Julie Lane has “completed” 10 marathons. She’s very precise about it. Not “run.” Not “raced” in. But completed.
She’s telling me this like I’m going to go back and check the footage or something.
But that’s not it at all. It’s just that she has a thing for very precise information. It’s all about having good data. (That’s just the way she is.)
So she tells me that she did not, in fact, run all 26.2 miles of those 10 marathons. Nope, that’s not what happened. Non-stop running did not occur.
She “definitely ran some, but there was a lot of walking in there, too.” And just to make sure I totally got her approach, she says: “I never run for ‘times’ but rather for the goal and the love of running and training.”
Okay, I get it.
So this is one motivated and honest person. Not much quit in there, either. She’s a goal-setter, a trifle tough on herself and a no-pain-no-gain type person.
Sounds perfect for the mortgage business. Right? (Especially the no-pain, no-gain part.) What’s more, she’s a craft beer enthusiast (even better for the ups and downs of the mortgage business.)
But here’s something else about Lane that seems perfect for this moment. She’s a born strategist, a thinker, a planner. She absorbs facts, gets the data, gauges the problem, devises a strategy, and then gets to work. And she’s a student of social science—how people behave. What motivates them—customers, especially.
So not only is she good for mortgage, she’s got some bandwidth for maybe a few other problems. And there’s no shortage of problems in the world right now.
She’s a life-long learner with a boatload of degrees and certificates. (She must have a wall somewhere full of them.) She has certificates in things you didn’t even know were things, like Design Thinking & Innovation from the University of Virginia; Executive Leadership from Cornell University; and certificates from online programs in Data Science, Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence.
She even has an old fashioned MBA from La Salle University in Philadelphia, and she is a RRCA certified coach and trainer for runners (or completers, or whatever).
The strategist in her is really busy right now mulling over a host of economic and societal problems. As she says, “Since I am wired to think about the future, that is where my head has been.”
Specifically, in the aftermath of Covid-19, she wonders, “How many jobs are permanently lost? How many small businesses won’t be able to come back? What is the impact on diverse populations, vulnerable populations? How do we come back smarter/stronger and re-imagined, versus trying to recreate the old with six feet between us?”
Finding a niche
Lane didn’t go directly into the mortgage business after college. It took her a while to find the industry. She first thought she wanted to be a teacher. But after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in social science and economics, she spent a year teaching high school in New Hampshire. Then set out for the Pacific Northwest—but just for the summer. She had family living in Portland, so why not?
There she found a cool music scene and a career that took off. The job that convinced her to stay was with AAA, the national membership organization that dominates the travel, insurance and auto insurance space. She says it gave her the grounding to understand “process-design centered on the customer.”
Her actual first job in the mortgage business came in 2005. She was hired to lead strategy, research and competitive assessments for Wells Fargo on the mortgage eBusiness team, which reported into the Consumer Lending Group. She helped lead digital initiatives to improve the mortgage customer experience, boost demand generation and deliver efficiencies through self-serve solutions.
She says she learned about human-centered design and the essence of customer centricity before it was “sexy.” (Okay, is that sexy? Well, maybe for a tech geek.)
But let’s get back to the marathons.
Here’s the skinny. She ran her first marathon in 1997 in Portland, Oregon. She ran her most recent one in 2014, the New York City (NYC) Marathon. She has completed five NYC marathons in 2010, 2011, 2012 (cancelled due to Superstorm Sandy but she ran it virtually), 2013 and 2014. Then she completed the New Jersey Marathon twice and the Disney Marathon two times as well.
The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. is still on the to-do list. And really, that’s only a matter of time, if you’re picking up what I am about Julie Lane.
Julie Lane lived in Brooklyn before it was cool to live in Brooklyn. Actually, she was born there. She grew up on Long Island, surrounded by the kind of cultural diversity that’s so unique to New York City.
Lane remembers in her neighborhood there was always someone’s Bat/Bar Mitzvah to attend, or a Ramadan celebration going on. She thought everyone’s neighborhood was like that before she ventured out into the wider world.
“I took for granted the ‘gift’ of growing up in a very diverse community. My network was comprised of every race, creed, color, belief, and we all joined in each other’s family celebrations, religious milestones and enjoyed so much great food from around the globe,” she says.
Lane majored in Social Science/Economics with a minor in Psychology at Northern Vermont University. While in college she enjoyed tutoring, so her advisor suggested taking a few added courses to get a teaching certificate. So, that’s what she did (of course she did).
Right after graduating, she taught high school social studies in Littleton, New Hampshire, while living at the base of Mount Washington. After that first year of teaching she left the East Coast for Oregon.
Most people might think a minute before driving 3,000 miles to Portland to check out the alt-rock music scene and visit family. But for Lane, it was more like: Well, let’s get in the car and check it out.
What was meant to be a summer, turned into a decade. Is she a big fan of rain, is that why she stayed so long? Nope, it turns out she “hated” the rain. But she “loved” the grunge music scene.
