Five questions with the head of U.S. Bank Home Experience Studio

October 05, 2022

Stephanie Wenkel and her team helped create the bank’s digital mortgage portal, which has won accolades for its ease of use for consumers.

Kiplinger’s, for the second year in a row last December, named “Best Mortgage Lender for Digital Tools.” NerdWallet, meanwhile, this summer noted that “although it’s been in business for over a century, U.S. Bank is positioned as a modern mortgage lender, with excellent loan offerings and tech-forward convenience.”

We recently sat down with the person who has spearheaded much of the work on U.S. Bank’s digital mortgage application tools: Stephanie Wenkel, senior vice president, Home Mortgage Retail Delivery. When the team first rolled out the digital application nearly six years ago, less than 40% of mortgage applications were initiated online. Today, 99% begin through the digital portal, with the bank continuing to add new features that make the mortgage process easier and more convenient for homebuyers.  

You helped launch the Home Experience Studio within U.S. Bank four years ago and continue to run it today – can you tell me what the studio does?

The studio is responsible for the front-end application experience – from the point the customer decides they want to take an application with U.S. Bank to the point that they submit it. The goal – and we say this over and over again – is to make the application process simpler, faster and more transparent so our customers can focus on realizing their dream of homeownership. We also have a strong partnership with our colleagues in Servicing to ensure we’re delivering a seamless digital experience for customers after their loan closes. Today customers can co-browse with a mortgage loan originator through the application process and with a customer service colleague if they have a question on paying their mortgage, how their escrow is calculated, or other important questions customers have when managing home financing.

How has the mission of the Home Experience Studio changed since 2018?

As I think about how we’ve progressed, I think about it in three  phases of work:

  • The mortgage loan officer’s interaction with the customer. Before the digital application, the loan officer was taking a loan application by hand. Depending on the mortgage loan officer and the customer, that process can take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours. The first part of the studio was really focused on getting the digital application in place and shortening the time. Now, we’re around 30 minutes.
  • Then we started looking for new tools for the customer, such data integrations with third party providers so the customer no longer needs to provide us paper bank statements, W-2s, etc. We know that providing paper is just more work and more stress for the customer – and we wanted to make it as easy as possible. One of our themes is data over paper whenever possible. That’s easier said than done because there’s a lot of different sources and you want to make sure it’s a trusted source. The more data we have on a customer the easier it is to provide loan certainty and shorten that window from when a customer applies for the loan to receiving loan approval.
  • As we progressed through that stage, we started looking at new tools and technologies for things that were historically done later in the process and moving them up in the process. Our goal is to enhance both the customer experience and the employee experience. Our customers can track the status of their application in real time and easily manage tasks such as uploading documents and reviewing and signing important documents electronically.  We also introduced eClose through our digital application portal, which gives customers the opportunity to sign most documents electronically, at their convenience, all via the same portal.  Our employees benefit from embedded tools that help the mortgage loan officer prepare for conversations with their customers, like integrating pricing and the ability to structure and compare loan scenarios.


"We talk so much about volume and loan units but at the end of the day, how many customers did we put into homes? That’s what we’re all here for every day."

With surging inflation and mortgage rates, we are at a pivotal time in the U.S. housing market. How are our digital tools positioned to help customers in this moment?

It’s all about creating loan certainty as early in the process as possible. We know going out and looking for a home can be an emotional situation, whether you’re a first-time homebuyer, trading up or buying a second home. Everyone handles those emotions differently and has different wants and needs throughout the process.

That’s why combining our mortgage loan officer with our digital experience is so important. We want the customer to be able to self-serve for as much as they are comfortable with, but we also want to have a mortgage loan officer there at the ready to communicate with them. The loan officer can make sure they’re moving forward in the right products and programs, talking to them about their financial goals and what mortgage offering really fits those goals.

As a customer you know you have a high degree of confidence in your loan certainty at U.S. Bank, and that really takes the pressure off the lending experience and allows the focus to be on finding a home.

We have over 1,500 mortgage officers who lend in all 50 states. Can you tell me more about their evolving role and why they are so important even as our digital tools become increasingly easy to use?

There’s a wide variety of products in the market – fixed-rate products, adjustable-rate products, down payment assistance programs. It’s hard for a consumer to really understand the benefits of all of those products and how they may help them meet their financial needs and goals. That’s why the mortgage loan officer is so important in this equation. They help the customer sort through the different product offerings and understand what option may be the best one for them. Obviously, it is always the customer’s choice.  But we do want them to be armed with the right information at the right time in the process so they can make the most educated decision that best serves their homeownership and overall financial goals.

Technology is great and does a lot of things for us, but that interaction of asking the questions and really probing to find out what is best and most important for that customer is hard to replace with technology. You need that human interaction.

Your entire career has been in mortgage – how did you end up in this field?

I absolutely have no idea. I was fortunate early in my career to have two really good mentors, and one of those is still my mentor today, who really gave me the opportunity to try a lot of things in mortgage. My background is varied. I’ve run operations, I’ve been in secondary marketing, I’ve traded. But for me, I am most passionate about supporting our Retail Sales and Fulfillment partners in putting more customers in home.  There’s so much variety in what I do every day – I can be talking about technology one minute, customer satisfaction scores the next and then having an in-depth conversation with our legal and regulatory partners.

I love my team, and I love the business that I support. Ultimately, it’s all about the customers. We talk so much about volume and loan units but at the end of the day, how many customers did we put into homes? That’s what we’re all here for every day.

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