August 17, 2011

Avista Growing, Has Room For More

Brendan Kearney  /  Post and Courier

It took Mark Phlieger a moment to remember exactly why he named his mortgage loan origination software company Avista Solutions.

"A vista is a view to the future," said the CEO, who grew up on Florida's Space Coast. "Maybe where something's going."

Ten years after Phlieger founded Avista with his wife, the outlook for their web-based, all-in-one lending program appears as bright as it must have looked to them a decade ago, when the Internet was new and home-buying and housing prices were on the rise.

The company, which started in Columbia before relocating to Charleston, moved from Daniel Island to its new downtown digs this month, and Tuesday afternoon, everything about the scene in Suite 210 of 100 Calhoun St. had a forward-looking feel.

While a classroom full of employees of Avista's client banks trained on their lending software to the left of the still-empty reception desk, Phlieger was wrapping up an ad meeting. Should Avista promote its all-in-one Agile LOS software as a do-it-all Swiss Army knife, as a powerful, secure fighter jet or as a thin, colorful box to replace a disorderly stack of one-trick cardboard boxes?

Charleston Digital Corridor Director Ernest Andrade said he preferred the knife, but liked aspects of the other mock-ups too. Whichever direction Avista decides to take from here, its decision to set up shop on the peninsula is a "milestone moment," according to Andrade.

"I cannot recollect us attracting a company with 40 employees since the corridor started," he said.

Only about three-quarters of Avista's current staff were in the office Tuesday afternoon, Phlieger said, but even counting the absentees, it was clear there is room in the 10,500-square-foot space to grow.

Phlieger foresees when Avista will have up to 60 employees, which the 46-year-old Isle of Palms resident thinks would be "pretty cool." It would also keep pace with their average customer growth.

According to Phlieger, about 41,000 people at 110 community banks, credit unions and independent mortgage banks currently use Avista's products. In the past year and a half, Phlieger said, the company has signed up about four new institutional customers a month, doubling its customer base.

Lenders use the cloud-supported Agile program to handle every step of the mortgage-lending process, from imaging and product pricing to the underwriting and legal documents.

"We kind of level the playing field," Phlieger said, "so all the community-based banks can get the kind of technology the big guys get."

While everyone has been hurt by the economic downturn – Phlieger said he lost a few bank customers "for sure" – Avista seems poised to emerge strong.

Comparing Avista to its competition, Phlieger said, "There's only a handful that can go end to end."