Talk of technology being the next great revolution in the mortgage process has been widespread for the last 12 months – now we are beginning to see what the possibilities may be and how they could impact the market.
NatWest is the first lender to launch a fully paperless process and boasts a significant improvement in turnaround times and overall customer experience as a result.
The lender started work on the project 18 months ago and following several iterations of testing and redesigning went live with an initial pilot model at the start of the year. Development continued with feedback from staff and customers being used to tweak the system until it reached the present final version in June.
“The project was initially going to be a video channel,” says NatWest implementation manager Joseph Knowler. “We quickly realised that the biggest impact to our customers would be in digitising that process and taking out the postman and getting our customers to offer quicker.”
“After launching an initial pilot at the end of 2016, by June we had developed it enough to say this is how we roll it out to our wider mortgage telephone team, and so we started training the whole team,” he adds.
From November 2016 to its formal launch this week, 1,600 customers have gone through the process, but the bank expects this to be just the tip of the iceberg, with it being accessible to all direct clients.
“We’d like to offer this as the first option for telephone customers, but where customers say they’d rather have a bit of paper in their hand we’re happy to offer that service,” Knowler continues.
“But this we think should be the future because we’ve seen a real benefit for customers, both in experience and in the time it takes to move from appointment to a mortgage offer, and even completing on their property.”
According to the bank’s data, mortgage appointment to offer times are 10 days faster and for remortgage customers offers can even be made in 24 hours.
The fastest purchase case Knowler is aware of so-far was five working days, where a couple spoke to the mortgage adviser on a Saturday morning and completed and received the keys to their new property on the following Friday.
However, Knowler acknowledges they had already begun the legal work for the purchase, which did help speed the purchase along.
But what does the process look like for a typical customer?
After an initial conversation and guideline affordability calculation, a formal appointment with a mortgage adviser is booked.
Prior to the appointment the customer’s case is created on the portal system and an email sent to prompt them to register, along with a two minute video introducing the service and explaining how it will work.
Once registered, the customer is given a list of items NatWest believes they need to upload, such as identification documents or payslips.
These can either be uploaded as scanned in files or by photo taken there and then. Where identification is concerned, the system links to Experian which verifies the document and the customer is then given 10 minutes to take a selfie.
“That sounds very different and customers are saying that to us too, so we’re working out how we make that as easy as possible for them,” explains Knowler.
“We then look at the selfie and identification and say ‘yes that’s the same person’ – as you would walking into a branch.
“And if it doesn’t match then we have a very different conversation,” he adds.
Once any other requested documents are uploaded by the same process on to the portal, the customer is ready for the adviser appointment.
This is often simpler than a typical advised meeting as the adviser has already had time to examine the documents.
That appointment is also augmented with a virtual meeting where documents are shared, explained and key parts highlighted, and if the customer is happy to do so, a signed acceptance of the mortgage offer can be made either using the touch screen, mouse or keyboard at that point.
While this all should go smoothly, there is the potential for hiccups, with one of the potentially tricky parts being customers taking the photos and uploading documents.
Knowler agrees. “It’s something we had a big learning curve with and we’ve done a lot to support customers with what a good photo looks like in the video and guidance on the website,” he says.
“We did initially see some less good photos coming through, but we’ve trained our advisers to help with it more but also given more resources to the customer and put some logic into the system that will identify if the image is blurry or can’t be identified.
“And when reviewing the documents, if it is too blurry or such, advisers can ask the customer for a re-take and chat through how to do it,” he adds.
Of course, the big question is, with 70% of the market going through brokers, when will this be open to the adviser channel?
For those keen to start using it there is likely to be some delay, although NatWest does have brokers in its sights.
“The broker market is a very different market and they would have a very different use of that system, so there’s a few things we’d need to work through and build-in.
“It’s definitely an area we’re looking at building into, but at present there’s no set date,” Knowler added.
The prospect of Open Banking and greater sharing of customer data also brings potential for further time savings and when that becomes possible it is likely to be another step in the process for NatWest.