PERSON OF THE WEEK: How is technology helping LOs enhance client and partner relationships in the post-COVID landscape?
To find out, MortgageOrb recently interviewed Juan Farias, branch manager in Homespire Mortgage‘s Orlando office, where he and his team work with all clients – from first-time home buyers to military personnel to first responders to experienced investors – to help them achieve their dreams of homeownership.
Q: The COVID crisis caused some big shifts for the mortgage industry – and technology helped fill in many of the gaps. What was has been technology’s most important role during this time?
Farias: COVID changed the rules of our industry in many ways. One major effect that COVID had on the mortgage industry was showing us the power of creating and supporting business through our screens. Both mortgage professionals and customers adapted to doing business virtually. However, this shift also emphasized how important it is for us to be able to serve our customers well, and technology was the main driver of this.
In the mortgage industry, presence is key. Both clients and partners must know their LO is available and reliable, regardless of whether it is in-person or virtually. Our technology’s most important role during this time was supporting – and even enhancing – that connection to our clients and partners.
Setting and maintaining expectations with both clients and partners is vital in any business, but especially so in the mortgage industry.
If you tell someone you are going to call them and you do not follow through, they will go to someone else.
LOs need apps and platforms that support and facilitate these connections – apps that are easy to use and accessible by all parties. These technologies are what have allowed LOs to remain positioned as trusted experts during the pandemic – and it is these technologies that continue to empower us going forward.
Q: What is the most critical, key area technology that can best help and support LOs’ success and how can they best leverage it?
Farias: Technology is an enhancement for client and referral partner relationships. As mentioned, in the mortgage industry, presence is key. Any technology that can support better presence, help with setting and meeting expectations, and provide consistent efficiency will be extremely useful to an LO’s success.
Overall, time replication is the biggest driving force of technology, regardless of industry. Any technology that can save time, allow us to do things faster or more efficiently is extremely helpful. For LOs, it can mean the difference between connecting with only one client or meeting with 10 during the same period. Mobile apps and platforms that make it easier for clients, partners and LOs to connect and effectively communicate means they are no longer playing “phone tag” with one another or wasting time going back and forth trying to find the right availability to speak.
Technology that allows LOs to “gain” time is critical. Being able to automate manual back-office tasks that, while important, are also time-consuming, means LOs could now be free to contact dozens more prospective clients. LOs should take advantage of these leaps to focus on more productive activities. Fewer manual processes can mean helping more borrowers.
Customers’ schedules vary a lot, and not everyone is available during normal business hours or can get away suddenly. Likewise, if someone is in the home buying process, but on vacation or if they are an out-of-state buyer, they may not be able to get to their lender’s or agent’s office. Even prior to the pandemic, a quick call was always easier than driving across town.
As mortgage professionals, we try to be as flexible and available as we can, but it can still be challenging. Technology allows us to cater around client schedules, including the occasional unexpected stuff that crops up. If a client cannot meet in-person, that is not a problem. The LO can handle everything through the screen, ensuring everyone is connected, happy and on the same page.
Like their clients, today’s LOs are constantly on the go, so mobile access is critical. It gives mortgage professionals the power to be anywhere and everywhere at any time. Being able to connect with clients through email or text quickly and easily allows LOs to stay on top of each client’s progress while strengthening those relationships at the same time. While most people have a mobile phone, not everyone has or is in front of a computer to sign, scan or send documents. Clients must be able to do this from their phones, so being able to upload everything throughout the application process is better for all parties involved, because it helps keep all key individuals in the loop.
Being able to provide your referral partners their own co-branded app to share with their clients enhances this even further. This not only allows them to see which clients they have shared it with, but the lender can also see it at the same time. Additionally, they will receive helpful notifications, like if their borrower’s loan has been conditionally approved. If a client is unavailable for authorization, referral partners can share the application themselves, upload everything, and then the LO can review it right then or whenever they are available. Apps with this functionality basically allow lenders to send preapprovals on the go, essentially anywhere and anytime.