The bands, and the musicians who led them, are now legendary. Pearl Jam. Nirvana (with songwriter/guitarist Kurt Cobain). But back then it was all new. Lane was drawn to the music at a time when you could actually hear music in local venues without going broke.
To this day she’s a big music fan, including genres as diverse as Rock, Hip Hop, Rap, Pop and Country. She’s a “huge” Bruce Springsteen fan. She has “lost count of how many [Springsteen] concerts I have attended.” She even saw him on Broadway.
Lane, who now lives in New Jersey, says, “I know someday we will bump into one another in a small club on the Jersey shore where he is playing to a small crowd and just strumming an acoustic guitar. That would be awesome.”
As recently as last November, Lane says she had the chance to see Eddie Vedder (lead vocalist and lyricist with Pearl Jam) play acoustic at Salesforce’s DreamForce conference. She coincidentally sat next to famed cellist Yo Yo Ma. (She has a “great” selfie.)
What drew Lane to Portland was the music, but what she stayed for was an adventurous job with huge upside for her career. She says, “Sometimes you just need to trust that sense of adventure and follow it where it takes you.”
During her time with AAA, she “grew with the company, leading call centers, driving digital initiatives and eventually becoming a regional manager with responsibility for sales and teams across a series of branch locations.” She worked for AAA for 15 years, spending time with both AAA Oregon and AAA Mid-Atlantic.
It also gave her the chance to roam the globe. She “traveled a ton, mainly cruising. It was a different world where you could jump on a cruise or take a flight with a few hours notice.”
Her most memorable trip was a 21-day Panama Canal adventure that left from Vancouver, Canada, and ended up in the Caribbean. The ship “stopped in ports such as Columbia, Guatemala, and then went through the locks of the Panama Canal, where we also kayaked while monkeys swung from the trees overhead.”
Her next port of call was the mortgage business. It was a bit of a transition, since it’s not really an industry known for its customer experience. And it’s no one’s fault, but, yeah.)
The mortgage experience
The mortgage customer experience cannot possibly compare (well) with booking a nice trip with AAA—where you do it all online, or over the phone, no hassle, good-to-go in under an hour or whatever. Enter my credit card info. Thanks very much. So excited to be cruising the Caribbean, now all I have to do is pack.
What must it have been like for Lane to make that transition from travel to 1003s? Did she have any idea that the customer experience in mortgage was a bit like scaling Mt. Everest (and not in a good way)?
And then there are all those weird vocabulary words.
Lane joined Wells Fargo in 2005 working for the mortgage eBusiness team reporting within the Consumer Lending Group (CLG). Her initial focus was leading strategy, research and competitive assessments for Wells Fargo Home Lending.
As for that strange lingo, she says, “After 15 years, I’m still not sure I am fully fluent in ‘mortgage speak’ as I continue to learn every day from industry leaders, colleagues and our customers. But within about 18 months, I was fluent in product, pricing and the mortgage end-to-end customer experience.”
Lane says the eBusiness team she led focused on strategy, omni-channel experience, user interface design, search engine optimization, digital lead generation, and vendor relationships. She says, “We worked with our sales partners to define and grow the digital channel.”
She says some of the work she did at Wells during this time “is still some of the best work I have been fortunate to be part of.” Multiple teams worked together across three lines of business to rebuild consumer lending on wellsfargo.com with new tools, financial education content, access to mortgage expertise through the bank’s home mortgage consultants and above all else to simplify the experience.
She says it “taught me so much and many of the relationships from that work are still a close part of my network today.”
She and the research team also reviewed emerging fintechs and non-banks to review site features looking for best practices and innovation that Wells could incorporate.
The whole experience, she says, “Taught me research methodology, data-driven insights, management consulting and agile skills that I still leverage today.”
Wells Fargo had formed an innovation group and an accelerator program where Lane was part of a team that interviewed, vetted and defined fintech pilots with internal venture capital investments.
“It was great to be a part of this as it helped us bring solutions to market faster, and also opened up the world of fintech to me,” Lane says.
“Another great body of work was leading the Wells Fargo Home Lending Mobile Strategy and moving us to a Mobile First position for our customers. [The effort involved] engaging and simplifying the customer experience from research, engagement, contact strategy, starting and applying online and then servicing your current mortgage,” she says.
In 2014, Wells Fargo committed to a transformation program and Lane was selected to be among the group that trained with Boston Consulting, McKinsey, PWC and Accenture in leading the digital transformation effort.
“We all had some background in digital transformation but we learned and collaborated with the best in the business,” she says.
When asked about some accomplishments she is most proud she says leading the Wachovia/Wells Fargo Home Lending digital integration, post-merger, was one of them. She says, “My team and I worked with the enterprise team, merger team, brand team to define and drive the online strategy to bring together and deliver a unified digital experience for millions of customers.”
That’s just a sampling of what Lane has done since she first dipped her toe in the mortgage business. Let’s just say she learned a lot more than just a few new vocabulary words.
Post-COVID mortgage tech
Being a veteran strategist with deep knowledge of consumer behavior and an understanding of digital deliverables, Lane is better prepared than most for this pandemic moment.
