However, with an often limited set of responses they can garner mixed reviews from brokers, with some seeing them as a waste of the time as unsatisfactory answers lead to them ringing the lenders’ business development managers (BDMs) anyway.
So this week, Mortgage Solutions is asking: Are there any instances where a lender chatbot has successfully resolved an issue or answered a question?
I tend to use chatbots when I need clarity on lending criteria especially on what types of income they will consider. It’s speedier in terms of getting answers and can save time in certain instances, especially when you just don’t know where to search on the lenders’ website due to complexity and different layouts.
I would however avoid chatbots when it comes to getting clarity on things that aren’t really searchable on the website. Things like what type of property the lender would lend on – the number of storeys, multi-unit freehold blocks (MUFB), flats above a commercial unit like a shop; or where the client circumstances are soft facts, like a house with two or more kitchens or out buildings.
Client scenarios are also something that chatbots are pretty useless with – where there’s extended families living in the property, multiple incomes are needed for affordability, and disability income. Or when regular outgoings change drastically, like when a child switches from fee-paying to mainstream schooling. Clients circumstances also change if they are going to move into the property they were letting out.
There’s also the cultural element, like how BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities are more likely to share costs, and bills are paid by other members of the household, which underwriters generally have a lack of understanding on, let alone the chatbots.
In short, they’re bloody annoying.
You’ve got a couple of lenders doing different things – the more historical lenders have live chat with an individual behind them and it’s not a standard scripted engine. They’re really useful because it’s hard to get hold of a BDM. The fact that it’s written and saved is great, especially when we’re looking for criteria.
However the people who are manning those chats often need better training – you can ask the same question and get three different answers – but the facility and use of it is absolutely awesome.
Then you’ve got ‘lazy live chat’, where the lender’s put a bot on there with a set of answers. It’s useless and a glorified FAQ.
It’s okay if you’ve got very basic questions but often we’re dealing with multiple issues, like ‘what’s your minimum income and your minimum age, do you go beyond retirement for income’ – you’re amalgamating three different things in the chat, for which the FAQ bots are useless. Lenders would be better off having a more comprehensive FAQ section rather than wasting their money on a semi-intelligent bot.
Sometimes it can be very frustrating depending on the lender and their system. With Natwest, for example, their chatbot will often divert you away from what you want, but other lenders, like HSBC, have one where if it can’t answer the question it’ll put you straight through to the BDMs, which is great.
At the end of the day the chatbots are good for the lender to filter out simple or stupid questions, so it frees the BDMs up to answer more complex ones. As a broker we enjoy talking to people, but sometimes you’re on the phone to a client and the chatbot can give you an answer while you’re talking to them.
There are just a few things that need to be ironed out.
It’s another tool that saves time but fundamentally I wouldn’t trust everything it comes up with. It’s like trusting new tech in general – you punch in the things you need to check, it gives you an answer, but you then check the website or speak to the BDM anyway just to be sure.
The lenders that really encourage people to use the technology, like Accord, are really clear about what the chatbot can help with. It also comes up with the higher source questions and uses that data to quickly funnel down things that are coming up frequently and bring them to the top which is really useful as there’s normally a reason why it’ll be a common theme.
It helps spot things like an anomaly, or finding out who to contact. It’s really clear and comes up with quick updates.
I personally have found chatbots efficient, helpful and time saving particularly when using them for quick criteria checks or application progress reporting. I use the bots regularly, often for straightforward criteria advice and enjoy not having to sit in a call queue.
Similarly, many lenders have now integrated their updates team to the chat service, which again saves time when we are just checking receipt of documents and lenders assessment timeframes.
The team operating the chat are trained to the same level as telephony reps which gives me confidence in their reliability, and ability to get the job done when needed. Downloadable transcripts of the chat also support our compliance measures by evidencing research, tracking and due diligence for each application. Chatbots have certainly improved processing and would be my ‘go to’ service for basic advice and processing.
Admittedly, by nature of the chatbot they do have limitations. Due to the complexity of some cases, and individuality of clients circumstances I feel telephone access to a BDM or call centre will always be needed. Rapport, understanding and one to one relationships are not easy to build over an online service, and given the tailored nature of our advice process we often still rely on the ‘human’ interaction telephony services offer.