Up and Running: Creativity helps the Commerce team keep mortgages on track despite COVID
The arrival of COVID-19 has caused many businesses to change the way they work, and many activities that were considered routine had to be quickly rethought and reconfigured to accommodate social distancing needs. With that in mind, it would be easy to assume that mortgages would be slowing down, given that they typically involve plenty of face-to-face meetings and interactions.
When it comes to Commerce Bank, however, the exact opposite has been true. “Customers have been pleasantly surprised to learn that the process is going well,” says Mark Harding, a mortgage fulfillment supervisor for Commerce. “And we’ve been doing it with the majority of our staff working remotely. Our goal is to keep the experience as seamless as possible, and our customers don’t see a missed beat at all.”
Harding says that despite the hurdles presented by the need for social distancing, the current low interest rates are generating heavy interest from people wanting to buy a home or refinance an existing mortgage.
John Blair, a mortgage regional sales manager at Commerce, says he’s proud of the way team members have worked around the current set of COVID-related challenges. “We’ve seen tremendous growth,” he says. “When you look at it from the standpoint of everything going on right now, you would think mortgages would be more difficult or that we would see a downturn. Instead, we’re closing mortgages on time and we’ve been extremely busy.”
Of course, the team at Commerce has had to implement quite a few changes to keep things humming along at a time when face-to-face interactions need to be as limited as possible. “We’re using digital technology through our Commerce Loan Hub in ways that have broadened our horizons and made us more flexible,” says Blair. “We’re holding meetings with customers via Zoom and FaceTime, and we’re giving them the option of sending us documents scanned on their smartphones. Some documents can be signed with an e-signature as well, and that also adds to the convenience.”
Even closings, which still require signing documents in person, are being done with a touch of creativity. “We’ve conducted closings in people’s garages, or on their front porches – we have a notary come to them,” says Blair. “I’ve also seen curbside closings, where the customer stays in the car and signs everything there. If you have a question during closing, we can FaceTime with you to provide answers on the spot.”
As mortgage product manager Eric Nelson points out, while the uptick in usage of digital technology may have been spurred by COVID-19, it’s something the bank had been working on for a while. “Everything’s been moving toward digital, and we’ve invested a lot into our Commerce Loan Hub over the last couple years, long before COVID,” he says. “We make it all very user-friendly.”
Blair says that while refinancing is driving the most volume right now, he’s also been pleasantly surprised by what he has seen in terms of mortgages for home sales. “One of our loan officers got a contract, and the customer said they hadn’t even seen the inside of the house yet,” he says. “A year ago, you would have never seen that. Today people are sometimes using virtual tours instead of viewing houses in person.”
He believes the increased usage of online resources is speeding up what can often be a long process for interested buyers to find the right home. “People are reviewing houses online more, and they have more time to drive through neighborhoods and see what they like,” he says. “People have done their homework and narrowed down their choices before they even contact the realtor.”
Between processing mortgages for home purchases and for refinancing and adapting to the unique circumstances created by the pandemic, the Commerce mortgage team has been busy. As Harding notes, however, his colleagues have been up to the task.
“Everybody from our staff is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he says. “So far in 2020, we’re close to going past the total number of mortgages we completed in all of 2019. That’s a testament to how hard the team here is working to get the job done and make everything run so smoothly that the customer doesn’t miss a beat.”