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SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Credit Union 1 (CU1) of Rantoul, IL, is celebrating one year of impressive mortgage growth after initiating the HomeAdvantage® program from CU Realty Services—the largest real estate services CUSO in the U.S. With more than 87,000 members, the credit union not only nearly doubled the closings goal set for the program but also achieved a blockbuster 93 percent pull-through rate on loan applicants who used HomeAdvantage agents to buy their home.
In 2017, CU1 sought out solutions that would not only improve its member services but also grow its purchase mortgage business. “We wanted a marketing and technology solution offering a built-in roadmap to help us meet our mortgage growth goals,” says Daniel McLean, VP of Real Estate Operations at Credit Union 1. “We needed a solution that would help us align with a network of real estate agents, and really empower our employees to be part of the process. HomeAdvantage checked all the boxes.”
HomeAdvantage is a turnkey real estate marketing platform designed to help credit unions attract and engage more home-buying members much earlier in their journey to homeownership, and ultimately close more loans. The program offers a co-branded home search portal, localized reports on home values and market trends, and a network of certified real estate agents. When members use one of those agents to buy or sell, they can earn HomeAdvantage Cash Rewards, which saves members an average of $1,500 per transaction.
CU1’s initial goal was to close 25 mortgages through HomeAdvantage in the first year—and the credit union achieved 42 closings in that time, surpassing its goal by 68% percent. CU1’s impressive out-of-the-gate success with HomeAdvantage is the result of its ongoing nurturing of critical real estate agent relationships, commitment to keeping employees educated and engaged, and a strong focus on year-round marketing.
Collaborative Agent Relationships
Prior to HomeAdvantage, CU1 lacked significant relationships with local real estate agents. The credit union sought to stop members from going to other financial institutions for their mortgages and knew that having strong relationships with local agents was the key. “We were not sure how to approach agents and interest them in doing business with a credit union, when they likely wanted to work with their own preferred lenders,” says McLean. “The fact that we were automatically connected to agents through CU Realty’s HomeAdvantage program allowed us to initiate contact with agents who welcomed the collaboration, were advocates of credit unions in general, and embraced our philosophies.”
Before implementing the HomeAdvantage program, and without having solid agent connections in place, CU1’s pull-through rate was averaging 32 percent. Today, when CU1 connects one of its members to a certified agent in the HomeAdvantage program, the member stays with the credit union for financing 93 percent of the time. This success is a testament to the strength of the relationships CU1 is nurturing with its network of HomeAdvantage agents, who are trained to keep the credit union brand front-of-mind for financing throughout the members home-buying journey.
McLean says CU1 regularly hosts lobby days at CU1 branch locations, giving agents the opportunity to meet members and further develop relationships with CU1 staff. These efforts are paying off. “Today, we are working with real estate agents who are excited to work with our credit union. They call us quite often. They engage us as an organization and as a lender, and they see us as a partner in the transaction,” says McLean. “This was not something we were experiencing in the past, prior to setting up the HomeAdvantage program.”
Focus on Employee Empowerment
Another critical element in CU1’s impressive first-year success: employee engagement. CU1 accomplished this through comprehensive training and turnkey tools to make adoption easy. Early on, McLean recognized employees as being the key to maximizing HomeAdvantage’s benefits, so it was vital that CU1 employees felt comfortable using the program and talking about it to members.
During the implementation of the program, CU Realty customized training for CU1’s key employee groups and delivered it in-person at each of the 23 branch locations. The purpose of the training was to not only educate employees about the program but also share best practices on incorporating conversations about the program into member interactions.
“I believe we’ve been able to exceed our mortgage closings goals largely because our staff is less intimidated to have conversations about real estate needs early in the process and the members are not feeling like they’re getting a sales pitch. It’s a much more comfortable approach for our staff,” says McLean. “We have made it easy for our employees to talk about HomeAdvantage.”
