As the recently announced partnership between Ally Home and Better.com unfolds over the next several months, staff from both companies will be taking a crash course on combining latter’s high-tech platform with the former’s focus on customer experience.
Struck in April and unfolding throughout the summer, the partnership is anticipated to increase Ally bankers’ productivity dramatically. Another goal: Improve Ally’s analytics and insight into its existing customers’ needs and anticipate opportunities to build on those relationships.
By August, Better.com is anticipated to open a facility in Charlotte, N.C., the location of Ally Home and its Ally Bank parent. Many of Ally Home’s loan officers have already received offers to join Better.com and transition to its highly automated platform. Glenn Brunker, head of Ally Home, said that after onboarding, they should successfully complete 19 to 21 loans a month. That compares to four to six on average, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Ally also anticipates the average days to process loans dropping to 25 from the current 27 within six months, and processing costs falling significantly. The MBA reports loans are processed in 30 days on average, at a cost of $8,300.
To maximize productivity benefits, Ally’s loan officers must learn about the platform’s state-of-the-art technology that automates traditional responsibilities, including taking applications, locking loans, and preparing product and pricing scenarios for customers to consider. It will also change how they interact with customers, allowing “our loan officers the time to invest in customer education and support,” Brunker said.
“The loan officer is truly there to support questions, educate consumers and ensure a delightful mortgage experience,” Brunker said, adding loan officers will be able to concentrate on answering questions and providing advice by phone, text, chat and email. Brand training will also be extended to sales and operations staff. “As the mortgage business commoditizes, differentiating through customer experience is a must.”
He added that Ally’s customer service and brand training will be critical to the partnership’s future success.
“Our intent is to disrupt the industry and deliver a digital experience with speed, ease and simplicity, while offering at any time in that experience an opt-out [for customers] to engage with their trusted advisor and receive a world-class Ally experience,” Brunker said.
In fact, most mortgage lenders have a similar goal, underlying why Ally struck the partnership with and made a significant investment in Better.com, alongside the likes of American Express Ventures and Goldman Sachs.
Brunker sees technology and data as the two most important factors impacting the mortgage-lending business over the next three to five years, both to deliver simple and fast mortgage products to consumers, and to anticipate customers’ needs and offer them timely and appropriate solutions.
“The mortgage companies that can effectively deliver those two solutions are going to win in future years,” Brunker said.
He added that Ally chose the Better.com platform precisely to “accelerate” adoption of those solutions. Building it in-house and providing such disruptive capability, Brunker said, would take two to three years, “and by then it would be too late.”
Brunker said a priority will be to service the $180 billion-asset bank’s eight million existing customers, taking advantage of Better.com’s advanced predictive analytics capability to anticipate their future needs.
“We are currently working to build out predictive-model capabilities leveraging internal and external data to predict the probability of refinance or purchase in the next six months,” Brunker said.
He added that will include credit-trend data, Ally customer data and external data sources, enabling the platform to approach customers with “personalized and bundled service offerings,” increasing the response rate.
Brunker described the resulting customer experience as different from traditional online models that prompt lending institutions to flood potential customers with calls. The Better.com platform, instead, sends a link to the person’s mobile phone that he or she can use to receive a prequalification within three minutes, or enter the best time for an Ally representative to call.
Customers can go through the entire process up to closing without talking to a live person, and Ally anticipates eventually automating the closing experience, although at anytime they can contact a dedicated loan officer by their preferred means. Brunker said the pace of hiring new bankers will likely slow, but they will continue to play a necessary role.
“We’ve done surveys at Ally, and especially millennials want to talk to somebody at some point during their [mortgage-loan] journey,” he said.