What Influences You?

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Trevor-GauthierIn the space of ten days this past summer, I saw Lady Gaga, Slash and Aerosmith in concert. At first blush, it would appear they have little in common. Aerosmith has its roots in the 60s and 70s. Slash played with Guns N’ Roses in the 1980s and Gaga didn’t begin producing chart-topping hits until the early 2000s. It would seem, apart from their shared success and enormous talent, that there really isn’t much tying them together.

Yet they do have much in common. The careers of these three artists span more than 50 years. None of them are done yet, though I was reminded Aerosmith first took the stage some years before I was born. The span of their careers is an important point. Each was influenced by performers who came before them. They, in turn, are influencing those that come after. Each adds to their individual styles by drawing from other artists. Aerosmith drew from Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and the Beatles. Slash and Guns N’ Roses were influenced by Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, among others. Lady Gaga shares the Beatles and Led Zeppelin with the other two. Not so dissimilar, after all.

Influences play a powerful role on mortgage teams, as well. Every lender I know has other mortgage organizations they look to for the best-in-class approach to every aspect of the origination cycle. Lady Gaga was not the first to costume-up. Nor was she the originator of her piano-themed stage show. Elton John wasn’t the first either, though she cites him as a major influence. I may not have been around for Aerosmith’s start, but I was there for Elton John, however, and the similarities are evident. Most important of all, however, the acts still work.

My team has a broad-ranging list of influencers, only a few of which are directly mortgage-related. Take the impetus for Accenture Mortgage Cadence. We were born from the manufacturing industry, believing the making of a loan is not that dissimilar from the making of an automobile. When you break it down into components, you see that creating a loan is no different than manufacturing anything else. It can be standardized, objectivized and, using technology, mechanized. That influence, at our core when we started in 1999, remains central today.

Our team was also highly influenced by organizations that deliver outstanding customer experiences. Many of us got our start in mortgage lending. All disciplines, from origination through closing — even servicing — are represented in our organization. Those of us with an industry pedigree noticed early on that customers were not having any fun financing their homes. We, as borrowers, had the same sorry experience. We looked at companies that excelled in creating customer experiences and worked on building those into our technologies. Today, we are influencing others in the business.

Mortgage lending is a tradition-bound business more known for following rather than setting trends. Yet our industry is being studied by what we would consider non-traditional mortgage lenders. Who is watching us? As early as the 1990s, Microsoft made a foray into online real estate finance, even before our industry went the Internet point-of-sale route. Their entry may have been premature; Microsoft abandoned the business in the late 1990s before borrower self-service gained even a toe-hold.

Who is the next non-traditional entrant? It could be any one of a number of companies that have deepening customer relationships. You know these organizations well. You and I transact with them regularly and effortlessly. They are very good at delivering on their promises of service and quality. They have also been exceptional at business model extension. Start with one idea, perfect it, add another, and another, and another. Why not mortgage lending? Why not indeed. Just as the Beatles influenced both Aerosmith and Lady Gaga, we are influencing these emerging non-traditionalists.

My point is this: the mortgage industry has reached a point at which we have to examine our past influencers while at the same time looking for new ones, rapidly and liberally adapting best practices from anywhere and everywhere. Of course the market is much different today; the business climate has changed, borrowers have evolved, and available technology and its capabilities are downright confounding. In light of these factors, we need to look for new influencers to help guide our future strategies.

It may be easier than we think to identify these influencers. If new organizations enter the mortgage lending business, they won’t do things the way we do them. We know more about the business than they do, but that may be a weakness. We can look at the business the way they do, as if we had no mortgage operations whatsoever. It’s difficult to do, but if we start with a clean slate and act accordingly, we are likely to out-compete those we have influenced.

Watching the shows in the last weeks of summer brought me to another important realization. There is no way that Gaga, Slash or Aerosmith believes that all the music that could be created has been created. If they did, they would have stopped trying years ago. Instead of stopping, they have all been prolific. Aerosmith released five hit albums in five years during the 70s, continuing the trend through the 1980s with new music. Lady Gaga put out five albums in six years, impressive for not only the number of releases but for the evolution of style with each new release. The sheer volume and variety of their output is astounding, proving not only that success fosters more success, but that creativity spawns even greater creativity.

We know for certain that millions of individuals will become homeowners in the next 10 or so years. Millions of existing homeowners will trade up or down as well. How will we reach them? How will we make sure they get their loans from us? We can take another page out of the blues, rock, and pop songbook. First, like Gaga, we have to creatively evolve our styles for the simple reason that borrowers have evolved. Seasoned borrowers lived through the housing crisis. They are consequently savvier.

First-time buyers, the burgeoning market waiting to blossom, come to the idea of homeownership with vastly different expectations about financing than did their parents. They think they can have anything and everything they want in about 24 hours. Why not a mortgage? It’s just a loan. The first lender to reach that level of service gets Lady Gaga-like style points.

That lender will also make a lot of loans. Success breeds success, and, as a result, they will make even more loans. Adapting styles that speak to borrowers will be one of the key strategies of tomorrow’s successful lenders. While a 24-hour mortgage may be a few years off, the mortgage lender that is transparently available when and where the borrower is using the technology of their choice will win and will get the standing ovation. Rapidly enabling borrower self-service is one big first step toward a style of lending that will be the new industry standard in just a few years.

I admit to having eclectic tastes in music. Walk into my office on any given day, and you are as likely to hear one of these three artists – ok, maybe not Lady Gaga – as you are Eric Clapton. What influences and inspires us often comes from unexpected places at unusual times. Successful individuals – musicians and others – are open to influences when they appear.

Will I see Lady Gaga every year? Probably not. I am extremely glad that I did, however. She made me think about what influences me, my team and our industry. I’m glad I was open to the experience.

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