A recent study of mortgage Web sites recognized a West Coast banking behemoth as having the best virtual real estate. The report's authors recommended several areas where lenders can improve their online operations.
Change Sciences Group recently announced it researched and ranked 31 mortgage Web sites from the perspective of people looking for a mortgage for its Winning Mortgage Customers Online: Customer Experience Benchmarks and Best Practices study.
The research group analyzed the customer experience on each site through discrete, quantitative events, such as keystrokes, mouse movements, and visual operations, and qualitative aspects such as points of confusion, hesitation and annoyance, according to the Research Overview report of the study.
Wells Fargo took first place, receiving a Friction Index of 21% -- half the friction elicited from the user by the second best mortgage site -- and thus the lowest overall score of 5.457, the overview said. Wells reportedly funded more than $298 billion last year.
Countrywide Financial, which eclipsed Wells' production with $363 billion in originations during 2004, reportedly placed second in Change Sciences ranking, with a Friction Index of 42% and overall score of 7.443. The third best mortgage site is operated by midsize producer E-LOAN, Change Sciences said, which earned a Friction Index of 43%.
The remainder of the top 10 mortgage sites, in respective order, reportedly belonged to GMAC Mortgage, Bank of America, CitiMortgage, E*Trade, National City Mortgage, M&T Bank and Wachovia.
The best mortgage sites "answer common questions directly for both homebuyers and refinancers, provide tools to help keep people informed over time, and help prospects get comfortable with the whole home buying process," Change Sciences said in the overview.
"For most, buying a home is the biggest financial transaction they will ever make," Change Sciences partner Steve Ellis said in a statement. "Firms that position themselves as a trusted guide online, rather than just a company selling mortgage products, are more likely to capture the attention and loyalty of homebuyers and refinancers alike."
Among the "dozens of best practices that firms offering mortgage solutions can use to improve their sites, benefiting both customers and the bottom line," is providing consumers with information of which loan will work best for them -- about one-third of sites do not present users with a way to determine this, and of those that do help the prospect choose a loan, only one is able to do it without causing any usability or content friction, Change Sciences indicated in the announcement.
The group also highlighted that only two out of the 31 sites provide a great first impression for purchase-loan prospects.
For refinance prospects, Wachovia and Wells were the only two sites that provided a great first impression, despite high incidences of basic effort, because they are the only ones that do not elicit friction from the user, according to the overview report.
The study reportedly found one-third of sites fail to support the needs of refinancing borrowers on their mortgage landing page.
About 40% of the sites reviewed made it difficult to navigate to the mortgage section, the research group said. Also, around one-fourth of sites fail to provide even the most basic information about home buying, and of those that do, many leave key questions unanswered.
The study found that nearly one out of five sites didn't present a direct way to get information about applying for a mortgage. And while sites may offer multiple ways to apply, few describe up front just what that entails, such as how long it takes to get an approval, the group said.
Change Sciences additionally highlighted that only 12 of the 31 sites present users with a way to stay informed about home prices and mortgage rates.
The 11th through 20th best mortgage sites were respectively those of Chase, IndyMac Bank, National City, Ditech, Washington Mutual, ABN AMRO Mortgage, AmSouth, Marshal & Ilsley, HSBC and NetBank.
The last portion of the list consisted of Zions Bank, at No. 21, followed by TD Banknorth, SunTrust, H&R Block, Comerica, U.S. Bank, Key Bank, New Century Mortgage, Fifth Third Bank, BB&T and at No. 31 was Ameriquest.