In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way credit unions operate on multiple levels. They have had to acclimate to the unique situation of a global pandemic, embrace new ideas to compete in a strong market, make sure their employees have the right tools to perform their work successfully, and continue to provide their members with the best possible service.
A major priority during this time of social distancing was replacing traditional in-person customer service interactions with a virtual alternative. The answer for many was to quickly adopt a digital strategy that helped deliver that same level of quality service even after it became impossible to welcome members at the door.
While digital solutions have helped credit unions adapt and maintain, there are still opportunities to explore when it comes to using technology to support an eMortgage strategy, as well as maximizing retention and efficiency opportunities across the loan lifecycle. A digital mortgage experience doesn’t only include web-based, mobile platforms like a point-of-sale solution or eClose technology, but an end-to-end technology platform that powers the entire loan process.
A Changing Landscape Requires Changing Mentality
From managing higher-than-expected loan volumes to implementing socially distant policies for continued service, the business landscape for credit unions over the last year has changed dramatically.
Interest rates hit 14 record lows in 2020, and the results led to a robust housing market with improved affordability for many members and the opportunity for millions of homeowners to qualify for a refinance. Mortgage origination records were broken in Q3 and Q4 2020 with home purchases topping $450 billion and total lending above $1.3 trillion in Q3 alone. Additionally, millions of high-quality refinance candidates entered the market and, despite interest rates coming off their historic lows, there are still millions more who could benefit weighing their options.
All this to say, there are considerable lending opportunities for credit unions in the current market. Many members will look for options that meet their lifestyle or the current market and environmental conditions, which is why credit unions, known for their white glove-level service, must continue to find ways to meet members on their terms.
To stay competitive, credit unions need to invest in newer technologies that will put members in the home of their dreams faster and more efficiently. Incorporating a direct-to-consumer, no-touch experience to apply and get approval for a loan, offering members real-time loan status on their phones, uploading documents to a secure site and having them notarized online are all examples of how advanced digital technology can provide important functionality and benefits.
And while members expect a digital, self-service experience, credit union employees also want the flexibility to perform certain functions on-the-go. They need advanced capabilities to respond quickly to member inquiries directly within the point of sale process, review applications in a timely manner, send notifications or text updates on the loan status, all while making sure any decision on the loan is updated to the core system to maintain data integrity and consistency. Those credit unions that adopt innovative digital technology early, implement it quickly and continuously deliver exceptional service will hold an advantage in retaining both members and talent.
End-to-End Technology Helps Employees Help Members
To deliver quality service and critical functionality, credit union staff must be equipped with the right tools for the job. Employees cannot be overwhelmed by paperwork or manual, outdated processing that delays decisions or takes them away from addressing the needs of members. Technology can do the heavy lifting, such as leveraging artificial intelligence to handle certain manual processes, like document reviews and stare-and-compare activities which are particularly critical during periods of high loan volumes.
Digital solutions with strong, end-to-end automation is another way to help credit unions compete effectively. From point-of-sale to processing, underwriting and closing, integrating digital services that allow loans to move through the process quickly are crucial. The right loan origination system (LOS) should be thought of as a digital ecosystem where credit union employees can make sure data is consistent, and the manufacturing of a loan is streamlined to put a higher value on the job of supporting members. For example, lights-out processing and task-based workflows support lenders during processing, underwriting and closing so they can scale their operations while continuing to offer excellent member service. An increase in operational efficiency means employees can offer more attention to problem cases or tasks that need human decisioning. An end-to-end eMortgage process with automated workflows, access to accurate data, robust eClosing and more digital tools will help credit unions and their employees harness the most technology has to offer and in turn serve more members, more effectively.
There has been significant growth in eMortgage volume since the onset of the pandemic, which has facilitated increased electronic emphasis in many areas of the mortgage origination process. Innovations and buildouts range from customer-facing pieces, electronic application technology, to things like remote online notarizations that increase operational efficiency and accelerate turn times. Technology can take care of many manual activities, while staff can deal with exceptions or higher-level tasks that could potentially stall the meeting of a members’ needs and thereby impact experience.
Stay In-Contact with Contactless Solutions
If the global pandemic taught us anything, it is that how we work has certainly changed. Digital technology has helped foster an environment conducive to eMortgages. As in-person meetings with loan officers were paused, it was not just applications that were filed remotely, but the full spectrum of processing, underwriting and closing. These changes have shown the importance of a true digital mortgage process. Credit unions can make the member experience simpler, smoother and faster with self-service tools, as well as digital and automated systems working behind the scenes to improve employee efficiency.
Creating direct-to-consumer digital opportunities can have a significant impact on improving the overall member experience, which is crucial in differentiating credit unions from an ordinary mortgage company. Further, finding a way to close transactions quickly and more efficiently requires digital, contactless solutions.
For example, members want to review and sign loan documents digitally, as well as attend a closing virtually instead of in-person. Documents reviewed online in advance of the closing are handed off much more quickly and delivered more easily, resulting in saved time and a more convenient option for members. Digital solutions must ensure accurate pricing and fees, which in turn reward members with fewer costs at closing as well as faster decisions on loans. Remote online notarizations, which neared half a million transactions in 2020, allowed for business to continue during pandemic conditions and is now a service that members count on. Contactless solutions and those that meet the member where they want helps them make more informed decisions at the closing table. The benefits have been realized, so it is imperative credit unions stay on top of technology to remain competitive.
What Does a Digital Future Look Like for Credit Unions?
The lessons credit unions have absorbed in this time of social distancing will carry over long after pandemic practices ease. The volume of loan originations may fluctuate, so it is important for credit unions to carefully examine their current digital strategy, what tools are effectively supporting your operations today, where there are gaps, and what other solutions may be needed to compete stronger.
When building out your digital program, decision makers should focus on delivering the capabilities that will change their members’ experience for the better today and in the future. By using that as the determination for which technologies to employ, credit union leaders can make the right decisions for cost-effective digital technologies that can handle the heavy lifting during loan processing while supporting premier member service.