Being available is being successful. Because of this, a missed or ignored call can make all the difference. Leveraging technology to avoid those missed calls can be a simple yet powerful tool for LOs. Setting it so incoming calls ring to all the team’s phones ensures someone can always pick-up, and even if they must transfer it, it better than the client going days without a callback. Both clients and referral partners want to feel that a lender is there – is present – and technology helps LOs be involved through the entire process; from marketing to close.
Q: Now that we are (somewhat) in a post-COVID environment, are clients and partners still preferring screen versus in-person consultation? What does that mean for the industry going forward?
Farias: Even in the current, more open environment, the industry is still seeing less in-person consultations. If a client has already worked directly with a Realtor or agent, and has received a “warm,” in-person introduction, they may feel fine to work with their lender only via the screen. Often, the partner has helped set the expectations that the LO is the trusted, go-to expert, and if everything can be handled efficiently through a strong app, the LO can leverage that trust and goodwill, effectively establishing and building that relationship through the screen alone.
As odd as it may sound, the text message is a wave of the future for mortgage relationships. While picking up the phone is important (and arguably the biggest asset to any LO), these days, a lot of people frankly do not want to (or cannot) take a call. Because of this, text messages are much more likely to get a response. Plus, it allows asynchronous communication for all parties, once again keeping everyone connected (and with a written statement to boot).
As mentioned, people work and do not always keep to standard business hours. Often, the financial institution’s operations teams might still be very limited in the times that they can communicate with clients. However, a text message is easy and acceptable, even at odd times of the day. What’s more, text messages seem to get a much higher response rate versus an email, which even when personalized, can come across as stiff or impersonal.
Even if a client is not opposed to taking a call, doing so can still be problematic. With busy schedules, it is difficult for many to find time to talk that is not planned out well in advance. While once a more viable option, voicemails today are frankly of little use. The truth is that very few people actually listen to their messages, and additionally, a voice mailbox can quickly fill up, leaving it unavailable to accept your message in the first place. For an LO who is not able to speak with a client directly, that text is much more likely to get through (even if it is only a message to “call me ASAP”). There are certain things that must still be done over the phone, but if LOs can keep these limited and handle as much through text as possible, they are much more likely to reach their clients (and keep them happy in the process).
Q: The last year of COVID changed (and is still changing) the mortgage industry. Looking forward, what can we expect over the next year, and how will technology help drive/support it?
Farias: Unsurprisingly, the last year and half has shown the world that you do not necessarily have to be in an office to conduct business, and the mortgage industry is no exception. Any technology that helps connect and close those physical gaps will continue to thrive and drive the industry. Additionally, technologies that allow LOs to be more efficient, managing their time and clients better, and reach more people will continue to be in high demand.
The truth is that a lot of people are finding they prefer this new model of interaction and have little desire to go back to the way things were prior to the pandemic. Because of this, it is unlikely we will see a total return to those practices anytime soon. Additionally, the post-COVID/vaccine landscape still has plenty of concerns for many people. Continuing to work remotely, engaging clients and partners where and how they are most comfortable, is an effective way to not only put preventive measures in place to help lower exposure for everyone but also reach more potential customers.
Within this highly competitive market, you can still have a presence, still be known and grow with your company – and grow yourself in your business. It is just a slightly different approach to do so. Be where your clients and partners are and keep in touch often. Checking in to see how they are doing goes a long way, and a quick text is a great way to do this.
Technology is a powerful tool that can save massive amounts of time and resources for LOs, but it is still important to know the processes and how they can be done manually. Technology should not be taking the place of processes and protocols, rather it should be enhancing them. The best, most useful technologies will be those that continue to answer questions like – how do we make this interaction better? How do we strengthen it?
Additionally, technology will continue to enhance (and even build) client and partner relationships through modern marketing. Apps and solutions that help establish and leverage those key aspects – presence, managing expectations, consistency and efficiency – will thrive and help LOs in the current environment (and beyond).