We’ve also enhanced security features and made the web site WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 compliant, so that people with disabilities can use the portal.
RM: As servicing technology evolves, what additional features would you like to see added to the portal? For example, what about making a loan payment online?
SD: We will aim to offer borrowers the ability to conduct online most, if not all, activities that they currently perform by paper, fax or phone. Right now, borrowers can make payments by sending a check or over the phone, but our goal will be to offer them the digital way of doing this through the portal. We also want to offer them the ability to receive email notifications about account activity. For example, when new account statements show up on the portal or about recent changes to their account, or maybe when the status of their line of credit advance request has changed, they will be able to receive these email notifications. We would also like to offer the ability to sign documents online.
RM: Email notifications would be a great feature for reminding borrowers about signing the annual occupancy certificate.
SD: They do get emails now, but we are planning to further automate the processes. In those cases where we do have information, it will be useful for providing reminders, for example, occupancy certificates, they only happen once a year, so it’s not something that people remember. We still mail occupancy certificates, however, we can also use digital methods of notifying the borrowers and, as I mentioned, we are working towards allowing for e-signing, so that they can sign the annual occupancy certificate online.
RM: You’ve been involved in reverse mortgages for about a decade. How has servicing technology evolved over that time?
SD: From my experience, for quite some time, the servicing technology in our industry was typical of a small company that grew solutions from sort of a desktop database. Lots of processes were tracked outside of this system and often performed manually. Because of this, processes were inefficient, took a long time and were very brittle. As the size of servicing portfolios grew, this created further stresses on the systems and the people who managed them. With the investments in servicing technology, we now see systems that offer better process controls, workflow management tools, integrated document management and a number of other enhancements. We also see an emphasis on digital interactions, convenience and security.
RM: Besides the portal, have you designed any other technologies for Celink that have improved servicing efficiencies?
SD: Yes, there have been advancements that not only add convenience for borrowers but make life easier for employees. As I mentioned, Celink’s goal is to be a technology-enabled company. We’re making massive investments and enhancements into our servicing platform with the goal of making it more powerful, flexible, fast and efficient. We have already rolled out several modules that address questions of enhanced controls and efficiency. Whenever a solution already exists in the marketplace, we leverage it. An example is the cloud-based contact center that we rolled out just around the time when the country went into lockdown. It helped improve access to the call center for our borrowers, while everyone was working from home. We’re also leveraging AWS Cloud. We’ve built a ”data lake” that helps operations tap into data coming from the servicing system and other sources. We’re also looking to use machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to further enhance our processes.
RM: This is all great. Why do you think it took so long to reach this point?
SD: I think, for the portal, the timing was right given that there was increased willingness of seniors to go online. So many of them are more tech savvy. The pandemic has also helped borrowers get more comfortable in the online space. As for servicing technology, my view of this is that the particularities of reverse mortgages prevented the simple use of forward mortgage tools. At the same time, given the relatively small size of this industry there has not been as much investment and innovation. We’re lucky that we have a supportive owner who understands the power of technology and of digital, and senior management team that is committed to building technologically advanced solutions.
RM: Thank you for your time. Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you’d like to convey to our readers?
SD: We are thankful to our clients and borrowers for the overwhelmingly positive feedback they have given us on the portal. One borrower said this about LOC draw feature: “It was terrific. It was easy. It was easier than doing it the old fax and calling me back routine. It felt more secure”. We welcome feedback and suggestions from borrowers about what they might be interested in, what they struggle with, or what they prefer to do differently and offer this functionality. We also borrow ideas from other industries. We see how things are being done elsewhere. Because (in reverse mortgages) we are playing catch up, we go in and look at offering similar and new solutions. Our goal is to accelerate the pace of development and innovation in the reverse mortgage space. We at Celink are looking to be key technology enablers, so that our (lender) clients can offer better products and retirement solutions for seniors.