Employee Empowerment in Mortgage Lending

Why employee empowerment is a high-impact strategy to drive engagement and retention, boost productivity and revenue, and power business growth

What is employee empowerment?

The basic concept of employee empowerment is all about giving people the resources they need to work effectively — not just to do their jobs, but to thrive and feel successful. Employee empowerment is about enabling people to work smarter, work faster and do more with less — delivering more business value, achieving a bigger impact and realizing greater fulfillment, in less time and with less stress.

Why is employee empowerment important?

In the fast-paced world of mortgage lending, employee empowerment is becoming a key focus for establishing competitive advantage. That’s because employee empowerment delivers a wide range of synergistic benefits. Empowered employees are more productive — more efficient and effective — in their jobs, hitting their goals, driving sales and revenue, and ultimately powering growth. But, perhaps most importantly, employee empowerment goes beyond positive outcomes for the business. Empowered employees are more engaged in their work and more satisfied with their jobs.

The employee engagement-employee empowerment connection

To say that employee empowerment drives employee engagement leaves out the cascading benefits of that connection. Employee engagement is an increasing focus in the business world — and especially in the mortgage lending world — as more organizations recognize the direct connection between employee engagement and key business outcomes. Engaged employees are more loyal, enhancing staff retention. This benefit is particularly relevant as mortgage lenders prioritize attracting and retaining top talent to handle the double-wave of new refi customers and a booming purchase market. Better retention also drives down the costs associated with turnover. More engaged employees also deliver more business value. They’re more productive, more collaborative and more innovative. And perhaps most importantly, more engaged employees deliver better customer experiences.

Employee empowerment drives customer experience

Customer experience is king today. The majority of businesses, across all sectors, now compete primarily on the basis of customer experience. This is especially true in mortgage lending, where homebuyers now say that experience is more important than rates or loan products in their decision-making. Delivering stand-out customer experiences is more challenging than ever, as expectations for seamless, convenient and highly personalized experiences rise. Customer experience leaders increasingly recognize that the key ingredient in CX is EX: employee experience. Happier, more engaged and supported employees deliver better customer experiences.

And the key to employee experience? Employee empowerment. Perks like fancy work environments, flexible work models and other fringe benefits are great, but only go so far. At the end of the day, people want to feel effective and valuable in their professional lives. They want to feel that they’re good at their jobs — and that what they do matters. Many of the most successful mortgage lending organizations are taking cues from customer experience leaders in other segments, investing in tools and technologies to help boost employee empowerment — and recognizing that these investments can drive a cascade of positive outcomes across the business:

Barriers to empowerment

Considering the mutually beneficial outcomes to employers and employees, it seems like all organizations would be prioritizing employee empowerment. But the reality is that several common barriers or pitfalls hold companies back:

  • Employees flying blind: Knowledge is power. It’s an old cliché, but in a fully data-driven modern world, it’s truer than ever. Even the most talented and experienced employees today depend on data to make smart decisions. Yet far too many mortgage lenders are still leaving many of their employees flying blind in critical ways. Marketing teams are building campaigns without robust, real-time customer data to effectively build strategy and targeted content. Sales teams are handed names without the data to qualify and prioritize leads. Loan officers are working hard just to pull up the customer information they need to delivery highly personalized experiences and build meaningful relationships. It’s hard to feel fully empowered when you feel like you’re working without all the information.
  • Bogged down with prioritization: The double wave of high refi volume and a surging purchase market is great, in theory. But for employees in mortgage lending organizations, the reality is that booming business creates an enormous amount of work. Prioritization is critical to preventing high workloads from turning into stress and burnout. But most mortgage lending organizations could be doing a better job of helping employees with prioritization. Leaving employees with both a bigger workload and the burden of unraveling the classic dilemma of urgent vs. important is a recipe for priority paralysis.
  • Manual workflows in a digital age: Digital transformation plans have jumped ahead by years in most organizations, all in a matter of months. Once people get a taste for digitized, automated workflows, they don’t want to go back. Mortgage lenders are doing a great job on the customer side — digitizing the application and closing process, for example. But internally, most are still relying on highly manual workflows in marketing and sales. Manually sifting through mountains of data to build customer and prospect lists. Manually qualifying and prioritizing leads. Manually sending marketing and customer communications. For example, many loan officers are forced to choose between manually sending out formulaic messages to all their customers — or making an attempt at personalization by drafting and sending messages one-by-one, with the only “trigger” for when and what to send existing in the loan officer’s head. It’s not just a slow and error-prone way to work; it puts far too much of the burden on employees.
  • Compliance headaches: Mortgage lending has always been a highly regulated industry. But since the 2008 financial crisis, that trend has continually accelerated: more regulations, more requirements and employees spending more time every day on compliance tasks. The truth is that every employee should not have to moonlight as a compliance officer. They want to focus on what they do best. But in the typical mortgage lending organization, marketing, sales and loan officers all spend more and more time outside of their core responsibilities, checking in with the compliance team, revising materials to be compliant, etc. It’s frustrating and disempowering in two ways: Employees simply do not want to spend time on compliance — and the increasing time they do spend is cutting into their productivity and results.

