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Centum Launches Online Pre-Qualifier

Lead generation is the name of the game when you’re trying to grow a mortgage business. But leads are expensive, so when someone creates an innovative way to generate inexpensive prospects, it’s worth a look.

Centum, one of the top mortgage broker franchisors in Canada, says it has just that. It launched its “15-Minute Mortgage” widget today to all of its 2,300+ agents. The Web-based interface (one of the first of its kind) lets a homeowner pre-qualify themselves in just minutes.

Here’s how it works…

  1. The customer goes to a Centum agent’s website and clicks the <Get Pre-Qualified> button
  2. He/she goes through eight short screens to answer basic questions
  3. The client then consents to the privacy terms and clicks <Submit>
  4. The lead is sent to the broker and Centum’s auto-adjudication server
  5. The customer gets an email in five minutes or less telling them if they’ve been pre-qualified

“Based on the research we did, it’s one of the only lead-generation systems that actually runs through an auto-adjudication process,” says Centum’s Vice President, Operations, Paul Therien. “Other interfaces just generate leads. It’s the quickest pre-qualification system we’re aware of.” (Kanetix also launched an online pre-approval interface a few years ago.)

A few points of note:

  • The widget collects the minimum information needed to get an automated pre-approval
    • The system’s pre-qualification rules are based on “standard” lending guidelines
    • “We consulted with lenders and insurers to say, ‘What’s the minimum information we need to auto-adjudicate a file for a pre-qualification?'” Therien says.
  • The submissions give Centum agents the information and consent needed to pull a full credit report
    • That way, the agent can prepare a more complete application and then call the client with options.
  • The system does not issue declines
    • Instead, it will ask the client for more information.
    • The reason for that, notes Therien, is that the system is only based on “A” lending standards. “A lot of times, a client doesn’t fit the box and you don’t want to say they’re declined. The client could be a really good fit for a mortgage of some other type, like with a ‘B’ lender.”
  • The system generates a “pre-qualification,” not a pre-approval
    • The difference is that a lender must assess a pre-approval directly. “We’re in talks with some lenders now to allow us to push this through their internal auto-adjudication systems,” he adds.

Centum spent two years researching and building the interface. It determined that two factors were most important to its success:

  1. Response time
  • Online clients demand immediate gratification
  • Centum agents sign a service agreement mandating they respond to all pre-qualification requests in four business hours or less.
  • During Centum’s pilot, most agents were responding within 30 minutes, Therien says.

2.  Simplicity

  • Centum’s research suggested “the customer has to be able to fill out the application in five minutes or less and it has to be 10 steps or less.”
  • Customers don’t want to fill out a full application, Therien says. “If you make them do that, you’re going to lose over half the people who would normally apply. That’s why RateHub and RateSupermarket ask leads for minimal information…It’s a fine line when generating leads. If you make the process too onerous—where people have to provide too much information—they won’t do it. So we settled on eight easy steps.”
  • “In our research we found that consumers wouldn’t provide certain information (to agents they didn’t know). Consumers were uncomfortable in providing the actual name of their employer, for example…and they didn’t want to list all of their debts.”

The company says it hopes to add automated credit report checks by the end of this year, once it builds in the necessary security required by the credit-reporting agencies.

Probably the most compelling part for Centum agents is that they can put the <Get Pre-Qualified> button on any website. That includes the websites of referral partners, like Realtors. Agents can then track and/or reward leads from Realtors, and Realtors can get more pre-qualified client prospects from their broker partners.