For most of us, taking out a mortgage is the biggest single financial commitment we will ever make, which is why it makes sense to spend time researching the market and finding the product that’s right for you.
We asked members of the customer panel to share their experiences of taking out a mortgage and in particular the methods they used to identify their preferred provider and deal.
We also wanted to understand people’s appetite for conducting more of the mortgage application process online – does it make life more convenient, or is the preference still for face to face advice?
Your responses and suggestions are helping us make improvements to our own mortgage application process and the mortgage section of the West Brom website.
Knowing what’s available
Via the panel we sought responses from West Brom customers who currently have a mortgage (not necessarily through the Society) plus those who are likely to be applying for one soon.
Out of the existing borrowers, an overwhelming 73% had taken out their most recent mortgage following face to face discussions with an adviser. Telephone sales and applications online and through the post accounted for the rest.
Less than a quarter (22%) went through a broker to get their mortgage, preferring instead to deal with the lender directly.
As stated earlier, one of the reasons for conducting this survey was to hear how much the internet is playing a part in helping people find their mortgage. And while speaking directly to advisers in a branch environment is still the preferred option, we found more than half (58%) of potential borrowers (those planning on getting a mortgage) were using providers’ websites to gather information.
Some 42% were checking out price comparison websites to hunt out a good deal and a third reading up on web-based product news and reviews.
Planning an application
For those who say they carry out product research online, we then asked if they had made use of any online tools to support the mortgage application process.
Most popular were calculators which help to show how your finances are stacking up against a particular mortgage product. These include calculators that use your income, deposit and house value to give an indication of what you might be able to borrow, used by 69% of customers.
A similar number (67%) also used monthly payment calculators to see how much a particular mortgage deal would cost them.
Also proving helpful were cost of moving calculators (28%) and online buying guides that explain what different types of mortgage are available (28%). Only 11% said they avoided tools altogether.
Sealing the deal
While a proven method for finding the right mortgage, not all lenders are able to support full online applications and, as we found through your responses, not all customers want to do this anyway.
Only 20% of the current mortgage holders we contacted would be willing to have completed an application via the internet had the option been available to them at the time. This increased to 33% among potential new borrowers.
What did prove more popular was carrying out particular stages of the application process online. Just over two thirds of respondents would happily use the internet to make an appointment with an adviser.
Half of future mortgage holders also said they would go as far as applying for a decision in principle over their mortgage through a website.
Attitudes among existing borrowers did seem to change regarding the internet when it came to mortgage renewals. We asked customers to think ahead to renewal time and how they might like to complete this process.
We found 75% would be willing to carry out product research online, 63% would like to use it to manage their mortgage account and 45% would happily complete a product switch via the web.
How this helps us
It’s clear from your responses that many customers still value the opportunity to speak with a mortgage adviser, not just over the phone but, where possible, in person.
This accounts for researching the market and different product types as well as completing a mortgage application.
Nevertheless, the internet has a role to play and it is seemingly becoming much more prevalent. While existing customers who took out their mortgage five or more years ago are less inclined to go online, those people planning a house move and a mortgage application now differ in their approach and will look to the web for support.
It certainly makes product research more convenient and could, in your opinion, be used to support part of the application process.
We have taken your feedback and already made some changes to our own website in order to make it more user-friendly for potential mortgage applicants.
Rob Precious, the West Brom’s E-Commerce Manager, said: “We want the customer journey to be smooth and hassle-free so have already put a lot of time and effort into refining our existing website, particularly the mortgage section.
“Knowing the value customers put on researching the market, we have made it easier to find our latest mortgage deals on the site and signpost these to customers according to their specific needs – for example, a new purchase or a re-mortgage.
“Jargon has been removed from our product descriptions, we’ve added a useful guide to explain how the different types of mortgage operate and are working through improvements to our mortgage calculators so they are more user-friendly.
“We now refer to specific mortgages in terms of how much they will cost the customer each month, rather than just quoting the rate as a percentage which, in reality, doesn’t help with their final decision making process.
“Longer term we want to respond to the growing trend for internet browsing on mobiles and tablets and make sure our website is fully responsive, in other words the display is optimised according to what device the user has.
“There are also discussions taking place about how we might be able to take certain aspects of the application process online if indeed it transpires that’s what customers really want and it will enhance the overall experience.”