Four Key Strategies to Drive Employee Empowerment

1. Empowering data visibility

Most mortgage lending organizations today are swimming in data — about their customers and about their business operations. The problem is that all that data isn’t easily visible or usable to employees. A huge portion of it isn’t really being captured or analyzed at all — it’s just flowing into dead-end repositories for compliance purposes. And what is being captured and analyzed typically exists in silos — disparate technologies like CRM, LOs and marketing automation systems.

Innovative mortgage lenders are tackling this challenge by implementing comprehensive customer data platforms or customer experience platforms that enable the automatic integration of all relevant data streams in the business. Creating this kind of centralized visibility of well-integrated data immediately stands out in the mortgage lending job market. It appeals to employees both because of what it means for them — and what it signifies about the organization.

Centralized visibility of relevant customer and business data gives employees an empowering foundation, enabling them to see, extract and use the information they need to make faster, smarter decisions in their work. Creating centralized data visibility also positions a mortgage lender as forward-thinking — committed and prepared to be a leader amid the continuing acceleration of digitized, data-driven business.

2. Automated, data-driven prioritization

Building a centralized, well-integrated customer data platform drives many other employee engagement functionalities in a mortgage lending business, as well. One of the most prominent and promising examples is enabling automated, data-driven prioritization.

Highly digitized mortgage lenders are leveraging this data-driven prioritization in a number of ways. They’re empowering marketing teams to automatically sort and segment audiences to better target campaigns and build more relevant messaging. They’re empowering sales teams to prioritize leads and contacts, even tailoring prioritization to organizational objectives like new customer acquisition, increasing wallet share or boosting customer retention rates. They’re empowering loan officers to focus their attention on customers that need it most right now — based on where they are in the lending journey, as well as based on preferences and characteristics indicated through previous interactions and behaviors. Ultimately, they’re leveraging automated, data-driven prioritization functionalities to empower employees to focus on what matters most and where they can make the biggest impact for customers and the business.

3. Intelligent workflow automation

The basic challenge today is that most employees in the typical mortgage lending business are being asked to do more. They’re managing more customers and bigger, broader prospect lists. And they need to deliver more personalized, more relevant and more meaningful communications and interactions with those customers and prospects.

Some of the most successful and innovative mortgage lenders are leveraging customer experience platforms with intelligent workflow automation that empowers their employees to achieve this next-level personalization — at scale. These highly automated technologies enable marketing, sales and loan officers to build intelligent customer journeys that automatically trigger the next-best action or communication, based directly on customer behaviors or other customer information. Some are going a step further, empowering employees with pre-built campaigns templates and content libraries, so they can easily plug hyper-relevant messages into the right spots in their automated, intelligent customer journeys.

It’s all based on simple logic. But it’s having a big impact, empowering talented, experienced employees to “machine their intuitive,” leveraging intelligent automation to exponentially expand their impact.

4. Simplified, integrated compliance

There’s no getting around compliance requirements. And unfortunately, mortgage lenders can’t yet trust artificial intelligence (AI) to fully handle them — though that’s likely not that far off in the future. But more and more mortgage lenders are recognizing that they can’t continue treating the growing list of compliance requirements as ad hoc or add-on considerations to employees’ core workflows. They need to integrate compliance as smoothly as possible to minimize the burden from a time, cost and stress perspective.

Savvy mortgage lenders are increasingly seeing a technology solution to address the compliance problem. They’re leveraging customer experience platforms purpose-built for the mortgage lending industry that feature compliance checks and steps built right into the kinds of intelligently automated workflows mentioned above. For example, automatically routing marketing, sales and other promotional materials and customer communications to compliance officers — and providing built-in functionality to speed those compliance checks, ensure compliance billing and accounting, and automatically generate digital audit trails.

By seamlessly integrating compliance within everyday workflows, this strategy is removing much of the mental burden of compliance for marketing, sales and loan officers. At the same time, by streamlining the approval workflows for compliance teams, it’s ultimately reducing the compliance “speed bump” that slows everyday workflows and frustrates employees.