A recent study identified the most important aspects of the best mortgage Web sites.
Keynote Systems Inc. completed its Q2 2008 Mortgage Scorecard, a bi-annual study that measures customer experience on leading mortgage Web sites.
E-LOAN ranked highest overall in the study, Christopher Musto, lead financial services researcher for Keynote, told MortgageDaily.com. No. 2 was Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, followed by Chase Home Mortgage, Bank of America and National City Mortgage.
Also evaluated were the Web sites of CitiMortgage, Citizen Bank-CCO Mortgage, Countrywide Home Loans, GMAC Residential, IndyMac Bank Home Lending and Washington Mutual Bank.
Among four categories evaluated was functionality. Four tasks considered in this category were the ability to get a quote and select a loan, apply for a first mortgage, apply for home-equity loans or lines-of-credit, and learn about general issues in mortgage lending that apply across all lenders.
E-LOAN ranked highest in the functionality category.
"You have to give kudos to E-LOAN for being able to serve the different kinds of borrowing needs that people have, and to be able to explain the differences and to have the tools that people need," Musto stated. "They give you education."
He also noted that Wells Fargo has a lot of strong educational content.
Ease-of-use was another category analyzed. The same four tasks were considered in the evaluation of ease-of-use. Chase topped this category.
Musto explained that even though Chase's site is not the most functional because it is trying to engage customers over the phone as quickly as possible, it is streamlined, easy to interact with and simple to navigate.
Privacy and security, which was based on what the customer can see, touch and feel, was also considered. Wells Fargo, which traditionally does well with privacy and security across all of its offerings, topped this category.
Musto noted that Wells Fargo does well protecting against phishing, where online scammers try to fool a user into giving up personal data by leading them to page that appears to belong to their bank but is actually on a fraudulent Web site. Some phishing schemes use the bank's actual page, but frame their own page around it -- enabling account information to be read by the phishers. Wells' Web pages prevent against being framed.
Quality and availability was the fourth category reviewed by Keynote. Issues evaluated in this category were guarantees on low rates and closing and how easily the Web site was to use by those who might otherwise have difficulty.
IndyMac was the best Web site based on quality and availability. One of the key features of IndyMac's site was the constant availability of live online chats -- a feature only available at infrequent intervals on some other sites. IndyMac also offers money-back guarantees for the lowest rate, the time it takes them to respond to inquires and the closing date.
"If you discover later that they don't have the lowest rate ... it may or may not be the case that you want to call them on it," Musto said. "But ... these guarantees ... they do have some teeth in terms of they give you something."
He explained that while IndyMac is well known in wholesale lending, it is virtually unknown in the retail world. Utilizing its existing back-end technology, the guarantees help it overcome a lack of branding.
Musto said mortgage Web sites could do a better job about explaining where a user is in the loan process and what the implications are from completing different forms.
"The Web sites can be kind of confusing as to the process," he said. "They're confusing because they're different from each other. Some places you can get pre-approval, some places you can't. Some places say you can get prequalification, but it's not sure what they mean by that. Some places you can go further down in the process -- your credit is going to get checked.
"That's the challenge ... is figuring out that next step."