One of the most underserved areas in financial technology is construction lending, which exposes banks and non-bank lenders to unnecessary risk, costs shareholders money and negatively impacts the client experience for borrowers. For an asset class that is finally gaining steam after punishing many lenders during the Great Recession, this is an area that can’t be ignored.
The problem? Once a construction loan closes, it’s booked into a loan servicing system. But to be properly serviced, that requires paper files, spreadsheets, emails and phone calls between lender staff, borrowers, builders, draw inspectors (people who go out to the job site and validate that the work is being done before a bank can release loan funds from a draw request) and title companies throughout the construction period. This coordination between parties is critical for lenders to mitigate risk and ensure that every dollar is actually going into their collateral. However, this reactive rather than proactive process is not only slow and costly, but it prevents even the most sophisticated internal systems from providing lenders with real-time visibility into what’s going on, much less their clients.
The concept of applying technology to a problem within lending in order to greatly reduce risk, increase transparency, eliminate friction, improve the customer experience and drive cost savings did not make its way into construction lending until recently. Most lenders don’t realize there is a better way.
This is the perfect example of how fintech can help solve a problem faced by banks and non-bank lenders alike.
Where Fintech Can Help
Risk: Construction loans are often perceived as the riskiest loans in a bank’s portfolio. As such, they garner significant attention from regulatory agencies that want to ensure risk is being properly managed. Technology applied to construction lending allows key information to be transparent and consumable in real-time. This reduces the opportunity for human error, ensures loans aren’t being overfunded and helps a lender maintain a first lien position throughout the life of a construction project. And perhaps the most exciting byproduct of bringing these loans into the digital world is the data. Analytics can now be used to help lenders make better decisions about the loans they make as well as proactively manage risk in their active portfolio. For instance, imagine proactive notifications to alert appropriate lender personnel that a construction project has gone stale or that a borrower has materially changed their behavior based on historical data.
Efficiency: Construction loans require more post-closing support and ongoing administration effort to be properly serviced than any other type of lending. While critical, this effort costs lenders more money than they likely realize. By bringing collaboration and automation into construction lending, lenders can now connect with their borrowers, builders, draw inspectors, and others in real-time, allowing each party to push things forward while knowing where (and with whom) things stand in the process. This eliminates countless steps and saves everyone significant time. Not only does this improve a lender’s efficiency, but it also gets borrowers their money safer and faster–creating happier builders and allowing lenders to accrue more interest.
Customer Experience: Today, the customer experience for a borrower managing a construction loan is sadly lacking. If a borrower or builder wants to make a draw on their loan, or wants to know where a loan currently stands, it requires a phone call or an email to their lender. This triggers a domino effect of events that usually results in stale information and disrupts the lender’s workflow. Through technology, borrowers and builders have full transparency into what’s going on, and can often self-serve from their phone or computer. That ends up being a better customer experience even though there is no human-to-human contact. Technology also means faster access to draws, which means that projects can be pushed forward faster.
The best part is that with the right technology solution, lenders don’t have to choose which of these three areas is most important because they can have their cake and eat it too. As with most areas of the financial services industry, fintech’s introduction to construction lending is changing everything for the better.