In the not-so-distant past, all the paper-shuffling and number-crunching produced by a mortgage origination could draw out the process to two months, bogging down loan departments and frustrating applicants. Fast-forward to the present and the process has been winnowed down to 48 hours or so, thanks to innovations created by mortgage-technology companies such as Greenbrae, Calif.-based MindBox.

MindBox, owned by British Columbia-based MDA (Toronto Stock Exchange: MDA), markets its highly specialized software to more than 100 financial services firms ranging from Countrywide Home Loans to Ford Motor Credit. With such products as ARTPrice and ARTQualify, which give loan officers and brokers the ability to efficiently structure and price loan products, and ARTOptimize, which helps them evaluate credit, price loans and structure deals quickly, MindBox has become a force in the mortgage-tech world.

Recently, NREI spoke with MindBox president and CEO Richard Barfus, who oversaw 60% company growth in 2005.

Richard BarfusNREI: How do you stay on the cutting edge of such a fast-changing business?

Barfus: We come from a technology background, not a mortgage background. Deep-seated in our company DNA is this desire to break the mold and figure out how to do things that haven’t been done before in the industry. Though we’ve never originated a loan ourselves, we have a very tight relationship with our customers and see a broad spectrum of practices. The typical mortgage professional goes to work under the shell of one organization, and although they may go on to work for a second, third or fourth organization, we have benefited from seeing the practices of 100 different companies and are constantly talking to people in the field.

NREI: How do your products help these clients?

Barfus: Savings range from 26% to 30% in costs associated with originating loans. The average deal size has increased by 28%, primarily because we help these organizations serve hard-to-fit borrowers such as those with bad credit, low FICA scores or a large amount of debt. Lenders tend to settle into a specific product set after awhile and stop looking at the full spectrum. But our technology allows them to broaden that range.

NREI: How do these products benefit the mortgage applicant?

Barfus: Speed is one major benefit. An origination process that used to take 30 to 60 days in the early 1990s can take just a few days now, barring institutional slowdowns such as appraisals, [submitting] tax returns and satisfying other stipulations that we have no control over. We also help them find the right product for the right person to suit all kinds of customer motivations and FICA scores.

NREI: What’s your typical client profile and how do you tailor products to different size lenders?

Barfus: Our target market at first was very large lenders because we were doing everything on a custom basis. But now we’re all over the map from very large ones to fairly small ones. Our software can be packaged in different ways for different-size companies. We put a lot of effort into this [approach] and are getting it down to a science.

NREI: What will be your focus for 2007 and beyond?

Barfus: Most of our focus will be on driving the costs of these products down to a broader marketplace. We will focus on addressing some of the differences in retail and wholesale channels. And we’re also looking at meeting more of the needs of the smaller guys.