How Digitization Can Enable the Human Side of Mortgage Lending
The mortgage industry is changing. Lenders are working hard to earn the trust of consumers. The financial crisis of 2008 is still fresh in the minds of borrowers, and so we have to do everything in our power to provide transparency and to deliver a superlative client experience.
At Synergy One Lending, we use cutting-edge technology to offer modern mortgage services to homebuyers and realtors. We train our sales force to use the latest online tools, and provide them with the financial expertise they need to offer borrowers a smooth, secure loan application and approval process. Equipped with the tools and knowledge, our staff can then bring the human element to the lending process. It’s no wonder that our team has grown from roughly 100 to nearly 600 loan officers in the last year.
Adopting Mortgage Approval Technology That Matches Consumers’ Expectations
Today’s consumers crave transparency and speed. They are accustomed to one-click shopping, next-day delivery, easy returns, and honest customer reviews. These consumers are well informed, and take the time to educate themselves before making a purchase. Many do most—if not all—of their banking and investing online. All of this happens in real time, and so it’s only logical that they seek out a home financing experience that operates along the same lines.
You might think consumers aren’t ready to make the biggest purchase of their lives online. However, if you look at their next biggest purchase, you’ll see that they’ve already started to make the transition. Tesla not only mainstreamed electric vehicles, the company also pioneered online car sales. The big three may not be there yet, but motorists can choose car colors and option packages online and take their wish lists to a dealership. They can also apply for financing and insurance online.
Taking mortgage lending online is a natural progression from all of this. More than anything, it’s a matter of scale, and there is no stopping it moving forward. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have already made significant inroads in the online mortgage business, so this is not uncharted territory. But this is an aspect of your business—and customers’ experience—you need to get perfect. This is why Synergy One waited until electronic and online lending tools were sophisticated enough to match our borrowers’ expectations.
Combining Automation and the Human Touch in a Competitive Mortgage Marketplace
The lending space is very competitive. Whether they’re buying their first home, moving, upsizing, or downsizing, consumers expect their mortgage providers to become financial partners. Lenders can no longer afford to simply check off boxes, just ensuring that potential homeowners meet credit criteria. They have to create the winning conditions that not only puts house keys into their customers’ hands, but also provides confidence in the process and the mortgage offer. This is where the human side of mortgage lending comes into play. Consumers want digital, but they also crave guidance with a decision of this magnitude.
To succeed in the mortgage business, we have to offer a combination of knowledgeable loan officers who can steer buyers toward the best financing options, along with the kind of automation that drives e-commerce. Fortunately, the same technology used by the big online lenders is also available to smaller players like Synergy One. This allows us to provide the personal service consumers expect from a traditional mortgage company, alongside the quick response that is the hallmark of web-based loan providers.
Our loan officers provide local fulfillment and reassurance through their expertise. Filling out an online questionnaire or creating an electronic buyer profile are terrific. But when combined with our reps’ personal touch, we can take the experience to another level. At the same time, our reps can then use the same automated tools and processes as online lenders to verify potential homeowners’ credit histories, and to determine whether they meet loan eligibility criteria.
We’re getting close to borrowers being entirely comfortable with taking out mortgages online. For the time being, our hybrid model has proven successful with homebuyers who are looking for a friction-free combination of expertise and ease-of-use.
Creating the Mindset to Fuel Our Digital Transformation
I came to Synergy One a couple of years ago. At the time, we were just starting our journey into creating better buyer experiences through technology. We began using technology that would lower barriers for customers, helping to validate income, assets, and employment histories.
We were moving in the right direction for our customers. Our push to combine the digital and personal aspects of mortgage lending was on-trend with consumers’ expectations. But we couldn’t stop there. I knew we could do more to continue to build our offering in the digital space.
