Mortgage lender forks its fax duties to a service provider

GMAC Residential Funding of Canada (GMAC RFOC), a mortgage-lending firm, gets most of its IT know-how from other companies. Rather than build a loan-underwriting application and take care of it in house, for instance, the company licenses a program. And it uses outside help for systems integration tasks.

“We were really smart to say we were in the mortgage business, not the technology business,” says Karl Wondrak, information officer for the Toronto-based lending house. He explains that the business-focused approach helped GMAC RFOC ramp up sales quickly from the time it started in 2002. But quick growth put a surprisingly heavy load on one part of GMAC RFOC’s communications infrastructure: its fax machines.

“The mortgage banking industry, especially on the broker side, is still paper-intensive,” Wondrak says. “Even though you receive a loan application from a broker, you need to receive documentation — proof of income, proof of employment, certain other things. The only way to do that is by fax.”

With a growing number of underwriters on board and an ever-heftier workload, GMAC RFOC found itself swamped with fax needs. “After a while, two fax machines weren’t enough,” Wondrak recalls. “Three weren’t enough. Four weren’t enough. I said, OK, this is stupid. We’re going to have a room full of fax machines.”

To remedy the situation, the firm turned to Protus IP Solutions’ Virtual Fax service. Virtual Fax gives each GMAC RFOC underwriter a fax number. The underwriters receive faxes as messages in their e-mail inboxes. All of the technology resides with the solution’s vendor, Protus, making Virtual Fax into something of an outsourced data service.

“The only thing we had to worry about is if e-mail goes down,” Wondrak says, adding that his company has a backup data link. Wondrak says Virtual Fax lets underwriters retrieve faxes without leaving their desks. The service also speaks to security. Sensitive documents no longer spit out of the fax machines sitting in a common area. The info goes to specific e-mail inboxes. “Now it’s really secure. It only goes to the underwriter who’s working on the deal.”

According to Protus’ spokespeople, Virtual Fax is an indication that fax functionality may be changing, but it’s still important to many a company. “We were promised a paperless environment,” says Protus CEO Joseph Nour. But enterprises still rely heavily on the dead-tree medium. Virtual Fax might be considered an updated version of a stalwart technology, he says.

But even as Virtual Fax puts a new spin on the aged data-sending system, GMAC RFOC wrestles with an old bugbear: building consensus on how to move IT forward in the company as a whole.

GMAC RFOC wanted a fax imaging system, so faxes arriving at an e-mail inbox could be captured digitally, rather than printed off. Protus offered a solution.

Meanwhile GMAC RFOC’s parent company GMAC Residential Funding Corp. was also considering an imaging system. And GMAC RFOC’s broker, Mortgage Intelligence, was investigating its own imaging system from another high-tech vendor.

“Should we have an enterprise solution?” Wondrak says. “Should we let each business unit do their own thing?”

The only way to decide is through dialogue: each unit must lay its cards on the table. “You have to have this discussion,” Wondrak says, later explaining his own preference: “I’m really interested in doing this from an ASP (application service provider) perspective. I don’t want this to be in house.”

Wondrak says the imaging system debate could continue for some time. Thanks to budgeting issues, it’s more of a 2005 project than something for this year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however.

The budget constraint “slows the process down and lets the dialogue happen,” Wondrak says, pointing out that sometimes barriers can aid smart progress.

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