An unmistakable transformation is underway among asset managers and insurance companies with respect to whole loan investments. Whereas residential mortgage loan investing has historically been the exclusive province of commercial banks, a growing number of other institutional investors – notably life insurance companies and third-party asset managers – have shifted their attention toward this often-overlooked asset class. Life companies and other asset managers with primarily long-term, risk-sensitive objectives are no strangers to residential mortgages. Their exposure, however, has traditionally been in the form of mortgage-backed securities, generally taking refuge in the highest-rated bonds. Investors accustomed to the AAA and AA tranches may understandably be leery of whole-loan credit exposure. Infrastructure investments necessary for managing a loan portfolio and the related credit-focused surveillance can also seem burdensome. But a new generation of tech is alleviating more of the burden than ever before and making this less familiar and sometimes misunderstood asset class increasingly accessible to a growing cadre of investors. Maximizing Yield Following a period of low interest rates, life companies and other investment managers are increasingly embracing residential whole-loan mortgages as they seek assets with higher returns relative to traditional fixed-income investments (see chart below). As highlighted in the chart below, residential mortgage portfolios, on a loss-adjusted basis, consistently outperform other investments, such as corporate bonds, and look increasingly attractive relative to private-label residential mortgage-backed securities as well. Nearly one-third of the $12 trillion in U.S. residential mortgage debt outstanding is currently held in the form of loans. And while most whole loans continue to be held in commercial bank portfolios, a growing number of third-party asset managers have entered the fray as well, often on behalf of their life insurance company clients. Investing in loans introduces a dimension of credit risk that investors do need to understand and manage through thoughtful surveillance practices. As the chart below (generated using RiskSpan’s Edge Platform) highlights, when evaluating yields on a loss-adjusted basis, resi whole loans routinely generate yield. REQUEST A DEMO OR TRIALIn addition to higher yields, whole loans investments offer investors other key advantages over securities. Notably: Data Transparency Although transparency into private label RMBS has improved dramatically since the 2008 crisis, nothing compares to the degree of loan-level detail afforded whole-loan investors. Loan investors typically have access to complete loan files and therefore complete loan-level datasets. This allows for running analytics based on virtually any borrower, property, or loan characteristic and contributes to a better risk management environment overall. The deeper analysis enabled by loan-level and property-specific information also permits investors to delve into ESG matters and better assess climate risk. Daily Servicer Updates Advancements in investor reporting are increasingly granting whole loan investors access to daily updates on their portfolio performance. Daily updating provides investors near real-time updates on prepayments and curtailments as well as details regarding problem loans that are seriously delinquent or in foreclosure and loss mitigation strategies. Eliminating the various “middlemen” between primary servicers and investors (many of the additional costs of securitization outlined below—master servicers, trustees, various deal and data “agents,” etc.—have the added negative effect of adding layers between security investors and the underlying loans) is one of the things that makes daily updates possible. Lower Transaction Costs Driven largely by a lack of trust in the system and lack of transparency into the underlying loan collateral, private-label securities investments incur a series of yield-eroding transactions costs that whole-loan investors can largely avoid. Consider the following transaction costs in a typical securitization: Loan Data Agent costs: The concept of a loan data agent is unique to securitization. Data agents function essentially as middlemen responsible for validating the performance of other vendors (such as the Trustee). The fee for this service is avoided entirely by whole loan investors, which generally do not require an intermediary to get regularly updated loan-level data from servicers. Securities Administrator/Custodian/Trustee costs: These roles present yet another layer of intermediary costs between the borrower/servicer and securities investors that are not incurred in whole loan investing. Deal Agent costs: Deal agents are third party vendors typically charged with enhancing transparency in a mortgage security and ensuring that all parties’ interests are protected. The deal agent typically performs a surveillance role and charges investors ongoing annual fees plus additional fees for individual loan file reviews. These costs are not borne by whole loan investors. Due diligence costs: While due diligence costs factor into loan and security investments alike, the additional layers of review required for agency ratings tends to drive these costs higher for securities. While individual file reviews are also required for both types of investments, purchasing loans only from trusted originators allows investors to get comfortable with reviewing a smaller sample of new loans. This can push due diligence costs on loan portfolios to much lower levels when compared to securities. Servicing costs: Mortgage servicing costs are largely unavoidable regardless of how the asset is held. Loan investors, however, tend to have more options at their disposal. Servicing fees for securities vary from transaction to transaction with little negotiating power by the security investors. Further, securities investors incur master servicing fees which is generally not a required function for managing whole loan investments. Emerging technology is streamlining the process of data cleansing, normalization and aggregation, greatly reducing the operational burden of these processes, particularly for whole loan investors, who can cut out many of these intermediary parties entirely. Overcoming Operational Hurdles Much of investor reluctance to delve into loans has historically stemmed from the operational challenges (real and perceived) associated with having to manage and make sense of the underlying mountain of loan, borrower, and property data tied to each individual loan. But forward-thinking asset managers are increasingly finding it possible to offload and outsource much of this burden to cloud-native solutions purpose built to store, manage, and provide analytics on loan-level mortgage data, such as RiskSpan’s Edge Platform supporting loan data management and analytics. RiskSpan solutions make it easy to mine available loan portfolios for profitable sub-cohorts, spot risky loans for exclusion, apply a host of credit and prepay scenario analyses, and parse static and performance data in any way imaginable. At an increasing number of institutions, demonstrating the power of analytical tools and the feasibility of applying them to the operational and risk management challenges at hand will solve many if not most of the hurdles standing in the way of obtaining asset class approval for mortgage loans. The barriers to access are coming down, and the future is brighter than ever for this fascinating, dynamic and profitable asset class.