We partnered with a technology company to develop a mobile app for our sales force, and to help them introduce digital lending to our clients. I would say that 95% of our loan officers had no experience with this type of tool, but they quickly took to it, and adopted the mindset we needed to take our digital transformation even further. They saw the value it could provide to their clients. It would help provide the borrower with the same streamlined experience that they’ve come to expect everywhere else online. To further enhance the borrower experience, I knew we needed to explore real-time customer authentication. It became my focus after we launched the first version of Synergy One’s mobile app. This was one of our first forays into enabling technology to help enable our sales force to provide better service. It was at this point that I was introduced to the Finicity team. After exploring their technology, I knew I’d found the tool to create instantaneous point-of-sale validation.
I set to work with our mobile app provider, and we began to integrate Finicity into our existing platform. It wasn’t just a question of adding functionality, but of building an engaging customer experience that was an alternative to the traditional mortgage application process.
Streamlining the Mortgage Application Process and Giving Customers a Choice
Now, the easiest way to lose a customer is to force them into doing things your way. Despite the convenience and security, there are some people who would rather apply for a loan in a non-digital way. We still provide customers with the opportunity to take that non-digital route for asset verification. But we’re starting to see this approach become less common. Given the choice, customers are beginning to choose this frictionless way— even those who were hesitant at first.
Although the process is streamlined and near instantaneous, the steps are the same as any other mortgage application. Customers must provide data about themselves and their finances; things like salary, savings, investments, properties owned, and the home they’re looking to purchase. The only differences are that everything is checked using online tools, and approval happens there and then.
Digital newbies may think twice about an automated approval like this, but first-time homebuyers—who are used to doing everything online, and who are new to budgeting for a real-estate investment—are more likely to go for it. In fact, for many of them, following a paper trail isn’t even an option.
Designing a Customer Experience that Empowers Home Buyers
One of the most crucial elements of moving into the digital mortgage arena was finding a partner who was open to our ideas. Some of the other fintech industry players we talked to tried to force us into their way of doing things, but the folks at Finicity treated Synergy One as a partner from the very beginning. Finicity let us deploy their technology in ways neither of our companies had ever imagined. Their team provided a consistent, reliable platform to build on. More importantly, they altered their internal processes to better deliver a quality experience to homebuyers applying for a mortgage. Their entire mindset is based on flexibility, and on offering the best technology to their financial partners. This freed us to focus on mapping the perfect customer experience.
The result of our collaboration is a safe, secure environment that provides instant and accurate feedback. Customers not only know what they can borrow right away, but they can also rest assured that their private information will remain confidential. That’s because everything happens under the Synergy One banner. At no point are borrowers taken to an external site or transferred to another app. Dealing with a single entity, even when going online, creates a stronger level of trust.
Think back to your own online shopping experiences. When you check out on Amazon, you stay on Amazon, but some online shops take you to an external payment site. When it’s PayPal, you’re okay with it, because it’s a vendor you know. But what happens when it’s a service you’ve never used before? Are you willing to submit your credit card information, or do you simply cancel your order?
For lack of a better term, this also makes the application process stickier. Were a customer to be taken to another company’s site for final approval, they’d be more tempted to seek out another lender for a quote. However, our unified point-of-sale solution helps to build a relationship between Synergy One and potential homebuyers. It allows our loan officers to streamline the mortgage application process while at the same time providing the kind of face-to-face expertise and reassurance customers need when they are setting up the biggest purchase of their lives. Since implementing Finicity’s verification of assets (VoA) in July 2018, we’ve gone from zero to thousands of verifications ordered through the mobile app.
The Future of Putting Customers First
I am so proud of everything our loan officers have achieved since we started our transition to digital mortgage authorizations. They have embraced a new mindset, and they now understand that we’re selling a process. They no longer think in terms of following leads, preparing quotes, or closing sales. Instead, they put customers first.
It’s a little bit ironic. Moving into the app space, adopting Finicity as our electronic verification technology, and automating the approval process have all helped us make the loan application process a lot more human. We have designed a compelling approach that combines cutting-edge digital tools with the one-on-one conversations that can only take place in a physical space.
Our goal is to keep communications open, and to provide our customers with a modern mortgage experience that speaks to their needs. I think we’ve succeeded, but this is only the beginning of an ongoing transformation that puts our customers first. I can only imagine how much more we can do as digital lending technology evolves. The mortgage industry is changing—and we intend to change with it.