In its simplest terms, commercial lending is about a business that needs capital, and a business that is willing to provide it.

Today, borrowers can choose from a stunning array of lenders, and are no longer restricted to traditional financial institutions. In this age of borrower empowerment, what matters the most to a business seeking capital is the applicant experience (AX).

Covering all touch-points in the lending process (from application to funding), a best-in-class applicant experience offers lenders a key competitive advantage with respect to reputation, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty.

That’s why at SPARK, AX is a key focal point of our SaaS lending platform.

In today’s article, we are going to take a look at what the applicant experience is, and how your lending organization can optimize it. 

What Is the Applicant Experience?

The applicant experience refers to the borrower’s journey throughout the lending process. From deciding they need a loan, to seeing the balance appear in their account—AX is quite expansive.

Consumer lending has made huge strides in AX. But commercial lending, especially for small and medium businesses (SMBs), needs to catch up. This disconnect is frustrating for most business owners—after all, they’ve probably seen how slick consumer lending can be. 

When we talk about AX, we think of:

  • The time it takes for borrowers to apply.
  • How clear the instructions are.
  • The amount of documents required to submit an application.
  • How many touchpoints the application requires.
  • The number of stakeholders involved.
  • How well the information for the borrower is presented.

Every detail counts.

The easier, more straightforward, and more secure it is for applicants to understand the application process and submit their documents, the better the AX. 

And the better the AX, the better the results for your lending business. Happy applicants become loyal customers, and refer you to fellow borrowers.

But what stands in the way of a great applicant experience?

Challenges SMB Applicants Face in the Lending Process

It’s easy to forget how foreign the language of lending feels to most people.

Many SMB owners may be applying for the first time and feel confused by the jargon. They may not have the correct documents prepared or know how to find them quickly.

Given the risks and negative narratives associated with taking on debt, it’s safe to say that your applicants will be stressed. Reducing frustration within the application process is essential to relieving that stress.

In a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve, credit applicants cited a lack of transparency, a long wait for a credit decision, and a difficult application process as key factors in their dissatisfaction with certain lenders.

It’s in your best interest to set clear expectations and provide unambiguous instructions, plain English explanations, and a smooth application flow.

Also, as history shows us, cybersecurity is important to keep in mind during the application process. And by “keep in mind,” we mean it should be prioritized. Providing personal information online can make applicants uneasy—it’s essential to guarantee that all details are carefully looked after and proper protocols are in place to protect applicants. 

Implementing an automated lending platform can work wonders to better guide applicants through the process, as paperwork is reduced, interactions can be more personalized, and transparency is at the forefront. 

Why AX Matters

Your team understands the volume of information that needs to be collected for a commercial loan application.

Frequently, borrowers don’t. It can be a cumbersome, time-consuming, and redundant process—for both parties.

The easier it is for the borrower to supply data and documents, the more willing they will be to go through with the process. 

Designing the lending process with AX in mind means:

  • Setting expectations: describe the whole lending process for the borrower, before they click apply.
  • Rewriting for simplicity: go over the application journey to fix confusing questions and instructions.
  • Saving progress: give applicants the freedom to start and stop the application without losing their work.
  • Showing progress: include a progress indicator that helps applicants see where they are and what’s next.
  • Indicating next steps: communicate what the application needs for completion and the approval status after submission.

Borrowers need to feel comfortable, secure, and accompanied throughout the application. They need to know what is going on at all times, and how they can achieve their goals.

Optimal AX creates a shared environment where lenders and borrowers can see the same information and collaborate. A streamlined experience will deliver a better understanding for borrowers and better results for lenders. 

The Benefits of Applicant-First Design

In technology, design is about so much more than making things look good.

A great design solves problems and makes things easier—it even prevents major disasters.

For borrowers, AX-centered software design provides benefits such as:

  • Increased transparency around what is needed and when.
  • Reduced risk for application errors.
  • The ability to ask questions along the way.
  • Easy document uploading.
  • Convenient, self-led application flow.
  • Increased trust in the lender and loan process.

According to Google, 61% of users move to a different site if they can’t find what they need immediately. That’s the attitude that most borrowers have during the application experience—as soon as they don’t feel comfortable, out they go.

When you adopt an AX-centered approach, borrowers will trust your organization and the loan process. They want to know that their needs are your priority.

AX design also helps lenders:

  • Gain a competitive advantage over lenders who use legacy software.
  • Increase ROI from faster platform time-to-value.
  • Automatically track progress throughout the application process.
  • Lower the rate of incomplete applications and delays.
  • Communicate with the borrower within the lending platform along the way.
  • Increase customer satisfaction and loyalty—and your organization’s bottom line.

When you streamline the entire application process, your team can make better decisions in real time, close loans faster, and establish your organization as the preferred lending institution in your community.

How SPARK Prioritizes the Applicant Experience

At SPARK, we understand what SMB borrowers go through during the lending process because we’ve seen it firsthand.

We’ve studied the borrower’s and the lender’s journeys, looking for ways to simplify the process for everyone. 

Every eight weeks, we refine the feedback from clients and users into a feature release that helps you and your applicants. 

And to make sure that SPARK can connect with anyone who’s in need of capital, our applicant portal is highly accessible. In fact, SPARK holds WGAG’s AAA certification—the highest available, which represents our high standards when it comes to digital accessibility. 

The SPARK lending platform provides a collaborative environment where all parties have total transparency and control over information and the process. We’ve eliminated the need to dig through emails for documents or play endless phone tag. 

Our team has been in your shoes, and we created SPARK because it was time to overwrite the archaic application process that so many institutions use for SMB lending.

We want your application to run smoothly, and that includes cybersecurity—our platform provides guarantees along the way.

To us, the applicant experience is what moves a lending program from good to spectacular. It is the differentiator between traditional lending and the digital convenience that today’s savvy borrowers expect. 

The Right AX Will Do Wonders for Your Lending Business

The argument for conventional paper-based lending seems to be something akin to “it’s always been that way.” 

And yet, in today’s digital landscape, that logic just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The SPARK automated lending platform isn’t designed to replace the expertise or human touch that your team brings. It’s designed to remove headaches and let your subject matter experts truly shine.

With this approach, we aim to deliver unique and simple experiences that make borrowers feel at ease and give lenders the power to accomplish more in less time. 

Digital lending is extremely competitive.

If community financial institutions are going to win, they must focus on the digital applicant experience. That’s why AX matters to SPARK.

We’ve built the digital SMB lending platform that borrowers and lenders deserve. Let us show you what a difference AX can make by scheduling a demo today


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