FinTech Disrupting The Mortgage Industry

photo by

photo by

Researchers at the NY Fed have posted The Role of Technology in Mortgage Lending. There is no doubt that tech can disrupt the mortgage lending business much as it has done with others. The abstract reads,

Technology-based (“FinTech”) lenders increased their market share of U.S. mortgage lending from 2 percent to 8 percent from 2010 to 2016. Using market-wide, loan-level data on U.S. mortgage applications and originations, we show that FinTech lenders process mortgage applications about 20 percent faster than other lenders, even when controlling for detailed loan, borrower, and geographic observables. Faster processing does not come at the cost of higher defaults. FinTech lenders adjust supply more elastically than other lenders in response to exogenous mortgage demand shocks, thereby alleviating capacity constraints associated with traditional mortgage lending. In areas with more FinTech lending, borrowers refinance more, especially when it is in their interest to do so. We find no evidence that FinTech lenders target marginal borrowers. Our results suggest that technological innovation has improved the efficiency of financial intermediation in the U.S. mortgage market.

The report documents the significant extent to which FinTech firms have already disrupted the primary mortgage market. They also predict a whole lot more disruption coming down the pike:

Going forward, we expect that other lenders will seek to replicate the “FinTech model” characterized by electronic application processes with centralized, semi-automated underwriting operations. However, it is unclear whether traditional lenders or small institutions will all be able to adopt these practices as these innovations require significant reorganization and sizable investments. The end result could be a more concentrated mortgage market dominated by those firms that can afford to innovate. From a consumer perspective, we believe our results shed light on how mortgage credit supply is likely to evolve in the future. Specifically, technology will allow the origination process to be faster and to more easily accommodate changes in interest rates, leading to greater transmission of monetary policy to households via the mortgage market. Our findings also imply that technological diffusion may reduce inefficiencies in refinancing decisions, with significant benefits to U.S. households.

Our results have to be considered in the prevailing institutional context of the U.S. mortgage market. Specifically, at the time of our study FinTech lenders are non-banks that securitize their mortgages and do not take deposits. It remains to be seen whether we find the same benefits of FinTech lending as the model spreads to deposit-taking banks and their borrowers. Changes in banking regulation or the housing finance system may affect FinTech lenders going forward. Also, the benefits we document stem from innovations that rely on hard information; as these innovations spread, they may affect access to credit for those borrowers with applications that require soft information or borrowers that require direct communication with a loan officer. (37-38)

I think that the author’s predictions are right on target.


Low Down Payment or Low Interest Rate?

dollars.0 quoted me in Consumers Should Not Assume a Lower Down Payment Is a Better Option. It reads, in part

First-time homeowners are often caught in a conundrum when they are faced with tantalizing offers of either lower mortgage rates or a smaller down payment.

The decision is much harder to make than it appears because of many variables such as the stability of your profession, the likelihood of buying another home within a few years and the long-term costs of higher payments.

While at first glance paying a smaller down payment sounds like the obvious choice for many Millennials and Gen X-ers who want to own a home, but are also saddled with student loans and credit card debt, the decision has other ramifications. A higher mortgage rate means paying thousands of extra dollars in interest alone over time.

A recent study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that when a lower down payment is required, it affects the demand on housing more as additional consumers are eager or able financially to purchase a house. Changes in the mortgage rate have a “modest” effect, wrote Andreas Fuster and Basit Zafar, both senior economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s research and statistics group. The study asked 1,000 households what would affect their willingness to buy a home if they were to move to a similar city and a comparable home.

When the households were offered either a 20% down payment compared to a 5% down payment, the number of people willing to pay for a house rose by 15% when the lower amount was an option.

    *     *     *

Advantages of Lower Interest Rates

While a lower down payment might be more appealing for a first time homebuyer, it can often result in paying more money just on the interest alone, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y. Lenders offer mortgage rates largely based on the credit score of the homeowner, so a cheaper interest rate may not always be available.

Let’s say the homebuyer is considering a $100,000 property that is paid for with a $90,000 interest-only mortgage with a 4% interest rate and a $10,000 down payment or with a $95,000 interest-only mortgage with a 5% interest rate and a $5,000 down payment.

The first mortgage means the consumer would pay $3,600 a year in interest. However, the second mortgage results in the consumer paying $4,750 a year in interest.

“That is not an apples-to-apples comparison, because the second mortgage interest payment reflects the higher loan to value ratio and the higher interest rate and it also does not take into account the tax treatment of interest payments,” he said.

Homeowners need to decide if paying additional money in interest is “worth it,” since a consumer would pay about $1,000 a year more in interest for the “privilege of paying the lower down payment,” Reiss said.

“I think that it is smart to figure out how to pay as low of an interest rate as possible, given the other financial constraints you face,” he said.

Many consumers believe there is not much of a difference between a 3.5% or 4% mortgage rate, but it can result in another few hundred dollars each month in mortgage payments, which can add up easily in 30 years.

Refinancing a mortgage in the current market conditions means your rate is not likely to decline much, so receiving a lower rate now will have a larger impact over the next 30 years, he said. After paying closing costs, many homeowners do not see the impact of the lower rates until the fourth year after the refinancing occurred.

“Since refinancing requires a large upfront cost of thousands of dollars, you need to live there long enough for it to make sense if you are only saving less than 1% on your mortgage rate,” he said.

The Rescue of Fannie and Freddie

Federal Reserve researchers, W. Scott Frame, Andreas Fuster, Joseph Tracy and James Vickery, have posted a staff report, The Rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The abstract reads,

We describe and evaluate the measures taken by the U.S. government to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008. We begin by outlining the business model of these two firms and their role in the U.S. housing finance system. Our focus then turns to the sources of financial distress that the firms experienced and the events that ultimately led the government to take action in an effort to stabilize housing and financial markets. We describe the various resolution options available to policymakers at the time and evaluate the success of the choice of conservatorship, and other actions taken, in terms of five objectives that we argue an optimal intervention would have fulfilled. We conclude that the decision to take the firms into conservatorship and invest public funds achieved its short-run goals of stabilizing mortgage markets and promoting financial stability during a period of extreme stress. However, conservatorship led to tensions between maximizing the firms’ value and achieving broader macroeconomic objectives, and, most importantly, it has so far failed to produce reform of the U.S. housing finance system.

 This staff report provides a nice overview of the two companies since the financial crisis. I was particularly interested by a couple of sections. First, I found the discussion of receivership versus conservatorship helpful. Second, I liked how it outlined the five objectives for an optimal intervention:

(i) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be enabled to continue their core securitization and guarantee functions as going concerns, thereby maintaining conforming mortgage credit supply.

(ii) The two firms would continue to honor their agency debt and mortgage-backed securities obligations, given the amount and widely held nature of these securities, especially in leveraged financial institutions, and the potential for financial instability in case of default on these obligations.

(iii) The value of the common and preferred equity in the two firms would be extinguished, reflecting their insolvent financial position.

(iv) The two firms would be managed in a way that would provide flexibility to take into account macroeconomic objectives, rather than just maximizing the private value of their assets.

(v) The structure of the rescue would prompt long-term reform and set in motion the transition to a better system within a reasonable period of time. (14-15)

You’ll have to read the paper to see how they evaluate the five objectives in greater detail.