Road tripping: How U.S. Bank got buy-in on its digital transformation

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The pursuit of a more digital mortgage business always involves a balancing act between the drive for automation and the preference or need many consumers may have for some kind of personal touch.

That's no less true when it comes to a lender's employees, which is the reason U.S. Bank Home Mortgage followed up a mortgage-platform migration with a series of road trips to make sure its teams understood and took advantage of what the new system had to offer.

When Fred Bolstad joined U.S. Bank in 2015, the biggest complaint at that time was its antiquated operating system, which required multiple workarounds and generally resulted in an arduous application process for customers and loan officers alike.

In July 2017, U.S. Bank partnered with Blend to create a front-end system that enabled consumers to apply for mortgages completely online or with the help of loan officers. The move was intended to address the problems associated with the prior system, Bolstad said, but when it was brought to the company's 1,100 loan officers, many simply weren't comfortable having customers link to the digital tool.

"Six months into it we were at 30% utilization of the portal, and today were at 80%," Bolstad said. "The way we got from Point A to Point B was simply traveling the country, sitting down with people, and providing the tools and resources to help them climb the curve, to see the power of what this technology can do for them."

That old-fashioned approach was a logistical challenge, given the bank now has 1,600 mortgage loan officers spread across all but four states. A dedicated team traveled the country to provide face-to-face training to regions that were struggling to adopt the portal. The bank also tapped "ambassadors," top-producing loan officers in a specific region who had moved to the portal, to help train their colleagues.

Bolstad said training must include a "cultural component," in which peers exert "sweat equity and roll up their sleeves" to engage face-to-face conversations with colleagues and provide testimonials to illuminate how the technology benefited their businesses.

"Then we tracked the heck out of it, so we know by sales manager what utilization is. It's a great process," he said.

The bank takes the same approach when it adopts other tools that generally aim to reduce loan officers' transactional duties and give them more time to advise customers on the best mortgage to suit their needs and how it fits into their broader financial situation.

In one case, U.S. Bank has partnered with St. Louis-based to provide an artificial-intelligence-powered service that enables loan officers to ask for details about the bank's lending parameters, similar to Siri inquiries, rather than digging through pages of online documentation. In another, Total Expert provides marketing-driven tools, such as enabling loan officers to provide in real time substantial financial information and even loan scenarios to Realtors at open houses instead of printing up flyers.

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"The time savings allow our mortgage loan officers to engage with customers in a more relational way versus transactional, which fosters a deeper relationship, and one where U.S. Bank can be more central to their lives," Bolstad said.

He added that when he was a mortgage loan officer in the early 1990s, discussing potential loans and the necessary documentation at customers' kitchen tables, he still needed to gain their trust to sell the loan. U.S. Bank's new technology gives loan officers more time and information to gain that trust and more effectively provide advice.

U.S. Bank's mortgage loan officers have always been advisers and that will continue to evolve along with the technology, Bolstad said, adding that the bank is working on incentives — not just for MLOs, but across various teams — that reinforce thinking about customer relationships in the context of a financial-services market and not just an individual business line.

"In doing so we simplify the process of introducing customers to different products that fit their needs regardless of where the offering sits in the [bank], and if that is done well we become more central to the financial lives of our customers," Bolstad said.

Mortgage loan officers play a pivotal role in building deeper relationships between customers and the bank as a whole, Bolstad said, adding one approach U.S. Bank is considering would connect a portion of MLOs' incentives to their effectiveness in that role.

Bolstad noted recently attending a meeting in Southern California with the executive overseeing that market and the heads of products groups from around the bank. They engaged in a panel on how using the bank's digital capabilities, including the mobile capabilities and the digital mortgage application, can connect customers in ways where loan officers and bankers alike can be central to the financial lives of our customers.

"We don't believe loan officers will be replaced with technology, but we do believe it's the loan officers who embrace the technology and engage the way their customers want to engage, who will win," Bolstad said. "We are paying a lot of attention to and giving a lot of focus to the balance of digital capabilities and the personal touch."

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Digital mortgages Artificial intelligence Mortgage technology Marketing Customer experience U.S. Bank Blend