When you apply for a small business loan, you don’t want to be left in the dark. Rather, you want clear communication and helpful updates from your lender every step of the way.
That’s why in January 2017, Stearns Bank introduced a customer portal to offer a faster and more convenient way for its SBA customers to upload documents during the completion of the loan process.
The portal gives a checklist for the Stearns Bank lending team (lender, loan assistants) and for the customer to let each of them know where they’re at in the process of the loan.
In the past, hundreds of e-mails had to be exchanged during the approval and loan closing process.
“This is a huge time saver for the customer,” Stearns Bank senior marketing manager Robin Studniski said. “With the portal, the customer has the real time visibility all in one spot to see what they need to provide in order to close their loan. They just log in and monitor their progress and track what is needed. The portal allows the customer and the lending team to be more efficient in the financing process.”
Improvements Always Being Made
Stearns Bank SBA loan assistant supervisor Dawn Brouillet sees many benefits for customers while working in the portal every day. For one, the portal offers more secure communication.
“Everything comes to us in real time,” Brouillet said. “I can communicate with our customers over instant message in the portal. Plus, I can get an alert as soon as someone uploads something and I can attend to it right away. Everything works much faster on both ends thanks to the portal.”
Since the customer portal was released, the Stearns Bank’s development team has continued to make enhancements to it while always striving to improve the process for customers.
Stearns Bank senior business systems analyst Jen Dingmann is excited about how the portal has changed over the past year-plus.
“We’re definitely ahead of the competition in our peer group with the portal,” Dingmann said. “We’re constantly enhancing the portal and working out kinks. We have developers on staff that have led to faster turnaround times on loans.”
A Benefit To Brokers And Lenders
The portal is also a big benefit to brokers, who may have multiple deals going on at the same time with Stearns Bank. They can log in and track the progress to see where their customer is at in the process of a loan.
“They can keep track in real time,” Studniski said. “Instead of status phone calls from us, we can guide them to log in and find out where everything is at. They can see that the customer still needs to provide us more documentation, or if more equity is needed. The feature is done in a way that preserves the confidential nature of the information and the relationship, but allows the team members to know the status of the group’s efforts.
“We have definitely gone from being archaic with faxes and e-mails to crossing over to the digital age with the portal.”
Dingmann added how easy it is for the Stearns Bank lending team to see the progress of their customers’ work.
It makes everybody more self-sufficient,” Dingmann said. “It frees us up to respond to our customers faster and to easily track how they’re doing. Once the customer’s loan is approved, they have access to the portal. Everything goes pretty quick once they’re approved.”
According to Studniski, the feedback received from customers on the portal has been nothing short of overwhelming.
“They appreciate how everything is done in one place and how easy it is to navigate. There’s a comments section where they can leave us feedback. We value the feedback from our customers as a validation of our hard work, but just as important as a place to receive feedback on how we can improve,” Studniski said.
What Customers Are Saying
Stearns Bank SBA customer Carla Palavecino of Virginia Beach, Virginia, used the portal to upload her documents for review. The portal led to easy understanding on what Stearns Bank SBA lender Mindy Campbell needed from them.
“The portal has a checklist and you can upload it easily. You can also write notes and keep track of everything in one place. It also gives you a nice chart of where you’re at in the process,” Carla said.
One of the major benefits for Carla was being able to communicate with Mindy whenever she needed her. The transparency that the portal and Mindy provided went above her expectations.
“Having access to people and documents when you needed them was amazing. Mindy and the rest of the Stearns team has been very good to me,” Palavecino said. “I’ve worked with a lot of banks before, but Stearns is the best I’ve ever worked with.”
SBA customer Rob Pantoja of First Care Urgent Care Clinics also had great success using the portal while working with Studniski. Being able to upload his documents to make the loan process go faster impressed him.
“Robin has always been extremely communicative with us, which is very important,” Pantoja said. “We’ve used the customer portal, which has been very helpful so we can track our progress and stay organized. That made it easy to send our files back and forth with Robin and her team. The portal makes things go that much faster.”
Jimmy John’s franchise owner and Stearns Bank SBA customer Sean Miller found the portal extremely easy to use while uploading the documentation he needed to get things moving during the financing process.
“I was always kept in the loop by everyone at Stearns,” Miller said. “The portal really made things easy. Stearns was always responsive when I needed to get more info or docs in. That was nice. There was open communication from start to finish. That was never the case with the other banks I worked with.”