HomeAdvantage offers a unique dashboard where employees can register members into the program during those interactions and track their progress. To date, CU1 employees have used this tool to register and nurture over 520 leads into the system.
In addition, CU1 employees utilize HomeAdvantage Employee Rewards—an optional incentive program that offers cash bonuses to employees when they introduce prospective buyers and sellers to HomeAdvantage. The free service offers an added incentive for employees to stay engaged in the program and focused on the credit union’s goals.
Immediate Marketing Impact with Members
In conjunction with employee empowerment, CU1 embraced the opportunity to reposition itself to members as a real estate easy button and earn its member’s first point of contact in the real estate transaction. “We recognize how important it is to engage our members in their home-buying experience as early as possible in the transaction. Even when they’re just perusing homes, looking at homes just for curiosity purposes with no intentions to buy, that’s the part of the process where we want to be,” says McLean.
CU1’s marketing department took full advantage of the off-the-shelf marketing materials available to HomeAdvantage clients. Each month, the credit union used the messaging and creative provided by HomeAdvantage to drive member awareness of the program via social media, email, web and print communications. Members respond by visiting CU1’s co-branded HomeAdvantage portal and registering as a user, which generates a new lead.
“We recognize that sometimes it can be a challenge for a credit union to make a shift away from just promoting mortgages and instead start having conversations with their members about the entire transaction—from finding a home and an agent, all the way to financing,” says Tandy Vincent, Director of Marketing for CU Realty Services. “We try to make it easy by not only offering a variety of off-the-shelf marketing templates, but we also provide marketing best practices, success stories and suggested marketing plans as inspiration.”
To date, CU1’s marketing efforts have generated more than 250 additional real estate leads into its pipeline. That number represents nearly half of CU1’s overall HomeAdvantage leads, demonstrating the powerful impact that a shift in messaging can have on a mortgage lead pipeline.
In 2019 and beyond, CU1 plans to build on its current success with renewed vigor thanks to a new leadership team focused on the potential of mortgage origination. The entire culture of CU1 believes helping the member with their largest savings opportunity sets the tone for the entire relationship, and that opportunity is mortgage loans. “It’s powerful to see the push for mortgage origination coming from the top down in operations,” says McLean. “They are making sure that it’s at the forefront of every employee’s mind and we’re able to push more HomeAdvantage opportunities as a result.”
The ongoing goal, according to McLean, is to continue training employees and reaching out to members about the value of the program before they might seriously consider moving to a new home. “This year, we want to ensure that every employee knows about the program and feels comfortable with it. We’re optimistic we can do even better going forward, because HomeAdvantage is designed to create a natural gravitation for members to use us for mortgage services. Members see us not as part of the transaction but rather as collaborators, and that’s helped not only our pipeline activity but our member engagement.”
The success of CU1 demonstrates its solid commitment to the program, says Tina Powers, Chief Operating Officer at CU Realty. “In just one year, Credit Union 1 has really built a strong lead pipeline by leveraging all that HomeAdvantage has to offer. Based on its strong start with our program, we are excited to see how far CU1 takes HomeAdvantage in the coming years!”
About Credit Union 1
Headquartered in Rantoul, Illinois, Credit Union 1 (CU1) serves more than 87,000 members at 23 branches in the greater Chicago region. Its mission is to help more people achieve their economic potential, which benefits its member owners and the communities it serves. To learn more, visit www.creditunion1.org.
About CU Realty Services, LLC
CU Realty Services provides real estate services to credit unions across the nation, helping them increase their purchase mortgage business. Launched in 2001, the CUSO has worked with more than 100 credit unions and mortgage CUSOs nationwide to offer its turnkey real estate marketing platform, HomeAdvantage. Through the program, credit union members can search for homes, research neighborhoods, calculate costs of homeownership, connect to experienced real estate agents, and earn HomeAdvantage Cash Rewards. By offering this program to members, credit unions are able to attract, identify and engage more home buyers, and consequently close more loans. To learn more, visit www.curealty.com.
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