Online broker deal process

When I joined LendInvest in January 2016, only the investment side of the business had any real online presence. The enquiry and application process was handled offline by Case Managers, BDMs and Underwriting — both for lending via property brokers and direct to borrower.

Developing an online lending experience was a major priority for the company.

Our mission was to bring this offline process online streamline and speed up the work, ensure more accurate collection of data, while also support the important underwriting and sales work where human involvement gave LendInvest a key point of difference.

The existing offline process had some key inefficiencies

  • The Business Development team spent a lot of time responding and following up on enquiry emails and phone calls that ultimately turned out not to be leads.
  • Lead data received in these enquiries was inconsistent and often poor quality – sometimes even too much information.
  • A significant portion of Case Management time was spent fielding calls from brokers and borrowers updating them on the status of their deal.
  • They also spent additional time writing daily checklist emails to chase missing documentation from borrowers.
  • Underwriting were required to search through paper application forms and email chains to get the information they needed to evaluate each case.
  • The origination process was often delayed as brokers and borrowers learned last-minute of documents they had needed to provide to Underwriting all along.

At the same time, the BDM and Case Management teams were providing exceptional customer service and sales support. Our Underwriting team also did an amazing job of evaluating the risk of potential loans – producing a very low default rate, and lending very recoverable loans.

In digitising the origination experience for brokers and borrowers, we didn’t want to lose what made this side of the business great.

Delivering value to brokers online

The original brief from the business was to design and build an ‘online broker portal’ to compete with what a number of our competitors had begun to use.

However, a combination of the results of the research we did into the current experience of our brokers, other industry insights we gathered, and the constraint of our small team size — all led us to believe that we should focus on delivering individual (but still connected) tools.

Broker research

For the initial research discovery project that formed the foundations of our thinking, our new Borrower Product Manager and I undertook extensive in-person research, visiting brokers at their offices and talking to them about their experience dealing with LendInvest and other lenders.

We also interviewed internal staff – the Business Development team (BDMs) and the Case Management team.

We synthesised our notes from these interviews in a Trello board, drawing out key themes and opportunties – mapped alongside the lending process.

This allowed us to then design an experience “value” map of what brokers and their borrowers would need at each phase of their interactions with us.

As we produced prototypes and designs we were able to attach these to it, and also use it as an easily shared place to gather feedback from stakeholders.

Online portals weren’t solving the biggest problems.

  • Much of the pain points that brokers identified (which existing portals were supposed to solve) were not actually being improved through their use.
  • Portals also brought about new, unforeseen frustrations (like having to remember how to log in and use every different portal).
  • Because of the complexity of these existing online systems, other people (such as office assistants and junior staff) did a lot of the “data entry” work on behalf of the brokers, meaning that Brokers still did directly benefit from a fast online interaction with lenders.
  • Many of the most asked-for benefits that would have helped brokers speed up the things they did do (for example, helping them easily collect and upload client files) were not available in competitors systems.

Brokers were still looking for “the basics” from their online experience.

  • They wanted to be able to get a reliable initial quote without providing too much up-front detail.
  • No double-handling of data (and as little general data entry as possible).
  • Real time updates on the status of their deals throughout their enquiry and application.
  • Easy and accurate document management — and a way to upload everything they’d collected about the deal in one place.

Our experience should help all brokers adopt the good behaviours of their most skilled colleagues.

We learned that the most successful brokers:

  • Knew the process and information required — and would work ahead of the process to save LendInvest’s time, and the client’s time.
  • Think about and guide the client through the whole process – not just the bridge itself, but the exit strategy as well.
  • Make an considered effort to understand whether the deal/client will fit specific products and criteria (instead of just sending through leads”fire and forget” style).

Building a modular broker experience

We wrapped up our research and discovery with a strong conviction that building an end-to-end portal without discovering first which individual approaches would be a) used by brokers, and b) effective when they were used, would likely result in a large amount of wasted time and a high level of project risk.

At the time, we had also faced a significant reduction in the size of our development team due to other projects that were happening at the same time internally (the integration of a 3rd party loan servicing provider, and the launch of Buy-To-Let lending).

Focussing on these individual pain points articulated by brokers (e.g. getting a reliable quote, and having clear deal status updates) in themselves would help us to achieve (and validate) results for our customers right away without the additional infrastructural work that a full “portal” would require. This meant we could start to meet customer needs immediately, even though our team was smaller than usual.

With this in mind over the next few months we built several modular experiments leveraging the existing Salesforce system that the LendInvest sales team used to manage incoming enquiries and applications.

Dan presents our plan of attack to the team: design, development, and QA.

We subsequently designed and built:

  • Simple online calculator tools that allowed us to explore the inputs and outputs of each deal type at LendInvest, and so learn how brokers would calculate and explore potential deals.
  • Qualified online quote tools that add our deal criteria to these calculations, which can then be sent through to the deal team as a new deal enquiry, or downloaded as an “illustration” for a client.
  • Stand-alone deal status pages for every LendInvest loan, which shows only “just enough” information about the status of a single deal to be more useful to brokers than calling or emailing the team. This also included a list of documents required and received, and an easy way to quickly upload.
  • A full online application form, which can be sent independently to brokers and borrowers to enter their case details, pre-populated with any information we already had recorded about their deal in Salesforce.

This functionality was all implemented with the minimum of login and broader deal management functionality. It was also a lightweight and simple design overall that could also be easily turned to support direct borrowers as well.

I’m really proud that we didn’t build the “usual things” that portals “should have” and instead focussed on smart ways to deliver the features that brokers would find directly useful – making us of the systems we already had.

As a result we were able to do much more with less resources, and produce an outcome that was more closely aligned with customer goals — and, crucially, well set up to continually learn, and pivot to try new options as we learn more.

Simple online calculators (without qualification) allowed brokers to “roll their own deals” and gave us insight that a) brokers would use online tools, and b) what sorts of deals they were trying out.
Usability testing (with a code prototype) of our early qualified quote and enquiry process with brokers in their London offices
Nick, the dedicated Product Designer on the Borrow team – who joined the design team in Q4 2017 – working on concepts to tie together the successful individual components into a broader experience.
Borrow team discussing UI inspiration for the broker experience (Q4 2017)
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