Schools Financial CU Celebrates Three Years of Mortgage Growth with CU Realty Services

In just 36 months, HomeAdvantage raised purchase mortgage volume to become 45% of their core mortgage business and saved members $100K at closing.


Jason Stiles, VP Real Estate Lending, shares how Schools evolved from a basic mortgage lender to robust real estate solution provider, and reveals the CU’s future marketing secrets


In 2015, Sacramento-based Schools Financial Credit Union was experiencing a slump in their mortgage closings and so they conducted a deep-dive look into their mortgage program as a whole. The result? In September 2015, the $1.9 billion CU dropped its decades-old, traditional mortgage marketing program of promoting rates and replaced it with HomeAdvantage®, a turnkey real estate program from CU Realty Services.

Using HomeAdvantage, Schools saw immediate success, closing five new mortgages within just 60 days of launching the program. From that September to this past one, Schools has seen a snowball effect from HomeAdvantage with one success leading to another.

Using the program, we have seen our core mortgage business increase from nine percent purchase volume to 45 percent purchase volume in the past 18 months,” says Jason Stiles, vice president real estate lending at Schools. “And our members have saved more than $100K in HomeAdvantage Cash Rewards at the closing table.” 

According to Stiles, Schools’ mortgage marketing success is attributed to several key HomeAdvantage ingredients: technology, real estate agents, empowered team members, and money-saving options for the CU’s primary SEG: educators.

Turnkey Marketing Technology
HomeAdvantage is the cornerstone of the mortgage department’s adoption of integrated technologies because it is, at its core, a digital solution. Stiles has been a strong advocate of the program because it serves the needs of both the member and the credit union.

For the member, HomeAdvantage provides a one-stop, home-buying and selling experience in one centralized website. No matter where they are in their journey to homeownership, it provides online access to the real estate tools and support they need including online property listings, recent sales data, property valuations and neighborhood trends. Additionally, the program provides a network of reputable real estate agents who can provide expert guidance to more serious buyers and sellers, as well as Cash Rewards at closing.

For the CU, the unique member-facing website combined with dynamic email nurturing and real-time lead tracking come together into a comprehensive, full-funnel marketing platform. The program helps CUs strategically reach and identify members considering a purchase transaction—no matter where they are in the funnel—and stay engaged throughout their entire journey.

“Our members want the ease that comes with digital platforms, but when it come to a mortgage, they want to be able to talk to someone they trust,” says Stiles. “HomeAdvantage as a platform allows that trust to be built up. It has allowed Schools to really deliver a high-tech and high-touch solution that homebuyers and sellers are looking for.”

Relationships with Local Real Estate Agents
One of the most advantageous features of the HomeAdvantage program is its select group of local, experienced real estate agents to which CUs can connect their members. “The program has allowed us to provide our members with more than just low rates and fees on their purchase,” Stiles explains. “It also provides us with a way to connect them with trusted partners in the form of real estate agents who truly care about our members and who want to partner with our credit union.”

The HomeAdvantage network of agents is key to improving pull-through. These real estate professionals not only help members buy and sell a home but also help keep the credit union brand front-of-mind for financing. Schools reports an 85 percent pull-through when members use one of the certified HomeAdvantage agents to purchase their home.

Saving Members Money
Stiles explained that in today’s rising rate environment, Schools serves a core membership of teachers and educational workers who often struggle to save enough to buy homes in the communities where they want to live. “HomeAdvantage has allowed us to demonstrate our commitment to providing affordable housing solutions to educators, which in turn builds a stronger community for everyone.”

Members who buy or sell a home using a real estate agent in the HomeAdvantage network qualify to earn HomeAdvantage Cash Rewards equal to 20 percent of the agent’s commission. These cash-back benefits average $1,900 in savings per transaction and can be applied toward closing costs or taken as cash back after closing.

Empowered Team Members
Technology and money-saving benefits obviously play a big role in the mortgage space, but with credit union members, so does personal attention. For this reason, Schools has focused on enhancing high-touch opportunities in today’s high-tech world. It all comes down to the human element: credit union employees interacting with members.

Every employee at all 11 Schools’ branches—from tellers to senior management—is trained to ensure they are equipped and comfortable talking to members about HomeAdvantage. Additionally, each employee can earn HomeAdvantage Employee Rewards for having those conversations and registering the members into the program. “We want our members to experience a personal introduction to HomeAdvantage and a personal handoff to the agent,” says Stiles. “This creates a sticky factor that helps develop strong member relationships, strong agent relationships, and keeps our credit union involved.”

To maintain momentum, Stiles combines Employee Rewards with some other in-house incentive programs for employees. While the rewards are not huge, the programs are competitive and fun, which helps keep HomeAdvantage front-of-mind.

What’s Next?
According to Stiles, integrated technologies are the foundation for the next evolution of Schools’ mortgage program and HomeAdvantage will be integral to that. “Sometime in 2019, we expect to be able to add HomeAdvantage Accelerate into the mix, which integrates with our LOS system to automate registration for members who apply for a mortgage.” Accelerate helps CUs connect their hottest leads—members looking for loans—with HomeAdvantage-certified agents to help reinforce the CUs’ products and standing with that member.

In addition to the LOS integration, Schools is also expecting to launch a new email marketing service this fall called HomeAdvantage Engage. Engage is a turnkey program designed to help credit unions engage more homebuyers by delivering dynamic real estate reports to CU membership via email on a monthly basis.

The Engage email templates include reports on recently sold properties, active listings, market trends and property valuations that are personalized to the member’s physical address. Members who receive the content can click-through to the HomeAdvantage website and engage with the content, which generates a lead back into the credit union.

“For many credit unions, building an appropriate level of awareness that sends members to them first when they are considering a home purchase is difficult,” says Tina Powers, chief operating officer at CU Realty Services. “Engage not only empowers them with the ability to deliver useful content they normally wouldn’t have access to, but it also relieves a marketing burden since we run the program in-house for our clients.”

For Schools, Engage can address opportunities that currently exist as white space by marketing to all of the CU’s 150,000 members. Currently, only about 48,000 are homeowners, and, of those, Schools has only 10 percent of those mortgages. According to Stiles, “We believe we can use Engage to earn a much larger percentage of those loans.”

Stiles views Engage as the next level of mortgage marketing that will help the CU grow. “In the next three years, I see Schools Financial Credit Union being an innovative leader in providing affordable home ownership solutions for educators throughout the State of California, increasing our Cash Rewards volume to our members by more than 30 percent annually.”

“Every credit union is unique and therefore has a unique approach to leveraging our program,” says Powers. “It’s been exciting to watch Schools progress and develop such a strong strategy over these past three years—I can’t wait to see where they will be in the next 12 months.”

About Schools Financial Credit Union

Founded in 1933, Schools Financial Credit Union serves more than 140,000 members and has over $1.8 billion in assets. Schools Financial operates 11 branches and offers Banking for Everyone in 12 northern California counties. www.schools.org.

About CU Realty Services, LLC

CU Realty Services provides real estate services to credit unions across the nation, helping them increase their purchase mortgage business. Launched in 2001, the CUSO has worked with more than 100 credit unions and mortgage CUSOs nationwide to offer its turnkey real estate program, HomeAdvantage. Through the program, credit union members can search for homes, research neighborhoods, calculate costs of homeownership, connect to experienced real estate agents, and earn HomeAdvantage Cash Rewards. By offering this program to members, credit unions are able to attract, identify and engage more home buyers, and consequently close more loans. To learn more, visit www.curealty.com.