Back To The Future

On October 20th, 2002 at the Mortgage Bankers Association's 89th Annual Convention & Expo, a small group of us from a la mode rolled a wicked looking stainless steel Harley Davidson V-Rod into the convention hall of the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. Along with this eye-popping giveaway, our all-new booth design and a fresh approach to what was then a very self-important crowd of mortgage bankers, we launched Mercury Network.

Just last week I met with a well known mortgage industry executive who was visiting our office and although it was the first time he had met any of us, he said he had "thought about us off-and-on ever since we gave away the Harley in Chicago."

His comment, and others like it through the years, not only illustrates the power of smart marketing and promotion, but also what a powerful impression we made when we launched Mercury Network. I remember how much fun we had at the MBA Convention that year as we changed the rules, recalibrated expectations, and raised more than a few eyebrows.

In 2002, there were just a few appraiser directories available and most of them didn't amount to more than an online version of the yellow pages. A couple would let you scan the national appraiser list and order an appraisal, but that was about it. None of them would do what Mercury Network would do, which was seamlessly connect loan officers with a bi-directional appraisal ordering and delivery conduit, provide desktop-to-desktop status updates, complete with custom business tools, all plugged into desktop software used by appraisers located in every county of every state in the country.

The ability to literally "bolt" a loan officer's legacy system into a network that reached all the way to an appraiser's desktop software using new sophisticated web services, especially on such a large scale, was totally unique and, at the time, downright revolutionary.

Believe me, Mercury Network was every bit as unheard of and as hot as that new V-Rod.

The Harley V-Rod we gave away in 2002 when we launched Mercury

Back in 2002, we launched Mercury with this shiny new V-Rod. It certainly made waves. This year at MBA Annual, we're celebrating the unveiling of Mercury's new feature set by giving away $23,000. All this in an effort to get more appraisal orders for you.

Immediate Volume

Within the next couple of years, over a hundred thousand individual appraisal ordering profiles were created on the Mercury Network and in that same period well over half of all appraisals ordered and delivered in this country flowed through our Network Operating Center (NOC).

During this period of explosive transaction volume, I was told by multiple industry executives touring our NOC that we had developed one of the most sophisticated and high-capacity data centers in the industry, including companies with ten times as many employees. I was surprised by those comments at first. But, after visiting other industry facilities through the years, I began to think they were probably right.

When the boom was in full swing, and appraisal orders were falling from the sky, our customers began to tell us they didn't necessarily want the Mercury Network branding and interface between them and their clients. It was disconcerting at first since we didn't charge either appraisers or loan officers for the transactions that flowed through our network. We didn't charge for the workflow tools or the custom plugins that reduced mistakes and phone tag, either.

But, we fully understand the concept of not wanting anything or anyone between us and our customers. We "got it" when customers complained about the Mercury branding being between them and their clients. So, we changed it.

In 2004 we rebranded the Mercury Network to be the XSites Network. We were selling XSites to appraisers, Realtors, and mortgage brokers anyway, so we decided to create an industry destination site where all of our XSite customers could be located and connected to.

We took the appraisal ordering capabilities of Mercury Network, stripped off the Mercury branding, and snapped it all into individual Appraiser XSites. It was a popular move. Individual small businesses could promote their own company inexpensively with a professional website, while offering the sophisticated commerce capabilities that cost literally millions to maintain.

Appraisers "got it" and loved it. We now host tens of thousands of individual business websites for appraisers and over the past four years appraisers have received orders directly from their clients, without a la mode or Mercury branding being in the way, while outsourcing the data management and infrastructure requirements and costs to what was formerly known as the Mercury Network.

HVCC

Fast forward to March 3rd, 2008 when all hell broke loose with New York Attorney General Cuomo's announcement that an agreement had been reached between his office, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and OFHEO. The whole thing seems almost quaint considering everything that's happened to our industry and the financial markets since then. But, one thing's for certain, when the first memos about HVCC were released, a big bucket of cold water was thrown on appraisers and their relationships with their clients.

Chaos ensued, and opinions about what to do next came from every direction. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and many, many hours doing our very best to explain to the industry and to lawmakers why the HVCC would have the exact opposite effect that the original Cuomo agreement intended. We had a good amount of documented success. But, eventually as the economy started to cave in, it became obvious that Fannie, Freddie, and OFHEO had much bigger fish to fry. As things got worse, it also became apparent that most everyone in D.C. stopped caring about the HVCC - one way or another.

However, reduced down to its core elements, we recognize that regardless of how poorly the HVCC was written, how dangerous its unintended consequences, or how extensive or expensive our efforts were to block it, a huge tide has now turned on how loan officers and appraisers are going to do business from this point forward.

Industry Trends

In hindsight, I see the whole HVCC mess as a precursor to where the industry was heading anyway. With everyone grappling with the aftershocks of the subprime mess, all kinds of changes will take place. I think for a good while more BPOs than AVMs will be ordered. And, I think appraisals as a percentage of transactions will remain steady or grow. But, I also think included in tighter lending standards will be policies that promote independence and reduce pressure between loan officers and appraisers; regardless of whether or not HVCC, in whatever its ultimate form, gets implemented.(pq)

Current and future market pressures will force lenders to build "firewalls" between their production operations and appraisers. AMCs are an obvious choice, but will not always be the best choice - for the lender or the appraiser. The mortgage industry will need and demand alternatives and options and the Mercury Network will once again fill a big void. Going forward, I believe Mercury Network will often become the loan officer's compliance firewall of choice. But, make no mistake about it - first and foremost Mercury Network is, always has been and will continue to be the "appraiser's firewall".

It is a fact that loan officers, management companies, and individuals use Mercury Network every day to find and securely conduct commerce with appraisers. It is also a fact that current use will scale very rapidly.

But, more importantly, appraisers should always remember that Mercury Network was designed from the outset to enable the appraiser to control the entire process. And do so intuitively and securely, without us getting in the way. That is something that will never change.

Mercury Network represents an idea whose time has come. And, with appraisers in mind, it was designed and created just for a time like this. To get your Appraiser XSite, visit www.alamode.com/AppraiserXSite and sign up for Mercury Network at www.MercuryVMP.com.