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Reshaping The Way We Engage The Mortgage Process

The Story
It comes as no surprise that the home-buying process is an extremely complicated and stressful one. A large, undisclosed mortgage company (let’s call them Liberty Mortgage Company) came to Telepathy Design to see if we could discover an alternative, friendly way to apply for a mortgage. We did just that and we called her: Felicity.
The Team
The team consisted of a strategist, a design lead, and myself as a UX Designer.
This project was executed over the course of three months in 2017.
My Contribution
For this project, I assisted in executing strategy, research, and co-designed a dream project that would shape the way we engage the cumbersome process of applying for a mortgage loan.
Designing for Empathy
If you couldn’t tell from reading other case studies, I begin every project by understanding the baseline journey users go through. Much like an actor embodying the character they play, one can’t adequately solve a problem if they don’t first understand it. It’s difficult to maintain the stamina to solve a problem thoroughly if you don’t engage the pain the problem causes. As one who hadn’t ever purchased a home, it was essential that I both understood and felt the problem of applying for a mortgage and that our stakeholders were all on the same page about the baseline problems we were solving.

To start, we first had to define for whom we were building this experience and the prioritization of these various personas.
Together with our Liberty stakeholders, we conducted a workshop to assure we all understood their primary audiences and collectively prioritized those based on both revenue and likely adoption:
  1. First-Time Homebuyer
  2. “Confident” First-time Homebuyer
  3. Home Refinancer
  4. The Second-Time Homebuyer
  5. The Quick Home Flipper
Liberty made the choice to focus nearly all of our attention on the first persona in this prioritization list: The First-Time Homebuyer. This user is new to the game, cautious, and looking for a lot of support. An added bonus: they’re generally tech savvy. 

Now that we knew the audience for whom we were solving, we could better pinpoint the problems these users experience. Together with our stakeholders, we mapped out the current experience of this First-time Homebuyer getting a mortgage through Liberty Mortgage.
From start to finish, we mapped the home buying experience in the following stages:
  1. Consideration
    A series of life events lead a person to begin the home-buying process. For the first-time homebuyer, this journey is often marked by growing awareness and education. It’s an emotional process filled with much excitement and confusion about where to even begin.
  2. Finding the Right Home
    At this point in the process, the first-time homebuyer has committed to purchasing a home and begins to narrow the search for the perfect fit until they finally put in an offer. This process can often be very clinical with many surprises and uncertainty.
  3. Applying for a Mortgage
    At this point, once a user has committed to a mortgage company, they’re likely to remain with that same company. This doesn’t mean it isn’t without pain, but individuals find themselves knee-deep in tedious work that would be painful to start over.
  4. Closing a Mortgage
    The final stretch. Here the First-time Homebuyer interacts with many players—many of whom they will never meet. This feeling of being tossed back and forth leaves home buyers a bit jostled and anxious about their decision.
  5. New Home & Payments
    Sweet relief, the home buying process is done and First-time Homebuyers excitedly move into their new home, monthly payments and all.
Throughout the entire homebuying process, during the application and closing of a mortgage, users experience their lowest lows of the entire journey. Users claimed feeling anxious, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated and unsure. On top of that, during the final stretch of closing a mortgage, Liberty experienced a 30% drop off rate due to cold feet in the painfully long process. This is where we decided to focus our efforts.
Setting the Tone
Aside from perhaps a mortgage broker, rarely does someone talk about the excitement of going through this cumbersome experience. It was our job to change this. We set out to establish key experiential themes to define the tone around which our design would revolve to change the conversation. We identified the negative aspects of the journey and then dreamed up the antithetical experience to that, giving definition to the journey we wanted our users to experience.
If someone felt particularly overwhelmed or rushed, we had to be sure that we were changing the conversation to be supported, reassured, and simple. Through this exercise, we established the core principles by which we were going to design this experience.
  1. Personal, Supportive, and Assuring
  2. Delightful
  3. Empowering
  4. Informative and Educational
  5. Simple and Convenient
  6. Secure and Trustworthy
Let’s Get the Party Started
The greatest hurdle to getting through the mortgage process is completing the important and incredibly long regulatory 1003 application used by nearly all mortgage lenders in the United States. We conducted an exercise with key members of our team. For each field of the 1003, we brainstormed different ways to gather required information and assigned a “difficulty” level measuring the user friction in gathering the needed data. From this exercise, we derived some key ideas and takeaways to move forward with.
  1. Understand the “Most Valuable User” and work around their flow, making it simple and easy
  2. There’s great opportunity in improving the co-borrower’s experience
  3. Offer more multiple choice, instead of blank or open form fields, as it empowers the user and gives context
  4. Connecting to many accounts can be cumbersome, the more automation the better
  5. Proper grouping of questions can align the mindset while sequencing could avoid redundant questions
Our goal was to not necessarily be as efficient as possible. We needed to delight and woo the borrower to stay engaged and share their experience. From a pool of ideas, one stood out amongst the rest for this very reason. Let me introduce you to Felicity, the AI loan officer that helps walk a borrower through the 1003 process in an engaging, personal experience.
While a good experience is important, connecting with customers was the real key to financial success. “Delighted” customers report significantly higher loyalty and advocacy metrics. 

Returning to our experiential themes, we came up with several ways for Liberty Mortgage to achieve each of these goals. This prototype showcased multiple ideas rather than the final application or design itself.
The experience is personal, supportive, and assuring, not exclusive and leaving the user feeling alone.
  1. Introduce AI chat at the beginning of the process, continuous throughout
  2. Add an underlying personality to all contentInclude lots of helper text and inline educational elements
  3. Add individual form field validation
The experience is delightful, not rushed or boring.
  1. Include compliments on personal data as it is enteredKeep users informed on the time they’re spending and saving with a timesaver counter
  2. Keep co-borrowers engaged by gamifying the experience of co-borrowing
  3. We can’t forget a colorful, engaging aesthetic and rich experience
The experience is empowering, not uncertain and restricting.
  1. Allow users to choose their own flow; first-time, repeat, experienced, each with a varying level of support
  2. Give borrowers a heads up regarding what documents and information will be needed ahead of time
  3. Allow users to save questions and return to them at a later time
  4. Choices, choices, choices
The experience is informative and educational, not vague and demeaning.
  1. The onboarding experience should be worked into the flow, not on top of
  2. Introduce the help convention early to get borrowers used to and comfortable with using it
The experience is simple and convenient, not confusing or overwhelming.
  1. Present one question at a time with big fields and in a logical order
  2. Establish straightforward, clear UI systems
  3. Use only conversational/accessible languageOCR for document upload with auto-populating
  4. Segment experience in short time-boxed sprints giving the user the feeling of accomplishment and the ability to walk away without getting lost
  5. Afford for accessibility anywhere on any device
The experience is secure and trustworthy, not vulnerable and exposed.
  1. 2-factor authentication 
  2. Establish a mature UI, not playful
  3. Keep it clean
  4. Provide intermittent security reminders on submission
In Conclusion
We took an overwhelming process and made it simple, fun to use, and easy to complete, on your own time, nonetheless. While we handed off the project to Liberty to move forward with product development, we'd delivered a solid direction of ideas which would provide significant overall user experience improvements.

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