Post-Covid, all homebuyers’ heads will be in a different place. They don’t have patience anymore for a disjointed, prolonged, document-heavy process. It’s a digital world out there. And, please, give it to me quickly, or not at all. Can we do it over the phone? And, excuse me–a closing table, what’s that? Will we need masks?
Mortgage servicers face even more challenges. With waves of new delinquencies coming, distressed borrowers will be contacting their servicers all at once.
Will the industry be prepared? Will the systems and infrastructure be ready to serve all those borrowers? Is efficiency and customer satisfaction even possible at a time like this?
We asked Lane about some of the progress being made.
She says, “There are a few lenders that are embracing design thinking that focuses on the customer instead of departments (marketing, operations, servicing, sales or fulfillment).”
But it’s “not as common as it should be to use the customer journey as the starting point across all touchpoints,” she says.
One of her pet peeves is that “as an industry, we often bring to market solutions that are analog/offline experiences rather than reimagining [the whole approach] while delivering short term against a long-term vision.”
And vendors are heavily relied on to supply the industry’s technology. These partnerships need to be regularly assessed for performance, Lane says.
“Audit your digital, marketing and technology contracts no less than annually and define quarterly vendor scorecards to insure ongoing success (include data security, governance and privacy),” she says.
Lane shares a few more things she has learned from evaluating new vendor offerings.
“Financial services tends to want to move fast and often we try to address one part of the process without full consideration for the end-to-end experience. I have been in meetings with vendors who proposed ‘digital mortgages’ that were no more than electronic 1003 forms, or disparate customer relationship management [CRM] systems, mobile apps or messaging platforms that just add layers and further bog down the ability to deliver for the customer.”
And, no surprise, she’s had her share of less-than-productive meetings. “For me, the best vendors are the one’s that have ‘grown up’ in mortgage or who hired the needed talent. For mortgage executives reviewing vendors, the number one thing you need to ask for is referrals and then have conversations with colleagues.”
She adds, “If a vendor does not want to offer names of other clients, or a short-term pilot/proof of concept then buyer beware.”
Lane says important solutions are emerging to assist servicers with handling an uptick in pandemic-related issues.
“Some solutions have matured quickly over the last 2 years. I know of one lender who stood up a Covid self-serve experience for servicing in a matter of days and I’ve used it. It is customer-centric, efficient and simple. Eighty percent of inquiries were handled by the bot that is available 24/7. The skilled team members now handle the more complex exceptions, which removes the burdensome and boring redundancy of their job, which leads to higher employee engagement.”
Lane says, “I believe we will have our teams working side by side with bots and virtual/conversational assistants as one team, sooner rather than later, and Covid-19 has accelerated the roadmap.”
The pandemic is also going to accelerate the divide between tech-savvy lenders and those stuck in the past. “The difference between the digital leaders and the digital laggards is going to widen and the rate of transformational change is going to accelerate greatly,” Lane says.
“The next two years will deliver 10 years worth of change fueled by customer expectations after Covid-19,” she says.
So after talking to Julie Lane, I’m inspired to inspect my own personal inventory of framed degrees and the like. And, I have to say, it’s looking a bit skimpy. I am feeling like an underachiever. Not even in the same league as a certain someone.
So, I wondered, how can I pick this lady’s brain. Get a few tips. You know, a little free advice on how to beef up one’s credentials.
For example, let’s just say for the sake of discussion, that some random person wanted to know, theoretically speaking, of course, what a good strategy might be for successfully completing a marathon? What’s the trick? (How do people earn those decals on their cars that say 100 or 50, or whatever braggy thing they say?)
Just to be clear, this is not anything I would ever find personally useful. I mean, I still can’t figure out how they do the whole bathroom break thing, and shouldn’t they be serving brunch or something?
But for the sake of pure hypothetical inquiry, Julie, what have you got for me?
First, what’s the hardest mile in the 26.2 miserable miles you force yourself to endure?
She says, “The worst mile in NYC is always Mile 22, which has a small incline. On a basic day, that would barely be noticeable, but after 22 miles, it always seems to give me a challenge.” (Okay, you have to get to Mile 22 before the hardest mile happens? Somehow, I was thinking it would be sooner.)
And if you were expecting something less definitive, then you haven’t been listening. It’s all about precision. (Remember, “completed” not run.)
And, as for her strategy for getting through all 26 miles before the sun goes down?
Here it is—free advice from a pro. Be forewarned it involves a bit of head-faking for your brain.
Lane shares this: “Best piece of marathoning advice EVER. Run your ‘last 6 miles’ first and then do two 10-mile training runs. Works for me every time! The lesson is to break things into achievable goals that put you on a path to success. A ton of life lessons in running.”
So there you have it—a strategy for completing marathons. There’s still no way I’m going there. But it’s great advice. She’s got it down to a science.
Janet Reilley Hewitt is an award-winning financial journalist who served as editor in chief of Mortgage Banking, MBA’s monthly publication that set the standard publications in the mortgage industry. Now retired, Janet spends her time traveling, volunteering and spending time with family.