Sometime in the near future, the majority of mortgage applications in Canada will be completed online or with a chatbot, mortgage expert Rob McLister predicts. A for sale sign displays a sold home in a housing development in Ottawa on July 6, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

More technology coming to mortgage industry but clients still want human touch

TORONTO — Sometime in the near future, the majority of mortgage applications in Canada will be completed online or with a chatbot, mortgage expert Rob McLister predicts.

McLister, who runs mortgage comparison website RateSpy.com, says unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada has been slow to adopt technology — whether its using artificial intelligence or online applications — in the mortgage industry. But he expects that soon will change.

“Most people someday will not need a human touch to get a mortgage. They won’t even want it,” said McLister. “If you can get a materially better rate online for less dealings with a human being, the majority of folks are going to take that offer.”

He likened the technological disruption to investing online, which has become more common over the last few years with the popularity of DIY brokerages.

Earlier this month, TD Bank launched a digital mortgage application that allows users 24/7 access on all devices, the ability to save and resume, track the form’s status and upload documents digitally.

Pat Giles, vice-president of real estate secured lending at TD Bank, says in the past, applying or renewing a mortgage would involve multiple face-to-face meetings and large amounts of paperwork.

Today, homebuyers are looking for more ease, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to give up working with someone in-person or over the phone.

Giles doesn’t believe there will ever come a day where a bot or AI would completely replace a mortgage specialist.

Royal Bank says it’s not in any rush to do away with mortgage advisers either, but notes that there are improvements to be made in making the process of obtaining a mortgage — and buying a home — more seamless.

For instance, it has a website that allows RBC clients with mortgages at other institutions to get pre-approved and find out if they would benefit from a switch.

It does this by using information the bank already has and pulling credit scores and the estimated value of a property through partnerships with credit reporting agency TransUnion and online property value service Teranet.

“Time and time again, (people say) ‘look this is a big purchase, I need to talk to somebody. I need to know this is going to go through and I want to talk about affordability,” said Nicole Wells, vice-president of home equity financing at the bank.

“A lot of people make decisions just on rate, but it’s so much more. It’s how you manage all the costs of home ownership. You can’t get that all online and most people just want someone to talk to.”

Wells says RBC doesn’t ask customers to complete a mortgage application online on their own because it’s a complex process. Instead, those looking to apply or switch a mortgage are asked to fill out a form that takes a minute or two and then be handed over to a specialist who helps them with the remainder of the process.

She says it’s about finding the right balance of merging technology with the right people.

“There is definitely lots of room and scope for the imagination when it comes to technology and tying people and clients together,” added Wells, who points to the potential for incorporating the use of more digital documents and e-signatures in the mortgage process.

Barry Gollom, a senior vice-president with HSBC Bank Canada, says although the mortgage application process can often start online, a chatbot, no matter how smart, could never replace a human specialist.

“Part of the conversation is really understanding and helping the customer understand what he or she is financially comfortable with,” he said.

Last July, HSBC Canada launched a dedicated mortgage centre, which includes 15 non-commissioned mortgage specialists, each with at least 10 years of experience.

But McLister argues that someday, sooner rather than later, chatbots will have the skills to take over these jobs, especially for those who qualify for standard mortgages.

“Not everyone is going to be able to close a digital mortgage end to end without human contact but the number of people who will accept that will grow,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of time.”

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