5 Questions with Talk'uments
George H. Baker is the CEO and Founder of Talkuments, LLC. Directly out of college, he began his career by selling APR calculation software to the mortgage industry. Intrigued by the trade, he went on to become a top loan originator, mortgage broker and mortgage banker. His 33 years of mortgage experience spans all facets of mortgage lending and is anchored by a maturity derived from detailed involvement with loan production.
From 2000 to 2014, Mr. Baker co-developed and managed direct-to-consumer mortgage lending call centers. An innovator, Mr. Baker co-developed business practices and software applications that facilitated and managed batch processing, task and issue management and reporting, and in-process quality control review functions. With a staff that never exceeded 55 full time employees, Mr. Baker co-managed a mortgage banking operation that closed over 25,000 prime loans.
In 2015, Mr. Baker began exploring the concept of Talkuments (short for “talking documents”). He concluded that lenders needed a market solution for the skyrocketing costs associated with new consumer protection laws, sales tools to meet changing consumer demographics and interactive multilingual multimedia technology to complete the digital loan experience. After extensive research, concept validation, and development, Mr. Baker launched Talkuments with the intent to change mortgage industry practices.
1) What was/is missing in the mortgage industry that let you to develop Talk'uments?
Language technology and consumer-facing digital technology are absent from the mortgage industry. By design, the mortgage industry does not provide transactional clarity to loan applicants and most loan applicants who need language translation assistance are not afforded those resources. Referencing our changing demographics, let me highlight what I consider to be very worrisome: Mortgage lenders who originate loans through multilingual loan originators without adherence to limited English proficiency (LEP) laws or unconscionability standards.
Practicing recklessly like this is like driving a car with faulty brakes. Eventually you are going to crash. And here is the secret that everybody knows: all mortgage lenders do it. They all have multilingual loan originators. In some states, regulatory penalties for non-LEP compliance may bankrupt a mortgage company and when the first lender gets hit with a class action LEP lawsuit, all heck will break loose.
On January 13, 2021, CFPB published a statement encouraging lenders to better serve limited or non-English speaking loan applicants. As mentioned, our nation’s demographics are changing, and we can expect additional regulatory changes, particularly from the new administration, to better align lenders with consumer needs. Language technologies must come to the mortgage industry along with the ability to market to limited English proficiency consumers, without fear of regulatory reprisal.
In brief, this is why we developed Talk’uments. Talk’uments is a multilingual step-by-step digital home loan guide that provides transactional clarity to mortgage loan applicants as well as protection from LEP and other language regulatory statutes.
2) What is the most used educational tool used by loan applicants on Talk'uments? What is the most asked question from consumers about the loan process?
Mortgage lenders ask loan applicants to read, review, and sign about 150 pages of disclosures, most laced with legalese, knowing full well that the documents are exceeding the financial literacy rate of most Americans. Applicants sign, most having no idea what they are signing—AND for virtually all, this is the largest financial transaction of their lives.
Talk’uments’ narrative dialog, available in multiple languages, guides a loan applicant through the loan process by explaining the most crucial aspects of disclosures, the mortgage loan program they have chosen, along with explanations of costs, mortgage terms, and the mortgage process. Our explanations are not general.
We import loan data, so our multilingual guide is specific to the borrower’s loan transaction.
The most important benefits of Talk’uments multilingual loan guide are our abilities to define, explain, and compare individual loan cost items on the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosures. When a cost item changes, we explain why and provide a comparison tool from the previous set of costs or from the original set of costs. Juxtapose this to a piece of paper and you’ll understand the power of digital tools.
Consumers also appreciate our multilingual settlement disclosure guide. They go from having truly little knowledge of what they are signing to a basic understanding of the purpose of each closing disclosure. The key to our digital process is simple—build transparency and trust. This is crucial for a frictionless eClose, hybrid close, or traditional close.
3) How has the CFPB helped in facilitating the need for financial services tools that enhance the customer experience?
CFPB has the right idea when it comes to consumer education, however there are three problems with their solutions: (1) Currently, they are all paper-based, (2) The information they provide is general, not specific to a person’s loan and (3) Very few consumers go to the CFPB website for help.
CFPB’s influence would be most helpful by recognizing, and I believe they are doing this, that the mortgage industry needs to provide information to consumers in a manner that they prefer and understand. Talk’uments provides a functional solution. Enhancing the consumer experience and consumer knowledge is not about paper disclosures, we have enough of those. It is about “speaking digital” in several languages. If CFPB could provide a plan or provide guard rails for lenders to operate through, the consumer experience would be enhanced like it never has been before.
4) What does your experience as a former mortgage lender bring to the Talk'uments table?
My background as a mortgage lender was invaluable as I developed Talk’uments. I began my career in the mortgage software industry, then jumped into mortgage lending. Working with the public as a loan originator, mortgage broker, and mortgage banker over the past 30 years provided great insight on how technology can be used to meet consumer demands, in addition to providing solutions for some of our industries structural deficiencies.
My career in mortgage banking culminated with the creation and operations of direct-to-consumer call centers. We had to compensate for the disadvantage of not being able to meet with loan applicants face to face. The question was: How do we build trust and gain a consumer’s confidence when all we had was a phone connection? This is how Talk’uments was born. We provided digital media throughout the loan process that reinforced what the LO was saying by explaining the loan product, costs, disclosures, and the settlement process in an easy-to-understand way. While much of the industry was asleep at the wheel, I knew that our proprietary version of Talk’uments had real merit.
Our industry needs to modernize. I recognize that as a regulated industry, change comes slowly, but we are so out-of-step with the technology advancements provided by other industries. We are making progress, but we need to be more forward thinking. At times, some very prominent people in the mortgage industry have said to me “The system not broken, we have always done business this way.” That is the kind of thinking that needs to change.
5) What is your vision for Talk'uments in the near- and long- term?
In the near-term, Talk’uments’ goal is to introduce digital language resources to the mortgage industry. Talk’uments provides language technology and we do it in a manner that meets regulatory concerns. For the largest purchase of a consumer’s life, the lending industry should recognize that it is in their interest to provide digital language solutions and transactional clarity, not just to increase loan originations, but to be on par with other industries, and to self-police, reducing the need for more consumer regulations.
As to long-term goals, Talk’uments needs to expand into loan servicing. Frankly, making sense of all paper-based financial transactions or contracts (i.e. insurance) through the use of multilingual digital technology is where we are headed.