IdeaMensch: Bringing to Life the Idea for RealKey

Christopher Hussain, CEO and Founder

I recently had the opportunity to share with IdeaMensch my professional journey and how my experiences in the mortgage industry led to the creation of RealKey. IdeaMensch is a platform for entrepreneurs and visionaries to share their insights as they bring ideas to life.

As an entrepreneur, I see problems that I want to fix, and in my experience, automation through technology is typically the best approach to solving these problems. I have found that automation of manual tasks is what gives people more time to do more and be more. Whenever I can, I apply this thought process — where can I automate to save time and reduce mistakes — to my work.

For instance, during the housing crisis, I worked with a startup in auto repossessions, where I used technology to update antiquated, manual processes by automating the task of repossessions. I was working for this company back in 2008, when the first iPhone was released. In the app store, I discovered an app that translated other languages to English in real time, using augmented reality and text recognition. Seeing what this app could do, I had an “Aha!” moment. I decided to repurpose the core technology for auto repossessions by identifying license plates.

Traditionally, auto repossessions were done by using skip-tracing to track down vehicle owners who have defaulted for significant periods on their loans, and then collections would step in to encourage the individual(s) to a resolution. The actual act of repossessing a car, especially at someone’s home, can be dangerous, as repossession agents have been threatened and even shot at. Using this new technology, we put dashboard cameras into contracted tow trucks, and those cameras took the license plate information through our database, eliminating the need for skiptracing, collections, or going to someone’s house or workplace to repossess a car. Instead, you simply drove around and collected cars. The application proved to be wildly successful, the company took off, and the startup was later acquired.

I applied what I learned about automation to my own business, and became the number one mortgage loan originator (MLO) in the United States from 2010 to 2011, personally originating and funding over $2 billion in residential loans in all 50 states without the support of any staff. My success was possible because of the systems I built. Automating mundane tasks allowed me, as a sole individual, to accomplish what the typical top producing MLOs and their personal teams of 5 to 10 individuals were able to do. 

For me to be a top originator in the US, I made a lot of personal sacrifices, often working non-stop. I missed out on holidays and vacations, and felt like I was trading my relationship and family for work. Finally, I had enough. I knew there was a better way to provide accurate, fast service, resulting in happier customers.

I know first-hand the pain, frustration, and pressure to close loans. Hours to days are spent on tedious tasks like chasing documents, verifying information, and keeping everyone, from borrowers and real estate agents to title/escrow and accountants, updated in the process by calling and sending numerous emails. Everyone involved in the mortgage process deserves a more cost efficient, less time consuming approach to processing transactions.

To solve the problem, I partnered with Alan Tifford, who is now RealKey’s Head of Experience Design Strategy. Prior to joining RealKey, he led Intuit’s design and innovation strategy, and was design lead for the TurboTax product line. In our conversations, he challenged the concept of even taking a loan application. Why? Because in the mortgage approval process, what a person says is hearsay until the right documents are received to prove the information on the application is factual and accurate, and a loan cannot be funded until then. Knowing this, what was the solution?

What became evident is that we needed to automate the process, specifically in the area of document collection and review, and streamline communication for all parties. We would need to lead people to a document centric approach, and here is where we saw the opportunity to fill in the industry’s many gaps. For instance, numerous tools already exist, but current systems do not automatically and intelligently trigger the additional information needed. Furthermore, they do not document for all the possible conditions and different rules, and do not interact with all the individuals involved in the process. For example, many existing systems enable chat only between the lender and borrower(s), which is not helpful when there are multiple parties involved in the process, and each person needs to be kept updated on progress. These systems and processes are not holistic. 

To solve the problem, RealKey was developed. A digital mortgage platform, RealKey is an industry game-changer that automates documentation collection and review by underwriters and processors, and streamlines communication for all parties involved through a centralized chat. Building RealKey was and remains deeply personal, as many of the platform’s features come from my experiences in the industry and my vision for transforming how loans are processed. 

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