By: Katherine McGee
Wells Fargo's new home lending site
Simplicity and transparency guided the design of Wells Fargo's new home lending site.
In October 2011, Wells Fargo launched a brand-new Home Lending site (www.wellsfargo.com/mortgage/home-loans), designed to help consumers make sensible home financing decisions before buying a home, refinancing or accessing their home's equity. By focusing on the consumers' goals and needs, and providing information and choices that help them make informed decisions, our goal was-and is-to help more families reach and sustain their dream of homeownership.
We designed this new site to be like a roadmap for home financing education and choices. Consumers tell us where they want to go, and we deliver information and options to help them make informed decisions that chart a path toward their financial destination.
We know that customers still have credit and home financing needs, even during challenging economic times. Homes need repair, educations need to be paid for and our customers need information from sources they can rely on.
Today's consumers are cautious and are looking for information, often online, that can help them make informed decisions about their home financing options.
Our path to a new site
In our first step, we cast a wide net to learn what is critical to helping consumers get what they needed and how to maximize the value of their online experience.
We began studying what consumers' motivations, concerns and needs are when they're considering their financing options. We also researched current technology trends
As well as what was changing online. Once we had the results of this body of research, we were able to discern ways we could serve our customers better online-for example, by developing new tools that could help them quickly find the information they need to decide which options would work for them.
We also studied what customers want throughout the home-lending life cycle (from research to application, to approval and servicing through the life of the loan).
This research helped us understand how a consumer's needs change based on various factors such as life stage, experience with credit and home financing, and familiarity with home lending products.
We also researched how consumers arrive at our site, what they might already know, which tools they are most interested in using when online, and how both offline and online channels can work cohesively to help them through the process.
Our goal: serve customers the way they want to be served
Based on our research, we set three primary strategies for our new site. The first goal: focus primarily on consumers' financial needs and goals. The second goal: use the Internet to deliver an educational online experience that supports the way individual customers want to receive information-provide a detailed learning experience for consumers who prefer a guided path, as well as direct access to tools and information for customers with more specific needs. Third, humanize the online channel by honoring our customers' preferences to be served when, where and how they choose-for example, make it easy to connect with a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage consultant when they're ready or make it easy to have a complete, online, self-serve experience.
We also wanted to stay true to our longstanding commitment to helping our customers through all stages of homeownership. Our commitment is to first focus on their goals, and then provide the tools, education and information consumers need to consider when deciding what's right for them.
Design conquers complexity
Through the research, we learned that a handful of key consumer needs drive the demand for home lending: buying a home, home improvement, managing cash flow or taking control of their financial situation.
When consumers are ready to begin this process, they want it to be simple and easy to navigate with the information available when they need it. Critical to their experience is:
The ability to speak with a real person at any point, whenever they're ready;
Transparency of information about the process and our products;
An experience that speaks to their unique needs and goals;
Aase of accessing information- which could be a deep and guided experience or quick access to a tool or calculator;
The ability to remain anonymous until they are ready to identify themselves; and
Comprehensive information in easy-to-use, "consumable" pieces with a combination of graphics, text and other design elements to support a complete educational experience.
Our challenge in meeting these needs: Buying a home is a complex, multi-stage process. Consumers want transparency, yet there is a tremendous amount of information to consider before applying for a mortgage loan.
We also were mindful that each consumer comes to the transaction with a different level of understanding and with different styles of learning.
To develop a site that delivers transparency and also meets the needs of a variety of users, we relied heavily on design elements. For example, we set an overarching standard that each page should be as clean and uncluttered as possible.
Customers start on the home page and, based on their need, can easily navigate toward the information applicable to their situation. We worked to provide an "express lane" to some of the most popular tools like rate and payment calculators, and online application status.
To retain our focus on consumer education, we designed the site to enable users to access content through options that expand and collapse, and through display overlays that enable access to more detailed content yet stay within the context of the page.
Because the home lending industry is jargon-heavy, we also worked to remove lingo and use plain language to describe loan features and considerations.
Knowing consumers want to be able to compare and contrast critical information, we developed "at-a-glance" customizable comparison charts. This feature makes it easy to see graphical and numeric representations of loan characteristics-for example, the difference in interest payments over the life of different loan types.
We also created a "subway map" visual to help simplify navigation. This framework allows consumers to learn at their own pace and drill down into specific steps without losing their place. This visual guide provides a consistent path throughout the researching and pre-application phase all the way through post-application.
Recognizing the importance of consumers' desire to share information with their extended network of friends and trusted advisers, we also included "share this page" links throughout the site so visitors can share information through email, Facebook and Twitter.
