LOS ANGELES — The process of buying a home — easily one of the most daunting purchases in someone's life — often raises a lot of questions.
In an attempt to get in front of those questions, USAA Federal Savings Bank began sending customers links to personalized video scripts last year. The videos greet the applicants by name and feature specialized home-loan estimates in an attempt to bring the product to life and "explain the ins and outs" of the process, Mark Burrage, director of real estate lending and product management at USAA, said Monday at the National Technology in Mortgage Banking Conference and Expo.
The digital refinement from the San Antonio institution embodies the ethos of the conference: building products and services that focus on the homebuyer's experience, particularly in digital channels.
The lessons from other players are important as the pressure to make mortgage tools available on mobile is increasing. It is already one of the main channels for home searches — two-thirds of Zillow use occurs on a mobile device, for instance.
"The consumers are already there," Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow Group, said on a panel.
But accomplishing this goal isn't purely based on technology — it is about having an attitude that puts the customer first and then address everything else, observers say.
"Design thinking isn't about a website or mobile app," Abhinav Asthana, senior product manager and global head of mortgage consulting at Wipro Gallagher Solutions, said in an interview. "It's about creating a culture to support the level of customer expectation."
Where consumers can buy something with one click on Amazon, they may have to wait weeks to find out about a mortgage decision.
"Customers are getting frustrated by the minute," Asthana said.
To meet expectations customers already have, Asthana urges the industry to focus on responding quickly — by sending daily emails or push notifications on the loan status, for instance.
The stakes are high, he cautions. If lenders don't improve their offerings, Asthana envisions a future where a marketplace lender like SoFi recommends its customers use the mobile-first neobank Moven — essentially cutting the incumbents out of the equation.
Recommendations from speakers and attendees ranged from the seemingly simple but not typical (such as providing a digital tracker so a customer knows the loan status and can see how many steps are left in application process) to the cutting edge (such as getting approved for a mortgage on a mobile app in minutes, as with Quicken Loans' Rocket Mortgage product).
With so many digital to-dos, lenders battling legacy technology could easily feel overwhelmed with knowing where to start.
"It's easy to go chase the new shiny object and new tool," Burrage said.
But as Burrage sees it, lenders should make sure the innovations line up with their business models and the direction the company is heading.
Last year, in addition to the videos, USAA rolled out a prequalification tool so that digitally savvy members would not have to call the bank unless they wanted to. The initiative required USAA to do something most lenders aim to do but have yet to do: reduce the amount of information required for the prospective homebuyer to get a quote.
"It was a fun exercise," Burrage said. When a member signs into an app, the lender shouldn't have to ask for the name or Social Security number, for example. "We have a lot of information."
Lantz said mortgage bankers don't necessarily need to build something new either. After all, consumers might be reluctant to add another finance-related app to their devices. Instead, she urged executives to focus on empowering their loan officers to use existing mobile tools to respond to customers promptly.
She added that although loan origination systems may be a current barrier as many may not work on phones, that problem will solve itself as software improvements will be "there soon enough."
"It's not a huge concern," she said.
Ultimately, the mobile mind shift is something every lender needs to embrace, observers said.
"You can do it," Dave Savage, the CEO of Mortgage Coach, told the audience. "You've got the reality of life going for you."