The shift to an all-digital, online and “contactless” mortgage process – propelled by the pandemic – has forever altered borrowers’ expectations.
While there will always be a need for human interaction in the mortgage process, the industry is gradually shifting toward automating as many pieces of the process as possible. This means borrowers are now evaluating lenders on two fronts: The quality of the live human interaction they provide and how well their technology works.
But when it comes to today’s borrower expectations, there’s more to it than just delivering great technology and customer service. Lenders must emulate the experiences delivered by the big tech giants such as Amazon in order to wow consumers. That means big data and “knowing” what customers will do is part of the equation. To learn more, MortgageOrb recently interviewed Gizem Lanphar, manager of sales and marketing operations at Tavant.
Q: What are borrowers’ main expectations today?
Lanphar: Mortgage lenders have high standards to live up to. Consumers expect more from the brands they associate with, and subsequently spend money to engage with. In order develop loyal relationships with customers that last a lifetime, or even multi-generational, banks need to shift their focus away from the back and middle office, and optimize their front office and customer experience initiatives. The reason for this: big brands dominate. Look at the way certain businesses are creating customer fanbases the last multiple generations – like Netflix, Amazon, Chase, etc..
Businesses like these continue to raise the bar. Today, they set the status quo for what we expect from customer service interactions, operational efficiencies, design, and quality of product and service offerings. Using finance and lending technologies to create customized, smooth customer journeys is the key to success, even for the very mature lending industry. Traditional banks and lending providers who fall behind will lose market share to those with technologies that enable better experiences for their customers. People do judge books by their cover, and they most definitely develop lasting first impressions.
Q: How do borrowers take control of the lending process?
Lanphar: On average, people spend around 6-8 hours a day on the Internet, but that number fluctuates significantly depending on age and income level. The younger you are, the more time you likely spend in front of laptops and smart devices. Furthermore, millennials have aged into the prime lending age range (between 25- to 40-years old) and are now the largest driver of net-new loan demand. People within this age range, and younger, are now conditioned to begin engaging with businesses by first researching on the internet – it’s the natural thing to do. Our experiences with large tech giants like Google and Amazon help us become accustomed to having information always at hand and with ease.
As a recent borrower and homeowner, I expected nothing less than the smooth experience I am accustomed to having from Amazon and Chase’s mobile apps and digital account services. I was looking for a lender who would make my borrowing experience paperless, stress free, and transparent. I wanted to access information whenever, wherever, and however I wanted to access it. Transparency was a particularly important component of my decision-making process. I did not want to have to call a branch, during business hours, and wait on hold for 20-30 mins to get answers to simple questions. I wanted a lender who answered questions via chat (24/7) through a channel that worked for me, whether that is on mobile or a web browser on my laptop. I wanted self-serve resources pages, customer community portals, and so on.
Thankfully, I found a lender that met all my expectations. The funny thing is, I found this lender through word of mouth (from our real estate agent) and not through my online research. I guess this may mean traditional marketing channels and relationships can still be beneficial to support highly digitalized lending strategies.
Q: Can looking at data help lenders develop a customer-centric experience?
Lanphar: The term “big data” was officially coined in 2005. However, the quest to understand and use big data analytics has been around since the 1960s. With the emergence of cloud and variety of new data analytics software and hardware in the more recent years, many businesses started utilizing data to deliver customized consumer experiences.
In my experience, it was especially important to work with a lender who used digital platforms that were capable of unifying and providing instant access to my data whenever and wherever I needed. This also significantly decreased the number of repetitive questions I usually receive when opening new accounts. The lender was also able to optimize my journey by mapping certain personal data points with my borrower preferences.
Data drives the best insights, for mortgage providers, lenders, and all consumer-facing financial services. However, data security is an upmost concern for many borrowers, especially in this day and age – where people heavily value their privacy. During my recent experience, I was willing to digitally exchange very personal data knowing that I would receive customized lending advice and a secure application process in return.
For example, this specific lender used a secure online portal for file uploads instead of email submissions of our personal information. Most written communication was through this secure portal as well. Borrowers should do research on the steps their potential lenders are taking to safeguard their data before providing sensitive information. Reading the privacy and security policies (often published online) are a good first step.
Q: How has technology changed people’s communication preferences in the home buying process?
Lanphar: As previously mentioned, big tech giants paved the way to the current expectations for superior customer experience across all industries, real estate included. The challenge in the real estate industry is that all the major stakeholders in the home buying process seem to still be disconnected and extremely inefficient; archaic, in a sense.
While the lending industry is making great strides to optimize, become more efficient and more secure, in order to improve the overall customer experience, there are still significant gaps and pain points that have not been solved, or even addressed.
A shocking aspect that was highlighted to me was the appraisal process; the systemic biased history and current urgent issues needing solutions. The statement went something like this: “Home valuations are designed to mitigate the risk for lenders and then investors, which these days is most likely a government-sponsored enterprise. It took a village to create the current appraisal system, and all of those players will have to be involved in any systemic change.”
It is extremely inconsistent, and many real estate agents do not even consider an appraiser’s valuation reliable or valuable. Apparently, you can go find at least three different appraisers that will all arrive at different conclusions. There are aspects of the home, surrounding area or market that are not taken into consideration – aspects that buyers consider (historically) key factors in determining the value of a home. Clear and consistent valuation criteria and process seem second nature to current consumers. So, when an experience lacks this so dramatically, it is frustrating for all parties involved. In the hot market we are in now, it’s not as much of an issue. This current housing cycle is unique and won’t last forever, while this remains a significant pain point.
Then there are the real estate agents and brokers. It’s like the Wild Wild West. Qualifications and guidelines vary state to state, tech tools available seem outdated, and some agents are just frankly, better than others. The introduction of models like Zillow (Zillow Leads, Premier Agent etc.), Redfin Agents and the like, birthed an interesting dynamic shift. While these models give the consumer (for the most part) instant access to various levels of property information (data, images, and spotty virtual tours), direct connection to agents in the area, and sometimes discounted rates, the overall customer experience is still FAR from praiseworthy. Despite pain points on both the agent and consumer side, the ease of instant access keeps these models a fixture in the industry.
We saw the forced adoption of video use to capture and share homes through the pandemic. There were a record number of offers and homes purchased sight unseen. But the property images of the average home still leave much to the imagination (flow, layout, spatial measurements etc.). The desire to see a home in person has not diminished. This is just as true for potential buyers as it is for agents themselves. Agents have their own version of open houses called brokers opens. This is a day during the traditional work week where agents go to see other agents’ listings, to see and learn first-hand about the details of the inventory in a given area. This is where their industry knowledge stems from, this is how they stay up to date. This behavior was annexed during COVID. Now that life is slowing returning to “normal” will the in-person showings do the same?
Even with pictures, and various virtual tours, there is still the need to go see a home (and area) in person. This is an area where advancements in technology could, again, improve the overall customer experience. If there was a way to better improve those technologies, to enable agents to provide 24/7 accessible, more complete, more accurate and verified picture of the home and neighborhood, that could be a groundbreaking improvement in the basic behavior (home tours) and industry overall.
The recent explosion of technologies (i.e., computer vision, artificial, augmented reality, etc.), and their proven ability to improve the existing processes, ultimately providing a consistent and superior customer service experience, makes me very hopeful for all stakeholders in the home buying process.
Lastly, security and fraud prevention are constantly evolving concerns for many industries, especially real estate. But, if the healthcare and banking industries are on the digital acceleration train, surely real estate can’t be too far behind, right?