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How Lenders Can Still Compete Against Big Online Lenders

Marketing from online lenders is aggressive these days—a customer applies for a refi (or maybe even just looks up rates), and suddenly they’re getting FB ads and letters in the mail nonstop. How do you combat this kind of marketing and ensure that clients pay attention to you when they’re bombarded with information from so many other sources? 

Here’s how today’s lender can compete with big, online lenders and provide a memorable, pleasant mortgage experience.


Use Modern Technology to Provide a Seamless Experience

First and most important, a modern loan officer has to use modern technology. Without utilizing technology, lenders just can’t compete. The customer expects a seamless experience, easy communication, and a simple application process, and you need technology to provide that for them.

The APM mobile app’s robust features include mortgage calculators, secure document uploading, milestone updates, and communication between the borrower, the lender, and the real estate agent. 

But that’s just the consumer side of things. The lender side of things is really good—take it from APM Branch Manager Jen Jones.

Providing a seamless experience is key to competing with big online lenders.

Use Technology to Meet Clients’ Needs

Don’t use technology just to send automated information—instead, use it to help you deliver those personal touches that are key to beating your competition. 

One of our favorite APM sales tools allows you to break down and simplify different loan scenarios for buyers in a way that’s easy to present and understand so they know what their options are.

Another tool allows you to send personalized information about a home’s value and potential opportunities for refinancing. Instead of just sending rate information, show clients about the opportunities their home equity provides.

When you use technology to show people that you care about their exact situation and customize info based on their needs, they can’t help but pay attention to what you have to say. As we like to say, advise first and transact second. That’s how you become a trusted partner to your clients.

Focus on Your Specialty Experience

One thing online lenders often struggle with is getting the loan done when the situation is tricky or complicated (as it so often is these days). When you’re just churning out transactions, it can be hard to give individual loans the time and attention they may need to get to the finish line.

This is where your expertise can really shine through.

Here’s your chance to dive into the loan and figure out what’s best for the client and answer all their questions. Then, you’re figuring out how to get the job done for them by looking at their income, assets, and employment. When you have the freedom to think outside the box (something we encourage at APM), there is often a way to make a transaction happen.

This kind of specialized attention is what sets you apart and helps you build customer relationships that last for a lifetime. Nothing makes a customer more grateful or more loyal than problem-solving something as important as a mortgage transaction.

Highlight Your Local Expertise

You know what online lenders can’t offer? Specialized, local expertise. When you work with an online bank or lender, you’re getting someone who might be from anywhere, and they likely don’t know what’s happening in your market or what your clients’ needs are.

Each market is unique, and that means that the people in your market have unique needs when getting a loan. Tap into the specialized loan products available in your market and become an expert on those products.

Learn about the programs you can offer agents, builders, and clients that other lenders won’t or can’t. A lot of people won’t offer down payment assistance loans, for instance, but if there is a big need in your market, you can help agents close more deals and serve more clients.

Think of yourself as the opposite of what someone would get with an online shop and offer concierge service. Know what people need, anticipate those needs, and help them get what they need in a way that feels smooth and easy.

Pick a Niche to Market

Online lenders throw their marketing at anyone and everyone. And that works for them because they’re after volume. But have you heard the saying that if you’re marketing to everybody, you’re marketing to nobody? That’s true, and it’s not a good way to stand out amongst all the low-rate marketing out there.

Don’t be afraid to find your niche and market to the people who need what you have to offer, because that’s how you give them something bigger lenders can’t. It might be down payment assistance, VA loans, jumbo loans, or something else, but focus on a small segment, establish a foothold in it, and then grow from there.

Lenders are often hesitant to niche down because they think it means they’ll be locked into doing one kind of loan, but you’ll still do loans for all kinds of people. The advantage is that by offering a niche, you give people a reason to pay attention to and choose the expertise you have to offer them.

Leverage Communication

A frequent complaint about online lenders is that the communication is subpar throughout the loan process. Clients call a call center and may or may not get someone who knows what’s going on. Online lenders are about volume, not personalized attention, and this means that clients call and have to explain what’s happening over and over again. It can get frustrating, to say the least.

Leverage your communication skills to provide an excellent experience by:

  • Being available whenever needed. Some clients need high-touch service and more frequent updates
  • Talking to agents regularly to make sure the deal goes through
  • Being honest about what you can and can’t do
  • Working with people who aren’t quite ready to buy yet—often, if you stay in touch, they’ll come to you when they are.

Excellent communication is showing clients that you’ll take the time to communicate with them frequently and however they prefer. It’s a proactive way of doing business that big online lenders don’t do, and it goes a long way toward making you stand out from the crowd.

Create Long-Term Relationships

With so many loans sold to servicers after closing, what can you do to stay top-of-mind and ensure that people refer you and come back to you when they want to refinance or purchase a new home instead of going to their servicer? 

First, there’s a natural halo effect right after a loan closes. Don’t let clients forget about you. Let them know that their loan may be sold to a servicer, but that doesn’t change anything about their relationship with you. Remind them that you still want them to come to you for advice or help for all things mortgage, and you’re never too busy to help them out, even if it’s just answering a question or checking on rates. 

Remember: advise first, transact second. Create client-for-life relationships that last the entire homeownership cycle, and position yourself as someone who will be there for them throughout their lives. Make it clear that to you, this isn’t a one-and-done transaction but instead is just the beginning of a long relationship. 

Read more about marketing after your loan is sold to a servicer here. 

Provide Excellent Customer Service

Online lenders don’t provide quality customer service because, to be frank, they don’t have to. They’re in it for volume. 

But research has shown time and time again that customers don’t just want the lowest rate possible when they get a loan. They want to spend money at a place where they feel like they are genuinely liked and will be taken care of. So take the time to build relationships by integrating yourself into a local network—people want to work with someone who is a part of the community, not a faceless business.

You need a robust CRM that allows you to stay in touch with people regularly and those long-term relationships. Use it to share your business story, and tell people why you care about them and their home needs. Reinforce the emotion that goes with choosing you. 

Stay in touch with people over the long haul, and offer them valuable advice for free. Don’t ever let someone slip through the cracks or have any reason to feel like they need to go somewhere else to get the information they’re looking for. Continue to build rapport with people, and the transactions will come.

It's very doable for today’s lenders to compete with big online retail lenders—you just need to know what to do to stand out from the crowd and encourage people to go with you, regardless of the exact rate they’re quoted.


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