The Benchmark: Episode five feat. Ryan Atkins of IBERIABANK | Blend

The Benchmark: Episode five

Welcome to The Benchmark, powered by Blend. In this video series, Blend’s executives meet with leaders across industries to share insights about growth and success during a time of extraordinary change.

For this episode, Blend CEO and co-founder Nima Ghamsari met with Ryan Atkins, director of mortgage production at IBERIABANK and the former president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Arkansas.

The two had a wide-ranging discussion: how customer expectations have shifted during the pandemic; what’s changed — and hasn’t changed — in mortgage since Ryan started as an LO 16 years ago; and what’s ahead for lenders in 2021 and beyond.

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Explore three takeaways from the video

1. Mortgage customers have been displaying a greater sense of urgency in 2020

Nima opened their conversation by asking Ryan what differences he has seen from IBERIABANK’s customers since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. “Are there shifts in what they expect from you?”

“There’s a sense of urgency with our customers these days,” said Ryan. “It’s due to the uncertainty that’s out there, maybe their financial situation changing, all those things coming together. It’s really pushed them to be aggressive in getting through the [application] process as quickly as possible.

When the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to shore up the economy at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, it set off a wave of mortgage refinance and purchase applications that continued through 2020. Agile mortgage lenders quickly adjusted to the new normal, reinventing themselves amid the new social distancing guidelines and offering more online capabilities for their customers.

IBERIABANK managed a healthy jump in refi applications from its customers while remaining focused on its core business.

“Purchase has always been our forte even in large refinance years,” explained Ryan. “We are usually heavier on the purchase side of things because we know that’s where the longevity is. We do take advantage of refinance periods like this to gain opportunities for future purchase market share. And we put a lot of effort into customer data, making sure we have everything we need to be able to continue to touch that borrower.”

2. Amid the many innovations in banking, personalized service remains paramount

Tapping into Ryan’s deep professional experience, Nima then sought a retrospective view to gain some industry perspective.

“You’ve been at IBERIABANK for 16 years since you started out as an LO,” he said. “What are some of the things that were true 16 years ago that are still true today? And what are some things that you’ve seen dramatically shift?”

The homebuyer journey has changed significantly in just the past several years, as consumers want to be able to apply for a mortgage safely, securely, and remotely, just as they shop for many other goods and services. The pandemic has only accelerated the demand for more digital tools and services.

But a key differentiator hasn’t changed at all.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is the borrower’s expectation for a personal touch during the process,” said Ryan. “You have to meet them where they are and you have to touch them as often as they want to be reached out to.”

Ryan then pointed out one key industry practice that definitely has changed, especially this year.

“We’re not meeting with anyone in person and we no longer need to,” he said. “Over time it’s become a lot more convenient for borrowers not having to take time out of their busy day [to meet with a banker in person]. That’s been a good innovation. We no longer have to meet with anyone face to face unless the borrower chooses to.”

3. Fulfilling the promise of an end-to-end digital mortgage

At Blend we value transparency in our pursuit of a truly valuable experience for our customers — and their customers. During their conversation Nima asked Ryan if he had any advice for Blend that could help improve the customer experience.

“What are some of the key missing ingredients you’re thinking about that could make the homebuying and home refinance process better for your customers?” he asked. “If you had one piece of advice for me of what to build next at Blend, what would you suggest?

Ryan returned to a theme the two had touched on earlier in their conversation.

“There’s probably two major things that we can focus on to get us to that point where you truly have an end-to-end digital mortgage experience,” he said.

“The first is how we validate information from borrowers. There’s been a lot of strides made over the last couple of years with the income and employment verification systems, but there’s still too many participants who are not part of those systems and other documents that we use for verification, like retirement account information and those types of things. There’s still a lot of work to do as far as being able to reach out and validate some things without having the borrower track it down for us.

“Second, there’s been a big push, obviously, during the pandemic for eClose options and Remote Online Notarization. That’s probably the part of the process that is still around the corner for us. We’re still doing things in person and obviously no one wants to be in person right now.”

“Anything else?” Nima wanted to know. “When you look at the current environment, are there other things that need to change?”

“We could still do a lot of work in how we value property and how quickly we return those results,” said Ryan.

“The GSEs are on the right track as far as the data that they’re keeping and how frequently they need new data to stay current on the values of those properties,” he said. “But I really think that having an appraiser go out to a property to assess the condition of a property is probably unnecessary at this point on most transactions. So the more we can get to this place where we’re doing automated valuations of property, the better off we’ll be.”

Curious about what keeps Ryan Atkins personally motivated and inspired outside of work?

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