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Mortgage Technology Issue

By Mona Kahn, Director, Integrated Technology Solutions, SPARC team (Smart Process Automation & Robotics Center) Fannie Mae

Mona Kahn, Director, Integrated Technology Solutions, SPARC team (Smart Process Automation & Robotics Center) Fannie Mae

Competing in a world where nearly every experience is digital leaves one wondering how the home buying experience hasn’t caught up yet. Having very recently bought a home myself, I certainly lost touch with that “digital” feeling. Fannie Mae is committed to changing that, by working with industry partners to create a new e-mortgage ecosystem and by advancing our own digital transformation journey to best serve the housing market.

"RPA software has a short learning curve, allows non-technical people to build bots, and has a significantly lower time to market than traditional software changes"

Automation is a key part of the digital experience, so Fannie Mae has been looking at automation as a whole. Why automation? It has tangible and measurable value, not only about time to market, cost savings, and ROI but significantly about the user experience. In early 2017, I was asked to lead an enterprise effort to introduce Robotics Process Automation (or RPA) to Fannie Mae. Among the many positive outcomes, perhaps the best value was the improvement in our employees’ work experience.

RPA is the concept of introducing into the workforce virtual bots that mimic repeatable and structured human behavior. While Process Automation is not a new concept (simply remember the self-playing piano), the RPA industry as a whole has come a very long way in the last five years. Today, over 20 companies are providing robust, industrialized, and easy-to-learn software platforms.

Three years ago, RPA was a buzz word and now you won’t hear about a digital transformation that doesn’t include it. That’s because there is merit behind all the buzz. RPA software has a short learning curve, allows non-technical people to build bots, and has a significantly lower time to market than traditional software changes. However, it does require a strong IT team backing your infrastructure, systems, and solution design functions. 

Fannie Mae chose to look at RPA for these and countless other benefits. We took a test-and-learn approach and, without investing a significant amount up front, we piloted a few processes. While the first process automation took a while (about 12 weeks), it proved our theory that RPA was worth pursuing. At the time, a few of our Single-Family Loan Acquisitions analysts performed a daily manual process that included 55 steps across five systems, then aggregated the data and emailed out a report. After deploying RPA, what used to require around five hours a day now takes about five minutes. Irrespective of the obvious financial benefit this provided, imagine the vastly improved experience for those employees. Process after process, we saw the benefits. Teams were thrilled to get mundane work off of their plates and reaped the benefits of the excess capacity for more valuable work. The RPA team also grew more efficient at building bots: Today we are deploying bots every two weeks, if not faster.

Within nine months of the pilot, we launched a Center of Excellence called the SPARC – “Smart Process Automation & Robotics Center.” We built a unique governance model for bot operation, launched bots across the enterprise, and generated transformational buzz inside and outside of the company. We became a go-to source for launching RPA programs and have shared our story with many of our lenders and partners. 

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