SunTrust exec mortgage transformation project, one year in

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One year into her tenure as SunTrust Banks' mortgage transformation officer, Sherry Graziano has put into motion several initiatives that are redefining the role of loan officers at the Atlanta-headquartered company.

The core mission of those initiatives: shifting loan officers' time and energy away from transactional activities and toward relationship-building. In pursuit of that objective, SunTrust has urged its loan officers to focus on three, often overlapping areas: leveraging new technology, revising how they interact with clients and understanding current borrower dynamics.

Graziano, a former loan officer, was elevated in May 2018 to her current role, a new one at SunTrust. In an interview, Graziano discussed some of the investments SunTrust has made in training to support the cultural shift. Those include production of a "vision video" that spells out the bank's goals for the client experience, and how the loan officer's role is expected to evolve. In addition, lunch-and-learn sessions give mortgage bankers an opportunity to dial in to presentations from peers about how they’re leveraging new tools and technology.

"The reality is we live in an age when technology is moving at a rapid pace," Graziano said, adding that new technologies, including artificial intelligence and APIs to plug into vendor data, can improve clients' experience.

"Loan officers will still play a significant role, but it's changing. They'll have to think about their day-to-day work in a different manner, in order to serve clients in the way they now expect to be served," she said.

Graziano cited recent data that highlighted rising homeownership among millennials, a category of customer that grew up interacting with Amazon, Apple and other online businesses. They expect similar convenience searching for mortgages, she said.

To meet that expectation, SunTrust worked with Blend, a San Francisco-based fintech, to build its SmartGuide point-of-sale platform, which SunTrust launched in May 2018.

Applicants can now complete the bank's online application using most electronic devices in 30 to 40 minutes, down from what had been an hour or more. They can begin the process online at any time, and SmartGuide incorporates services speeding up the underwriting process such as Fannie Mae's Day 1 Certainty, which seeks to automate items such as income, asset and employment verification.

Using the SmartGuide portal, clients can securely upload documents into SunTrust's system of record, and they can pursue the application process entirely online, or jump off at anytime to work with a live loan officer.

To determine what technology to implement, the bank brought together employees from across the organization — sales, operations, legal, technology, etc. — to develop a "best-in-class journey map" for what the bank would like to achieve in terms of clients' mortgage experience. It validated that map with clients as well as referral partners, including Realtors and other SunTrust bankers. Then it reconciled the journey map with the bank's technology roadmap, to determine precisely which technology to leverage to meet client and referral-partner needs.

"That's really important because the organization only has so many dollars to invest in technology," Graziano said. "So we must invest where it will have the most valuable return from the point of view of our clients and referral partners."

Reducing mortgage bankers' transactional responsibilities via technology enables them to focus on the new role SunTrust wants them to adopt: becoming a trusted advisor. Traditionally loan officers have recorded customer information then crunched the numbers to determine the types of loan clients qualify for. Putting much of that process in the hands of clients via technology allows them to look at the bigger picture.

"Client conversations become really meaningful, because the loan officers are truly understanding what clients' needs are, and they're able to suggestion solutions that best meet those needs," Graziano said.

Much of this transformative work, Graziano said, reflects the demands brought about by changing demographics and trends.

She noted several relatively new factors impacting the home buying decision, including record student-loan debt and more multigenerational families living under one roof. Graziano said millennials — she's one herself — tend to prefer educating themselves independently, so lenders must step delicately but be ready to enter the process when the need arises. That often involves educating clients about mortgage options and how they fit into financial plans.

"At end of day, to serve future clients we have to do a better job as an industry in educating them early on, about budgeting and personal finance, one on one," Graziano said, "So the next generation of homeowners is well prepared to purchase a home."

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Mortgage technology Purchase Fintech Artificial intelligence Underwriting SunTrust Blend Fannie Mae