Faline Wu is SVP of Product Management at Better, a digital-first homeownership company. She started her career in data analytics and worked at companies like IBM, Procter & Gamble, and Capital One before transitioning to product management. Faline held various product and leadership roles at AT&T, Bankrate, and BlueBeam before moving to Better.
In our conversation, Faline talks about her efforts to “spiritualize the work-life” — practicing compassion and making an effort to understand each other’s day-to-day lives at work. She mentions empathy as a core piece to successful product management and how she hopes to “build more soul into the product” — adding elements that humanize a traditionally stressful process. Faline also shares how her team dwindled the time it takes a customer to get a commitment letter in the mortgage process from 45 days to only eight hours.
When I joined Better, we were actually the number one startup on LinkedIn. That’s how I got to join — we were growing very quickly and it was a really nice vibe. I think the main aspect is that we’re not a mortgage company, we’re a tech company. Most of the mortgage industry is still relatively behind on tech, but from the Better side, we’re all about technology. There are two things that I think differentiate us: the technology we use for our customer experience and our product portfolio.
We have this almost fully digital experience that we can offer to customers. Earlier this year, my team launched a new product called One Day Mortgage. The industry standard from the time customers lock a rate to the time that they receive a commitment letter (the written approval to prove your borrowing power) takes anywhere from 20–45 days. One Day Mortgage brings it down to one day, roughly eight hours on average. We’re doing additional work to keep pushing that boundary, and just over the holiday, we got one file that came back within a minute.
We’re also trying to introduce a lot of products that other mortgage companies wouldn’t tell you about, like an easier way to get title or insurance. We’re trying to be there thinking about what customers will need and provide that. From the company’s perspective, we’re getting very efficient. We spend a lot of time automating and improving our processes and reducing the reliance on external vendors as well. We’re making our own team and process more self-sufficient.
Through all these automation efforts in the last two years, we have become three times more productive than the industry standard. When the market turns around, we’ll be able to handle the volume more efficiently than ever before.
That’s a combination of technology and revising the underwriting process because we don’t want to get too aggressive. This is a mortgage — you still need to go through the compliance, legal, etc. It’s like a hybrid between the things that we can have machines using logic to automatically check, and the things that we still need to leave humans to decide. The connection in between is that for the ones that machines cannot decide, how do we pass that to a person to make that decision quickly?
When it comes to a financial decision like purchasing a house or refinancing a mortgage, that’s one of the biggest expenses people will have in their lives. They’re looking for good deals. Better is operating very efficiently in that we’re bringing costs down, and only when we do that can we bring competitive rates for customers. That’s the foundation for what we have to build, but it doesn’t end there.
This world is now a very chaotic place. People are tired. As a PM, our most exciting work is what we do to make the world a little bit better. When people are buying a product, it’s about the entire experience. They want peace of mind in this process. That’s why when we talk about improving the customer experience, it’s important to find ways to reduce customer friction and customer effort. One Day Mortgage was so exciting because people may not even realize it’s possible. When Amazon released the two-day Prime delivery, people were like, “Okay, why does it matter?” But now, we all want it. Same thing when we start thinking about one-day mortgages.
I want to build more soul into the product, more human emotion. It’s such a stressful decision for people purchasing a home. They want certainty to make sure that they can meet that closing date and hopefully put in less effort. For people who are refinancing, they want it to be fast and easy. There are specific things that people are looking for, but overall people want certainty and transparency around what’s going on and to know what’s expected from them.
The key is customer empathy and trying to understand where people’s pain points are. We go through every single step to understand what may be confusing. Things may be very straightforward to us because we’re looking at it day to day, but when you see that from the lens of the customer, this is new to them. That’s very different. I always like to picture a person’s life. When you do that, you care about the person more and put things in a different meaning. And this is why I think our job is more than just selling mortgages. We are helping give people a better life.
We listen to call recordings, analyze customer feedback, and review customer sessions. My team has weekly reviews to go through those scenarios, and we also have our own staging environment to turn through and figure out that process. Eating your dog food is always the best way to see everything firsthand, especially when things are digital.
The other thing is making sure we talk to the individual contributors as much as possible, whether that’s sales, operations, or other people facing the customer day to day. They’re going to tell you the real story or things that we would not even picture. And that’s why I think building a cross-functional team is critical. You have a channel floating between PMs and the rest of the organization.
