You know a problem is universal when you hear about it from one of the largest banks in the world and from a growing startup—(for anonymity, we’ll call it ‘Global Bank’) and a lending startup. Both offer mortgages. Both have teams that now work from home, and both face a gargantuan challenge: All the same in-office policies and regulations still apply, constricting their ability to transact.
On the one hand, their advisors feel shackled by all the restrictions on using their personal devices. On the other, it’s unclear if or when they’ll ever be able to go back to their preferred alternative—meeting people in-person.
If there was ever a time when lenders needed their revenue teams to operate at full capacity, this is it. The future is in flux and consistent, predictable performance can be a great stabilizer. Yet, how do you adapt office-based communications infrastructure that’s not suited to home life?
Today’s story is one of apples and oranges, or rather apples and orange planets. How did one of the largest banks on Earth with tens of thousands of employees land on the exact same solution as a startup with mere dozens? And how has it changed the way both operate in today’s environment?
The Great Forbearance Pileup
As the housing market goes, so goes the American economy. We learned this in the great recession. We also learned that a recession can wreck a nation’s loan infrastructure and slow a recovery even long after demand picks back up.
If too many lenders are forced into financial straits, people have fewer lending options. And if their loans are transferred to other institutions, the data doesn’t always travel with them. Someone who was granted forbearance—a temporary hiatus on payments—in April, may suddenly find themselves treated as if they’ve been in arrears by the new loan holder. There was a 1,896% spike in forbearance requests in March of this year alone, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. This constricts an already shaky housing market.
For these reasons and more, it’s critical to the economy that lending institutions go on lending, and that’s the sales environment this Global Bank’s home lending team has found itself in. Vital, yet shackled.
“The story for us begins before the pandemic, with the realization that we might not be communicating with customers on the channels they preferred,” says an executive director there. “We have a committee of senior leadership at the bank and this came to their attention.” Millennials, the committee concluded, did not want to be called. But millennials also felt cooly about email. It was clear to relationship managers that clients wanted to text, but the bank’s policy firmly prohibited it.
The chief argument against texting was the fear of a slippery slope. Certainly, some relationship managers would make excellent use of it. But what if junior employees less steeped in the norms of banking broke a regulation? What if they asked for a Social Security number over text?
The committee made a decision—it simply couldn’t persist in forcing customers to communicate on channels that annoyed them. That seemed like a sure path to irrelevance. They swiftly placed the executive director on a team of five and moved them to New York City with full freedom to innovate free of red tape. The legal, risk, and compliance teams were told texting was going to happen, and the best they could do was help it to happen safely.
And after several months, the executive director and his team discovered and began evaluating the secure communications app Movius.
Nonbank lending has grown rapidly over the past two decades—from just 24% of the market in 2008 to a full two-thirds today. But the agility that many alternative lenders offer comes at a cost. As a nonbank entity, they can lack the deep financial reserves to weather great crises. When a major event like a pandemic occurs, it creates a pileup of forbearance claims that, to them, can portend risk.
What many outside of the industry don’t know is that the forbearance clause in the federal government’s March 2020 mandate applies to consumers but not to lenders. That is to say, while homeowners can pause their payments, lenders cannot. They must continue paying loan originators.
This lending startup is one of the more circumspect nonbank lenders and has not had these issues. It’s busily forging its own path. But it’s up against the same market forces as others, and to maintain its momentum, its mortgage advisors need to text.
“The mortgage industry is very personal. You have to always be texting and always be leaving voicemails,” says a sales VP there, who manages mortgage advisors. For her and the team, that means they needed a way to remain compliant while texting, which they found in Movius. But it also opened a door into a world of sales optimization that took them by surprise.
“My job is to grow into new markets. That’s where Movius comes into play,” she says. “We don’t have phone lines and so Movius is our communication platform and for us, it’s about recording conversations for training.” For instance, she needs to know how many texts are being sent or whether inbound calls are working better than outbound calls.
Movius records the team’s texts and calls and makes them searchable. This way, if a particular call went very well or very poorly, she can review it to understand why. They’re also looking into integrating it with their CRM, so advisors can see the information as well.
In this way, Movius offers immediate insight and is a key part of how her team is continuing to sell mortgages amidst a pandemic—often over text.
But Does it Work?
Back at the Global Bank, the executive director and his team were busy compiling a list of curse words. They passed this, along with a smattering of fake Social Security and credit card numbers, to the Movius team and asked, “Will it catch these?”
Key to the executive director’s evaluation was finding a solution that wouldn’t simply track communications passively. If the operating committee were to truly trust junior relationship managers to text, the system would have to block illicit communications. Many errors, the executive director imagined, would be mistakes or misunderstandings. What if it could catch those and stop the texts? “Show us the system kicking these back,” the executive director said of the list. Sure enough, it did.
After a rollout and trial, the Global Bank’s home lending inbound team became fast champions. For relationship managers, the level of informality available in text helped move deals forward. “Before, they’d have to call a customer to follow up,” said the executive director. “Now they text. They say, ‘Hey I need your 1099 for last year’ or ‘be sure to bring your legal counsel.’ It’s not for transmitting PII—it’s for logistics. It’s so much faster and moves things forward.”
Meanwhile in Boston, the team at the lending startup had converged on the exact same conclusion. “In a high-growth company, figuring out how to train many people to deliver the best customer service is really important to us,” says the sales manager. “And that’s why texting is really important to us—it’s one way to achieve that, and to connect with people, especially right now.”
So here we have the confluence of very large and very small. This is where apples and orange planets align: Texting is the key to selling mortgages in an uncertain real estate market. It ensnares aspiring homeowners’ attention, builds trust in one of the largest purchases they may ever make, and it doesn’t have to be a legal risk if recorded properly.
And that’s because no matter the size of the mortgage provider, their audience is always the same—just one individual or one couple humbly seeking a home. What those individuals would really like right now, amidst a pandemic, is to feel reassured. The best way to provide that? Shoot them a quick text.