Lessons Learned In Making Loans 'Easy'

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General Mills FCU, a $177-million institution headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn., serves 22,000 General Mills employees and their family members.

VP Lending Mike Long said the Internet is a "big reason why we can do so much mortgage lending."

"We launched an online program called 'Mortgages Made Easy' in March 2001, and followed that with a more interactive version known as 'Mortgages Made Easier' in October 2003," he said. "What we learned was, implementation is not fun. We tell other credit unions to allow three to six months to launch an online mortgage program, because you have to load all the programs and all the rates one at a time."

Once a program is up and running, CUs still need to allot 20 minutes each business day to update the loan rates on site, he added.

In the weeks following the Oct. 27 2003, launch of the "Mortgages Made Easier" program, General Mills FCU got the word out to its members in several ways. It sent a postcard, followed by a flier a week later. The credit union hosted a series of demonstrations a week after the flier went out, followed by another seminar a few days later. All of these were designed to "build excitement," Long said.

In a survey taken after the launch, 92% of members said the overall experience of obtaining a mortgage online was "excellent" (50%) or "very good" (42%). Only 8% described it as "good," and no members said it was "fair" or "poor."

Today, almost all of General Mills FCU's mortgage applications are online. Long said the program continues to earn positive feedback from members.

One important lesson it has learned, he added, is even though members apply online, they still want to know the credit union received the application. The CU usually replies within two hours, certainly within the same business day.

"I would urge other credit unions, if they are not doing mortgages online, to consider it," said Long. "It is not easy to get started, but once they do, they'll like it."

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