One Day Mortgage is trickier because it’s a really good refi play. Speed is a great selling point for refi, but the rate is going in a different direction. Yet, as soon as the market turns around, Better will be able to serve more customers with this unique value proposition. That’s why this is something that we are building. In 2024, hopefully, we’re going to get more people. The demand is there, and this is with a background that we didn’t promote this dramatically just because of the rate environment.
Without much marketing effort, we still saw more than 80 percent of eligible customers opt in within the first two months, which is a great indicator that there is demand out there and a good result without much marketing effort! People really see the value.
I talked about customer empathy earlier, and for me, that’s the core of product management work. But one common blind spot is PM thinking about customers only as external customers, like the people who are paying for our service. However, our internal customers are actually super important because it’s almost impossible to say that you can build a product and that’s it, you’ll sell it. You need sales, operation, marketing, legal support, and everybody to make it happen. A really important thing is how we can listen to the internal team to make sure that they are part of the roadmap planning and product design processes.
For example, at one of my previous jobs, we were trying to improve the sales lead quality. We’re trying to send the sales team better leads so they can waste less time calling leads. It just didn’t work. I was like, “What’s going on?” I started talking to the team members and learned that they were actually measured by the calls they produced. So if that’s the case, they just want more volume. Nobody did that on purpose. That was just one of the old policies from the beginning. We fixed that to align with the company strategy and everything else went from there.
That’s just one small example to show that there’s always another side to the story. To truly build a successful product, you need to think about not only the outside teams but also internal teams. When I say “spiritualizing the work life,” I don’t mean sitting there and meditating, but practicing compassion and understanding each other’s day-to-day lives.
It’s never a one-time deal. I do quarterly prioritization. The key is not so much about the one-time deal, it’s setting up that cadence so that when things are shifting, there’s an easy channel for people to talk to each other and quickly reprioritize. Especially when we do that cross-functionally, it’s very important to have that cadence and that channel set up.
One trick that I find successful is aligning the goals across teams by finding project-based target bonuses. We apply this philosophy to some automation projects. It’s very common for PMs to face resistance when leading automation-related projects. This is because some people in the organization may worry about losing their jobs, which can lead to a lack of collaboration and hinder project progress. In reality, finding places for automation actually creates a better customer experience, which will drive revenue and benefit everyone in the end.
We’ve also found that once we get a direct financial incentive aligned, not only within the product team but also other partner groups, the vibe of the room changes. Suddenly, everyone has an aligned target in front of them. We want everyone to think not just about “my team,” but “our team.”
One of the biggest things I was proud of in being at Better is that we don’t think about product design engineers versus sales or ops. We have a PM lead and an ops lead who co-own the whole process. So then it’s like there’s no product roadmap or operation roadmap, it’s one Q1 H1 roadmap that everybody’s doing.
We have different parts of the journey, from application all the way to closing and funding. For example, we have the entire underwriting team going through the underwriting process. We have a PM team that’s automating the customer information verification tools and property verification tools. That was several PM teams that we’re now consolidating into one. And then there’s one group of operation counterparts that partner with this group. Same thing for the closing and the founding area. We have the PM partner with the operation team with the same focus and we are serving customers for this part of the customer journey. It’s very customer-centered. We think about this in terms of solving the same part of the customer’s problems in their mortgage journey.
I meditate daily and I feel like I would define spirituality beyond that — it’s about how we keep improving ourselves. For me, this life is our school. All the challenges we encounter, whether that’s in our personal life or in the work environment, are just lessons for us to learn. And I think that mindset is very important because especially as a product manager, we are in a very unique position to bring the whole group together.
And if you can bring that calming, clear mind to direct the entire team, then you change the narrative because then people can be more logic-driven. You can create more openness and understanding among people, whether that’s to our target customers or to each other. People feel better if you treat them fairly and with respect and when they feel like they are being listened to.
One part is non-attachment. You’re willing to let things go. If things don’t work out, just be humble and know that we are wrong. When you are not attached to the work, it’s really like everything is a lesson. Another thing is that I think PMs get criticized a lot. Especially when it comes to a large cross-functional team with different opinions, it’s really important to learn to be centered and not take things personally. It’s really difficult to do, but most of the time things are not personal. You don’t know what the other person is dealing with.
Try to stay calm and be willing and open. Listen to find out what’s really happening. I’ve had several meetings where everyone has all these different crazy ideas. Sometimes you just want to jump in and stop it, but if you let it flow, all of a sudden something comes up and it’s like, “Wait, we didn’t even think about that.” I think that humility saved me several times in trying to understand what exactly was happening.
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