The success of Franklin American Mortgage Company was largely the result of embracing technology as an investment and not an expense. From the beginning, their vision was to leverage technology as the key ingredient needed to provide superior customer service in a notoriously bureaucratic and traditional industry.
Overtime,confidence in thestrength of their brand eroded their once leading technology edge, as they slipped into a maintenance mode of operation in lieu of continuous innovation. With the convergence of higher consumer and partner expectations, advances in technologies, and infiltration of fintech companies,there was recognition that incumbents’ days were numbered.New competitors did more than embrace technology. They built their companies and business models around it and were grabbing market share at an incredible pace. The secret was out. The mortgage industry is ripe for disruption.
At Franklin American Mortgage, I was given the opportunity to reimagine itwas a technology company that happened to offer mortgages. I wanted our customers to see a new world, not just help them see the old world better, all while maintaining the company tradition of responsiveness and personalized services to customers. And just like Amazon upended the retail industry or how digital distribution upended the music industry, we set out to transform the mortgage experience.
As forward-thinking CIOs know,alignment of business and technology is essential. Success means their respective transformationsare a collaboration and must happen in unison. Business leaders need to learn what is possible and technology leaders need to demonstrate why it matters. Only then should you cast the vision and rally everyone to execute. But how can you demonstrate why it matters and keep the business running at the same time?
Enter Innovation. Innovation is less about producing something new and more about enabling something new and essential to your customers.Take small business accounting software. QuickBooks was opportunistically launched. Intuit had discovered small business customers were using their personal finance software to run their businesses. But initially looked at the discovery in the traditional sense by looking at the existing accounting software market and almost opted out. However, by digging a little deeper into their small business community, Intuit discovered that the community didn’t want the complexity and overhead of accounting software but merely a way to manage cash flow.
Which meant competition was anything small businesses were using to manage cash flow, not the software vendors as they originally thought. As such, the market was much more interesting and QuickBooks was launched. Intuit created and now owns that market.
To lead the transformation, I made the decision to build an innovation practice and allocated ten percent of my headcount to staff it. The team would be a cross-functional representation of the technology organization with direct alignment to the executive business team. To keep them focused, it was essential to remove them from the day-to-day functions of information technology across the company. Their charge was to curate, incubate, and deliver software and experiences that challenge the status quo. They needed to answer questions like how will we stand out from the pack to become the partner that borrowers, brokers, and other lenders flock to and moreover are fiercely loyal to? I wanted to look for opportunities like QuickBooks. I did not want another traditional IT team. I needed them to think and function like a startup that did not fear failure. In fact, I wanted them to fail fearlessly. I also sought to break with norms and have an experienced entrepreneur to lead the team.
The first order of business was to create a platform from which the team could operate. It needed to be modern and not burdened by legacy technology and practices. We found Docker to be the perfect solution and partner for our transformational journey. The team would go on to present at Dockercon San Francisco and then again at Dockercon Europe and with stiff competition were a finalist and Rising Star for their Customer Innovation Award.
With the platform in place, we sought to redesign the application experience and chose Blend, a leading fintech based in San Francisco. The result was a frictionless experience for our customers and colleagues that was delivered in under eight weeks. The new digital application experience offers a user-friendly interface, guidance and reminders, and massively simplifies document gathering and submission. The interaction with our Loan Origination System was seamless and efficient making adoption matter-of-fact. With the recent acquisition of Franklin American Mortgage by Citizens Bank the teams were able to once again partner with Blend and deliver a solution with a packaged loan origination system in six months in the midst of an integration.
What would have taken six or more months to build and deploy in a traditional organizational construct had taken only a fraction of that time and with a lot less fanfare. This was only the first of their achievements and with the learning feedback loop from each endeavor, we now can go from concept to live software in forty-eight hours.
It was a hard sell to carve out the time and resources for a highly skilled and dedicated team that had no preset objectives or deliverables. It was a risk for sure but one that had to be taken. The return on the investment will pay dividends for a long time to come. The challenge now is to export this capability across the reminder of the information technology organization and extend into the business. It will take more than just a team named ‘innovation’ to succeed. Every team in the organization plays a part. The culture has to be right. The talent has to be there. And the passion.