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With borrowers increasingly expecting nothing less than an online, self-service mortgage process, the line between the consumer-direct and retail lending channels has blurred. In an industry where value is often demonstrated through a high-touch experience, lenders must treat self-service technology as a tool that facilitates, rather than defines, the customer experience.

Consumers want their mortgage experience to be like every other online transaction. They want the option to self-serve. The latest J.D. Power mortgage originator ratings show that overall consumer satisfaction is markedly higher among borrowers who used digital communication channels versus mail and fax.

The challenge for mortgage companies is to define a user experience on top of their technology that is distinctly theirs and can be uniquely positioned in the marketplace — even while new compliance requirements like the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosures make the process more complex.

Take, for example, Quicken Loans new automated mortgage platform, "Rocket Mortgage," which appears to facilitate a self-service conditional mortgage application approval for a consumer. Quicken continues to be one of the leaders in innovation in the mortgage industry, but more importantly, it gets the consumer and the pain points that they experience in today's mortgage process.

What is interesting is that Quicken Loans has chosen to position Rocket Mortgage as a technology offering, highlighting the fact that it will take its competitors some time to build something similar. This is surprising because many of the technical capabilities are available today among cutting edge tools for the lending industry.

What Quicken Loans really delivers through Rocket Mortgage is an experience. This customer experience is uniquely theirs, reflecting their values and sensibilities, and includes that whacky old concept called customer service. And with the Quicken Loans brand, it has an excellent opportunity to differentiate itself within the market.

The good news for the rest of the mortgage lenders out there is that they can be every bit as advanced with their online customer experience as is Quicken — without spending millions, or even hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to do so.

Technology that can enable predictive mortgage applications populated with data from trusted sources, self-service approvals, automated notifications and real-time underwriting is already available. These tools also allow a lender to create custom experiences and tools on these platforms that can set them apart.

The big question is whether other lenders are capable of, and willing to build out, experiences that drive the consumer online and limit hand holding, while reinforcing the lender's unique brand.

Paperless, digitally verified mortgage applications, mobile device-driven instant self-service approvals and real-time collaboration will soon be table stakes of the 21st century home buying process.

The value proposition from a cost-efficiency perspective is impossible to ignore, never mind benefits around consumer satisfaction, data integrity and compliance automation. The winners will be the lenders who can figure out how to deliver to the consumer an experience that emphasizes service and extends their brand.

Rajesh Bhat is a co-founder and CEO of Roostify.