The site also provides easy access to other relevant information within wellsfargo.com, including the Smarter Credit(TM) center.
Elements of the redesigned site
We focus on the borrower's needs throughout the site and provide a depth and breadth of content that is designed to educate customers about their options in a transparent way. Some features include:
The Learning and Planning Center provides a guided tour through learning the basics, understanding loan options and how to apply and close a loan. It is developed for the specific needs of individual customers, is based on their goals and is an integrated and comprehensive view of the process. It includes information about what consumers should consider, as well as access to tools and calculators, and easy access to home mortgage consultants.
An interactive giossary of key terms, available by hovering the mouse over the term for additional information:
Tools and tips that can help borrowers understand and better manage their credit;
A product-comparison tool and loan descriptions that outline the features, benefits and considerations for a variety of product options, side-by-side. There are quick at-a-glance views and more interactive tools with rates, fees and the ability to try different scenarios;
An online application status feature that makes it easy to see the status of an application. This interactive experience includes a progress meter that points out milestones and lists action items for the borrower and for Wells Fargo. It also shows activities that have been completed, and provides online and email alerts. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage consultants can also access the same information, enabling them to help customers through the process;
Checklists that help borrowers understand and follow the home financing process; and
* Homeownership guides that is free and easily downloaded.
In 2011, Wells Fargo conducted a survey that asked consumers across three generations how they felt about homeownership. One of the most striking results was that the biggest opportunity for growth in the housing industry rests with the millennial generation (born between 1979 and 2001).
There are 51.5 million millennial in the prime first-time home-buyer group (ages 20-31). That's 6 million more consumers in this first-time homebuyer age group today than there were baby boomers in 1977.
We know this population is eager to find information that will give them a good foundation of knowledge and confidence to start down the homeownership path. Yet,
While information about homeowner-ship and home lending is plentiful, a comprehensive, one-stop, self-directed resource didn't really exist.
As part of our commitment to fair and responsible lending, we want to provide assistance that can help first-time homebuyers decide when and if homeownership is right for them.
To fill this need, we developed a service called My FZrstHomesm, a new, interactive, educational experience developed for first-time homebuyers and launched in March 2012 as part of the new Home Lending site.
My FirstHome features an onscreen narrator, audio, video, activities and on-demand tools and resources to educate consumers on what they need to know before purchasing their first home. Key features of My FirstHome include:
* Easy, online access;
* Demonstration of complex issues in simple terms;
* Interactive experience with games and self-knowledge checks;
* Customer-driven interaction, with the ability to exit the program and, when consumers return, pick up where they left off;
* Chapters of information with key concepts and critical considerations;
* Customer-friendly calculators, checklists and guides; and
* Links to additional support and information (including the Smarter Credit center) on wellsfargo.com.
My FZrstHome mimics the home lending site in terms of clean design, simple language and ease of navigation, including the "subway map" showing the full cycle of what a first-time home-buyer should consider.
At its heart, My FZrstHome aims to support our commitment to help customers better prepare for and achieve sustainable homeownership, and is part of our ongoing commitment to
e. ducating consumers.
In usability tests, we talked with consumers who were either currently going through the home-buying process for the first time or who had just purchased their first home. These individuals told us they thought the My FZrstHome program would increase both their knowledge of and confidence in the home-buying process and enable them to make better decisions. In addition, first-time homebuyers cited strong confidence in Wells Fargo to provide the most accurate and critical information.
Customers facing payment challenges
For customers experiencing challenges, we also include information that directs them to loan-modification information, repayment plan information or other home-retention options to help prevent avoidable foreclosure- including local home-preservation workshops.
Focused on the future
During 2011, the Wells Fargo Home Lending sites attracted more than 2 million people per month and, since the launch of the new site, we have seen steady and continual growth.
We're excited that our customers are using the site, because what truly matters is their ability to find the information, tools and home lending options that meet their needs and help them succeed financially.
We believe that our research and work has resulted in a best-in-class experience for our customers. We're proud to have completed this work during some of the most unpredictable times our industry has seen in recent memory.
And we're already focused on the future. The online experience will continue to evolve and change, and new needs will arise. We'll continue using technology to make the process of home lending even easier and more transparent for our customers.
A few items on the horizon: expanding our eLending capabilities and adding information about new options for customers- including government support plans like the Making Home Affordable Program.
As our economy continues to improve, we know that, while shaken, consumers' belief in homeownership is still strong. Research shows that owning a home is still important to our customers and continues to be an important part of their long-term goals. We will continue to listen to our customers, and evolve our home lending site and its functionality based on their feedback and needs.