The final actions of closing a mortgage transaction require lawyers and lenders to swap documents back and forth, trading signatures on everything from exact interest rates down to whether the owner is responsible for mowing the lawn or not.
For Oakville, Ont.-based financial services company First Canadian Title, that time-honoured, yet inefficient method just had to go.
As a provider of the backend processing services that lenders rely on to complete mortgage re-financing, the company deals with both lawyers and lenders on a regular basis.
Lender-Lawyer Connect is a Web 2.0 collaboration tool.
Their way of doing business was prone to error, says Sam Dotson, CIO of First Canadian Title.
“A lot of the time, these documents were faxed or e-mailed back and forth,” he says. That meant a lot of written correspondence going to and fro, which left room for error and took much longer than it should.
After talking with clients, First Canadian Title developed a Web 2.0 collaboration tool to tackle the tedious paperwork woes of lenders and lawyers alike.
Dubbed Lender-Lawyer Connect, the software package was tooled together from a trifecta of Microsoft products – BizTalk Server 2006, SQL Server 2005 and Windows Communications Foundation Service.
Now the company is preparing to roll out the new portal, and anticipating much smoother mortgage closures across Canada.
The portal combines file-sharing capabilities with Web messaging and the offers lawyers the ability to apply a digital signature to a document. Currently, lawyers must physically affix their stamp of approval on each closing mortgage transaction with wet ink.
“These documents are printed out, put in a package and sent via courier back to the lender and back to the customer,” Dotson says. “Now all that can be done electronically.”
Each lawyer using the system has a unique user name and password they can use to apply their digital signature, he adds. The file-sharing portal allows the same file to be edited simultaneously by all concerned parties, and ensures everyone has access to the most up-to-date version.
“Early on, when this was just a concept, we brought in a number of lawyers and lenders to talk with them and understand what their needs were,” Dotson says.
When it came time to build a software product, the company looked within to see their next step, the CIO says.
As a Microsoft shop already using BizTalk and SQL Server for their day-to-day business, it made sense to build that up for customers as well. Microsoft worked alongside First Canadian Title to develop the Lender-Lawyer Connect system.
BizTalk is a server system that pools together information from several disparate database systems, explains Chris Brakel, product manager of e-business for Microsoft Canada. Acting like a multi-lingual foreign translator in a room full of people who speak different languages, the software allows everything to work together.
“When I create my database, I may elect to call the first name field something entirely different from the field in your database,” he says. “Then our computers won’t understand where to share that data.”
While BizTalk acts as the shepherd for data exchanged on the Lender-Lawyer Connect system, SQL Server acts as the stables – the data storage. Using the products together allows for reports to be run against the data in real time. Currently, lenders can wait several months before receiving items such as summary reports from lawyer.
There are also easy ways to share that information, Brakel says. “It allows you to extend the information to workers through Microsoft Office, and I think that’s very powerful.”
Workers can access statistical reports in Excel format, or on SharePoint, he adds.
This twin capabilities – of being able to talk with many different systems and update information in real time – is exactly what First Canadian Title needed, according to Mary De Sousa, director of communications at the company.
Having real-time updating and reporting ensures accuracy of the information.
“If the lender makes a change to a file and it’s not updated right away, the lawyer risk of not having the up-to-date information,” she says.
The ability of BizTalk to work with many different front-end systems already used by lawyers in Canada was also important, Dotson says.
First Canadian Title does offer its own front-end software to lawyers who don’t already use one, but prefers to provide its services to lawyers through a system they’re already using.
The popular front-end system used by lawyers varies as you pan across the country. For example, a desktop software application called Conveyancer is popular in Ontario, while OneMove is the most popular brand in B.C.
“Our plan is to integrate with any lawyer desktop that has a large customer base,” the CIO says.
Finally, coding the collaborative portal with Windows Communications Foundations Service – part of the .Net family – First Canadian Title was able to rely on established guidelines to get the job done. The code base improves with each project completed with it, Brakel says, allowing Microsoft to create a resource for those starting new projects.
“It’s not just going to the library and pulling down a book, it’s literally code you can snap right into your project,” he says. “The whole structure is just sitting there, and you just have to connect system A to system B.”
There are several hundred lawyers signed up and ready to start using the portal once it becomes active. On the lender side, Scotiabank will be the first to use the system and will roll out the system in Ontario come the New Year.
The system will first be used by the bank in Ontario, and eventually across all of Canada, Dotson says.