Getting a home loan can feel opaque and intimidating to the average person. With pages and pages of legal jargon to navigate (not to mention large sums of money on the line!), it can feel overwhelming to understand what is happening, why, what questions to ask, and how to protect yourself.
I became a first-time homeowner several years ago and refinanced my mortgage twice since then. I’ve worked with two different lenders: one operating primarily through phone and email, the other (Sofi) operating largely through their software. While going through my refinance with Sofi, I was pleasantly surprised by the digital-first experience and became interested in exploring how their loan processing experience could be further improved.
This case study focuses on the loan processing experience within the Sofi mobile iOS application. I decided to focus on the mobile app because that’s largely where I interact with Sofi products, plus I wanted to brush up on my native mobile app design thinking.
Initial research and identifying pain points
I started by conducting UX teardowns of Sofi’s current mobile loans experience, as well as that of other personal finance applications. I also interviewed people who have recently refinanced home loans to understand their pain points, and refreshed my knowledge of mobile app user research and best practices by reviewing NNGroup’s report on mobile app/web UX.
Based on this initial research, I identified a high-level user story: as a person who is currently refinancing their home loan with Sofi, I want to use the mobile app to check the status of my loan and browse for information that will help me save money, reduce risk, and make better decisions about this and future loans. Based on this user story, here are the key pain points I identified with the current mobile app loans experience.
Pain point #1: Not enough transparency about my loan status. For example, what is actually happening during the “processing” phase, what do I need to prepare to submit to my lender, and how can I help ensure that the closing date isn’t delayed?
The loan processing timeline isn’t granular or informative enough, and while the To-Dos section provides a record of documents that I’ve submitted or received, it doesn’t include records for approvals or verifications from my lender, or of messages exchanged with my loan officer.
Pain point #2: Loan navigation can feel cumbersome. My loans dashboard deemphasizes my existing/in-progress loans, making it harder to get to my in-progress loan and distracting me with sales pitches for new loans I’m not particularly interested in at the moment.
In addition, navigating within my in-progress loan can be confusing, with a hamburger menu offering redundant navigation items and emphasizing unlikely mobile calls-to-action (eg. will users really be uploading W2s from their phones?).
Pain point #3: Not only do I find sales pitches for new loans to be distracting, but if I were interested, these pitches don’t give me a soft entry point to learn more about how these loans will benefit me, the right time to buy, and why I should trust Sofi. Is there a way to highlight selling opportunities while also providing some kind of unique value to the user and building brand credibility?
Design iteration and user testing
I went through several design iterations and tested them with a user before landing on the solutions described below.
Solution #1: Improved loan navigation, with a clearer path to my existing loans from the loan dashboard and more lightweight navigation within my in-progress loan.
The hamburger menu has been removed, replaced by summary views with links to full views below each summary.
The loan timeline is pulled up to the top of the screen and supplemented with information relevant to completing the process successfully, such as estimated closing dates and cash-to-close. The hypothesis behind this reprioritization of information is that users checking on their in-progress loan are often first interested in dynamic information like status updates and tips to prepare for next steps, and then will follow with less dynamic or more granular information such as loan details, loan comparisons, or detailed activity breakdowns.
Solution #2: More transparency into my loan status and activity. There are three top-level statuses in my loan progress timeline, which I can click into in order to see a status definition, a more granular breakdown of steps within each status, and tips for what I should and shouldn’t be doing at this stage.
My activity timeline includes a record of documents submitted (and a path to view uploaded docs), messages exchanged between myself and my loan officer, and approvals or verifications from my lender.
Solution #3: The loans dashboard now includes a new feature, the loans watchlist, in addition to educational articles for users to browse.
The loans watchlist allows users to watch interest rates for loans based on their personal criteria, plus receive recommendations from Sofi about the right time to take out the loan based on rates and other factors.
This feature empowers users with unique, credible information, since interest rates over time can be an opaque yet key data point for determining which lender to go with and when. Currently, users must rely on information from a loan officer or continuously fill out interest rate estimators and loan applications.
The hypothesis is that by providing transparency into interest rates over time, Sofi differentiates itself and builds brand credibility by providing valuable, unique knowledge currently unmatched by other lenders.
This feature could also be useful from a business standpoint because it provides a soft entry point for a loan application. After all, the data that a user enters to create a watchlist item is effectively the same data that they would use to start an application.
Reflection and open questions
This case study allowed me to exercise my mobile app design thinking and deep dive into a problem space that I’ve become familiar with in the last several years. It also left me with lots of open questions, such as:
- The shift to a more digital loan processing experience is, I expect, rife with legal and institutional barriers. It is also a shift to a world that could leave behind consumers with less tech access or savvy. What are those legal and institutional barriers? Who makes up Sofi’s target markets, and what are steps the team can take to broaden access?
- The loans watchlist concept has many unknowns, namely: what are potential business costs or barriers to making interest rates more transparent? Does the consumer value outweigh potential business costs? How much do most consumers (vs. power users) care about this information?
- What are other user needs and pain points with loan processing and education? What are other tools beyond the loans watchlist that could empower the user with information and build brand credibility?