Mortgage broker banking on smart-phone app

  • John Cox (Network World (US online))
  • 22 June, 2006 09:44

A wholesale mortgage broker is exploiting a mobile application to give its sales representatives one-handed access to account data anywhere they can get a cell phone signal.

About a dozen sales reps with First Rate Financial are using Entellium's recently released eMobile software to connect, via Verizon Wireless Treo 700 smart-phones, to CRM data. With minimal training, the reps can move quickly via a thumb wheel through nested menus to call up the most recent account data, including each step of a loan application's workflow.

"It's a pretty robust little application," says Michael Colagrossi, a principal with First Rate of Bellevue, Wash. The company represents banks and lenders in six states.

It's robustness is no accident. Entellium designed eMobile from the outset to be used on a smart-phone. The company's approach won it a place in our recent listing of five "Wireless Companies to Watch." The guiding inspiration for the project: Apple's easy-to-use iPod music player.

"We think the No. 1 design criteria [for a mobile application] is: be able to use it with one hand," says Paul Johnston, president and CEO of Entellium, which is based in Seattle.

Entellium's main desktop and server application is eSalesForce, a Web-based, hosted CRM application that competes with products from Netsuite and Its main selling point, Johnston says, is that it offers the same or better functions at half the price of its rivals. The new eMobile application takes the full functions of the browser-based application and recasts them in a Java app designed for the smart-phone platform.

First Rate's employees use their Treo 700 devices to make a cellular connection over Verizon Wireless' CDMA net to Entellium's servers. Once they're authenticated, they see the eMobile home page and start their menu selections. Clicking on "What's new" gives them the option of selecting "Today" or "last 5 days" to see all newly assigned sales leads and activities, and then to drill down into account-specific details.

Users click on "Today" and see a set of new leads. Clicking one name, brings up such details as the date the lead was created, current status, level of interest and contact details, such as e-mail address and phone number. Selecting either address or number, causes eMobile to create a message or dial the number automatically. A copy of the e-mails is saved and uploaded, as are records of the phone call.

"I don't ever pull the stylus out of my Treo," Colagrossi says. "I've been able to do that [navigating and even inputting] very quickly. It's very easy to move around just using the action buttons on the phone and the keyboard."

The ease of this navigation was a top priority for Entellium. The company even added some video-game designers to its engineering team. One key decision, made early, was to scrap the conventional Microsoft Windows Forms interface used by many application designers. "In a classic Windows interface, all this [activity] is more complicated," Entellium's Johnston says. "The Windows Forms interface that's typical of our competitors is, in our opinion, an obstacle."

First Rate Financial customized Entellium's eSalesForce to capture the step-by-step workflow of loan processing. This same workflow is reflected in eMobile's arrangement of menus and drop-down lists. "To my surprise, that all just carried right over to the phone version," Colagrossi says. Now, sales reps at customer's site can see where each loan is in this process, what additional documentation is needed, whether an application review needs to be done and what information needs to be sent when to the underwriter, he says.

The eMobile application requires about 400 to 500KB of memory to run. It has built-in caching, so it can store some data on the handset. If the cellular connection breaks, the software is smart enough to know that a transaction failed to complete. When the connection is restored, eMobile picks up where it left off to complete the action.

Verizon Wireless has recently signed a deal to offer eMobile as part of its wireless sales force automation offering for business users. The service will be marketed and sold by the cellular carrier.

"We've been using [eMobile] right out of the box,'" First Rate's Colagrossi says. "From what we've experienced so far, we're pretty happy."