Moving is one of life’s most stressful life events. Part of that process is getting a new mortgage. The old approach was an endless paper chase, where the same information often needed to be submitted multiple times. It was an extremely inefficient and time-consuming ordeal. Even as some loan application processes became more electronic, much about mortgage lending still remains archaic and frustrating.
“People go into the mortgage process dreading it,” says Ken Meyer, Chief Technology Officer for Consumer Banking at SunTrust.
The mortgage nightmare has become somewhat of a poster child for the benefits of omnichannel banking — being able to switch among various channels to pick up with incomplete applications.
SunTrust is making great strides towards this goal with the introduction of its SmartGUIDE solution. Many financial institutions have merely plopped their standard mortgage application form online, leaving prospects to fend for themselves. That’s not SunTrust’s approach. Friendly questions appear on unimposing screens gather much of the preliminary information, similar to the approach TurboTax has taken with filing taxes.
SmartGUIDE enables applicants to chat with loan officers at any point during the application process, as well as to log in to check the status of a completed application. Applicants can also share screens with loan officers at any time. Alternatively, loan officers can use the software to take mortgage applications directly by phone or in person.
Todd Chamberlain, head of mortgage banking at SunTrust, says the complexity and paper-ridden nature of the application process creates unnecessary stress for consumers. “SmartGUIDE empowers clients with a tool that will simplify and accelerate the mortgage application,” Chamberlain with pride. “This allows them to enjoy a new level of transparency, decreasing their stress and increasing their confidence.”
SunTrust describes its SmartGUIDE solution as a “more relaxed” process by creating an entirely “paperless process.” They even let clients e-sign application documents requiring a signature.
Altogether, SunTrust says the revamped process halves the time typically involved with completing a mortgage application. Using SmartGUIDE, most applicants can complete an application for a SunTrust home loan in 30 to 40 minutes.
Bringing Digitization to the Mortgage Process
Digital lending isn’t new to SunTrust. The bank has an online consumer lending unit called LightStream that handles various specialty needs, ranging from auto loan refinancing and equine lending to tiny-home financing, focused mostly on prime and super-prime applicants.
Mortgages, however are typically much more complicated. For example, in an age when consumers have grown accustomed to websites and apps that pre-populate numerous form fields, people can get pretty cranky if they have to provide information over and over again, sometimes within the same process. This is particularly a problem for traditional lenders where a customer already maintains another relationship (e.g., a checking account).
That’s why, back in 2017, the bank set out to create a digital mortgage application process that would address many of consumers’ complaints about applications, specifically those offered online.
SunTrust wanted SmartGUIDE to be able to pull in a great deal of information from various sources — e.g., bank statements. And when certain documents and other data couldn’t be accessed automatically by SmartGUIDE, SunTrust decided it would allow applicants to shoot documents with the camera on their smartphone or tablet.
Following a short pilot at the end of 2017, SunTrust launched SmartGUIDE more broadly in late March 2018. Seven months later, over 9,000 applications had already been processed through their new solution, representing 54% of the bank’s total direct mortgage volume. Meyer says that four out of five of these SmartGUIDE applications go all the way through the process without manual handling.
SunTrust expects to see more and more mortgage applications will shift to its SmartGUIDE platform — all part of a bank-wide effort to digitize 80% to 90% of its customer solutions by the end of 2019.
Partnering With an Outside Developer
There was some debate internally over how to develop such a robust digital mortgage application platform. Meyer describes SunTrust’s development teams as increasingly agile, so he says there was the temptation to build SmartGUIDE in-house. However, he says, the decision was ultimately made to instead partner with an outside developer, Blend, a San Francisco based fintech. The company, who says its name stands for “Better Lending”, offered a platform using APIs (application programming interfaces) that would ease the burdens involved with pulling in data from internal- and certain external sources.
Approaching the project in this way enabled SunTrust to go from concept to pilot in a matter of months, with the outside vendor concentrating on making the technology work for the bank while the bank’s internal teams focused on customer experience and marketing the new solution.
Part of the point of redesigning and digitizing the mortgage process was to reduce the length of the mortgage cycle at SunTrust. Meyer says this is already occurring, through streamlining aspects of the process.
Choosing a Responsive Web Instead of a Dedicated App
When digitizing a service that is meant to straddle multiple channels, it should seem obvious why SunTrust chose to go with a responsive web approach instead of offering SmartGUIDE as a mobile app. After all, you can’t install and run apps on laptops and desktop workstations.
But there were other reasons behind the decision as well. For instance, some consumers resist apps because they must be downloaded and take up device memory. A responsive web approach, however, allows users to access the latest version of the software wherever and whenever they come to the site. By contrast an app must be periodically downloaded by users whenever it’s been updated by the institution.
Responsive websites can be updated on the fly as necessary, and each time the visitor arrives they are working with the latest version. This includes when they switch from a computer to a mobile device, or vice versa.