Lending Solutions Adds Eight Credit Unions
Landing customers isn’t typically big news – it is, after all, the goal for most businesses – but Lending Solutions’ April 10 announcement that it added eight more credit unions to its customer list last quarter is a notable reflection of how the lending boom’s effects are spreading to call centers.
Credit union loan balances grew at a 10.9% seasonally adjusted, annualized rate in February, according to the latest data from CUNA Mutual Group, and they grew by 0.22% in just that month – double the 0.11% pace for the same month last year. Notably, February is historically the weakest month for loan growth. Loan growth is so robust, in fact, that CUNA Mutual compared the current upswing to the credit boom of 2004 and said it expects loan balances to grow over 10% in 2015 and 2016.
With all that new lending comes more underwriting, processing, question answering, collections and other activities that require more people and more expense for credit unions. And that, in turn, means big business for call-center outsourcing firms such as Lending Solutions.
President and CEO Lee Kolquist, pictured, declined to say which credit unions were the Elgin, Ill.-based company’s newest customers, but the company did say the assets of its approximately 300 customers range from $15 million to $5 billion. They average $250 million in assets, and they use his company to outsource everything from loan-by-phone services, online and mobile lending, indirect underwriting, mortgage services, collections, outbound marketing and customer service, he said.
Business has gotten so good, in fact, that now he’s thinking about expansion even after Lending Solutions finishes acquiring 5,000 square feet it doesn’t already occupy in one of its two existing facilities.
“Expansion-wise, we'll be at 90% capacity at one facility, 60% in the other.” he said. “We've got two facilities that can handle what we need over the next two to three years, but at that point we continue growth, we'll look at a third facility.” That might mean going outside Illinois, he added.
The company’s goal is to be “an extension of the institution itself, hopefully in a transparent way,” Kolquist explained. “The member nine times out of 10 has no idea that it's a company here in Chicago, Ill. – that it's an extension of them.”
Kolquist said call volume and loan applications are up about 20% over the last six months. And in the last nine to 12 months, the company saw 25% growth in the number of $1 billion-plus institutions buying at least one service from Lending Solutions.
More aggressive marketing during off hours, wider membership availability and simple demand are likely behind the rise, he said.
“Today, with people working around the clock, two breadwinners per family, it's all about convenience and the population,” he added. “We're not very patient anymore.”
Though the company has about 480 employees, hiring is a big challenge right now, Kolquist said, especially when it comes to keeping up with the growth in off-hours volumes.
“It's increased our part-time, it's increased our customization of four-tens or three-twelves, of how we can get people here to work in these off hours to keep up with the demand,” he said. “Everybody we've hired over the last six months has had to work some evenings and at a minimum, every other weekend.”