Checking an application status. Making a payment. Updating a credit card number. Resetting a password. Uploading a document. These are all common tasks a borrower — or potential borrower — might perform online.
Once a potential client becomes an applicant, much of the activity will take place behind a secure, password-protected area, often referred to as a customer or borrower portal. It’s important that the transition from your forward-facing website to this internal system be as seamless as possible.
In this post we’ll talk about the benefits of a good customer portal in general, how it applies to the lending services industry, and how partnering with a powerful CRM can help create a positive, behind-the-scenes user experience for your clients and staff.
What is a Customer Portal?
First things first. What exactly *is* a portal? While some might consider the term “portal” a bit dated when it comes to Internet terminology, there’s arguably not a better or more common term for it. The most simple answer to “what is a customer portal?” is that it’s a protected area of the website itself or a related system that houses information specific to a user or user type. For example:
- In higher education, it might be a student portal that gives access to registration or course material. And, for an individual student, it could mean access to their grades or financial aid information.
- On a magazine website, it might be a member portal that gives access to exclusive content for paying subscribers. And, for an individual member, it could mean access to their subscription details, newsletter preferences, or payment method.
- And, in the fintech industry, a portal could give users access to a customer knowledge base or, for individual applicants or borrowers, access to their application status and account data.
Client portals also serve as a secure platform for communication, file sharing, and other collaboration. You might sometimes see portals referred to as intranets, which is often the terminology used to differentiate between internal (employee-facing) and external (customer-facing) information.
The Power of a Portal
Every day, all of us probably log in and out of various software systems, apps, and other accounts, so it’s quite easy to take for granted how important these portals are to the customer experience. As more and more consumers rely on digital-first experiences, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to our portals.
A good customer portal is great customer service.
Today’s consumers are savvy and like to find solutions on their own before contacting someone for help. A well-designed interface and access to useful content is not just helpful; it’s empowering. And it’s also available around the clock, when live agents might not be.
Keeping common customer questions in mind will help you determine how and when people might access the portal; use this data to help you anticipate needs and create a layout and structure that fits. For a lending software portal, this might mean the most prominent call to action is “make a payment” or “update your payment method.”
A good customer portal is a great communication tool.
In addition to a borrower portal having up-to-date account information, you can also use space in your portal to inform, educate, and build awareness of other offerings. For example, a portal could display a marketing message about a new financial product, encourage sign-ups for a newsletter, or to point to a recent blog post.
A good customer portal is a great retention and risk management tool.
Good service and clear communication boost customer satisfaction, so just by design a borrower portal can also increase retention. Additionally, on both the internal and external side, using data visualization within the portal — such as time charts that indicate on-time payments or amount left on loan — can help customers see the finish line or help staff members spot trends and opportunities for outreach.
The idea of retention even begins at the lead stage. A potential borrower might be eager to start the application process, only to realize they don’t have some verification documents readily available. Giving people an option to save their application (by creating a use account) allows them to finish later, and you can even set it up to send a reminder about completing.
This screenshot from the The Jewish Educational Loan Fund (JELF) website shows two options: one for new applicants and one for returning applicants. Returning applicants will be prompted to log into the borrower portal.
A good customer portal is a great productivity booster.
The benefits of a robust customer portal goes beyond customer service. They can also work hand-in-hand with internal workflows and communication.
Borrower Portal & FinTech Software Customization
While the lending industry has many standard practices and definitions, there are also many factors that will revolve around your business or organization’s needs. It’s important to choose a borrower portal system that has the flexibility to meet your needs, from aligning with your branding to building custom fields, forms, and reports.
The IvyTek team works with a range of lenders — from student loan servicing companies to community development organizations — to build or customize borrower portals. (Our loan management software IvyTek Finance is built on the powerful Salesforce CRM platform, which offers robust and flexible portal options, and we also can work with third-party portal solutions, such as Form Assembly.)
Aside from colors, logos, and other visual customizations, here are few ways in which you might personalize your portal:
Co-Borrower Access & Other Log-in Types
There are many reasons a borrower might prefer or require a co-applicant. Co-signers are especially prevalent in higher education, where the traditional-aged first-year student is not of legal age to take a loan. No matter how close the co-signer is to the primary borrower, confidentiality is still crucial. But, because the co-signer has a literal vested interest in the loan, it’s valuable for them to have access to pertinent information, such as checking to see if payments are being made on time.
A co-applicant portal, such as the one we helped create for JELF, allows the co-signer to see what they need to see, while the rest of the account information remains secure. Aside from co-signers, there may be other scenarios where you’d like someone to have partial access to accounts.
Multiple Login Options
A common phrase we hear today in marketing and customer service is “meet the customer where they are.” When it comes to creating a seamless and positive experience when managing their loans, that might mean offering various ways to log in or access the customer portal. The most common way to log in is, of course, a username and password.
Using Google, Facebook, or other third-party log-ins offer an efficient alternative. Additionally, if your organization has a few systems, you could consider a single sign-on (SSO) option to streamline their interactions.
More on the internal side of things, you can create custom views. For example, a CDFI might want to give certain board members or a committee access to loan data, such as to see the impact of their work. So, there could be a board member view that allows them to see a dashboard for specific types of loans, clients, or time periods.
Another example could be to give your sales team or customer service rep access to data based on certain parameters — such as by geographical territory or status. (These are essentially reports, but the portal would be configured to display them vs. the user creating their own report.)
Communication & Messaging Options
You can set up the ways in which a borrower can communicate with you and vice versa. You might consider messages, live chat, or a ticket system. Third-party systems integrations are also an option, based on your needs.
Secure Borrower Portals & Loan Management Software Security
Security is a major driving factor behind implementing a client, customer, or borrower portal in the first place: identification and other sensitive data and documents come with the territory. But, depending on your target audience and business needs, you may have varying safety and security needs.
Most borrow portal solutions, including Salesforce’s Experience Cloud or Community Cloud, will offer a range of default and/or optional features such as:
- Multi-factor authentication
- Additional encryption (such as Salesforce Shield)
- Permission levels based on user role
Our blog post “Loan Management Software: What You Need to Know About Safety, Security & Salesforce” dives deeper into the platform’s built-in security features, many of which relate to portals.
Boost Your Borrower Portal Features & Functionality with IvyTek Finance
A big part of an end-to-end loan management software solution is creating a positive client experience and many of those interactions will take place within the customer’s account. IvyTek Finance can help you create, customize, and manage a borrower portal that meets your lending and business needs. We’ll give you a sneak peek at the possibilities when you schedule a free, 10-minute demo.