Welcome to summer home improvement season! With a long list of improvement projects on the list for the next few months, my wife and I decided now would be a good time to explore our options to tap our home’s equity. With rising market values and being in our house for a few years now, the timing seems to be just about right.

Working in the financial industry gives you a unique perspective on which institutions in your area that you would like to do business with. Knowing many of the local community financials, I made a short list of banks and credit unions that I wanted to inquire about a home equity loan or line of credit with. After reviewing the options, I narrowed my list to the top two finalists.

I went about applying for the loan at both institutions using their online loan application system. (Yes, I know it is not recommended that you apply more than once during a process such as this, but I also wanted to see how things went.)

Experience Matters

This is where my experience with these two financial institutions gets interesting. Having worked with community financials for a long time, I know and understand that most community financials are required to “eat at the buffet” of systems and applications that are being offered up by their core providers.

Very rarely are community financial institutions able to custom design and program a system for online banking, mobile banking and loan applications that looks and feels exactly like the true website experience. Often, customers or members are ushered into a completely different visual and brand experience with a small notification that pops up letting the user know they are leaving the corporate website.

In the case of the two institutions I was applying with, one is a $1.2B FI with nine branch locations. The other is a $450mm FI with five branch locations.

When going through the application process, one institution provided what I would define as the “typical” experience. When clicking “Apply Now,” I was taken to a very cold looking, non-branded page to begin the application process. The entire application seemed long and arduous. Even after completing the application and receiving the confirmation email, the from email address didn’t even contain the institution’s name!

My experience with the other institution was a complete 180-degree difference. After clicking “Apply Now,” a new window launched, but this time into a completely branded application page. The entire application took on the look and feel of the website. Even the site’s header and navigation menus were retained. It was obvious that this institution had spent a great deal of time and effort ensuring the application process adopted the site’s Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) to maintain this feeling. In my mind’s eye, the application process went by faster and was far more welcoming.

Based on these experiences, which do you think belongs to which financial institution?

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprising, the smaller institution has the much more personable and branded loan application process. And I can tell you – it makes a world of difference to your customers or members!

One other thing to keep in mind: I am not an existing customer or member of either of these financial institutions. I am also looking for a place to transition many of my accounts to, depending on who gains my business. It may also come as no surprise that, based on the loan application experience, I’m much more likely to go back to the smaller financial and open my accounts there.

So, what do you do next? Contact your online application providers! Find out what you can do so that your bank or credit union has a more friendly and branded online experience. It’s worth it!