CommonBond, the simpler way for students to obtain loans or refinance existing loans, is built on the principle that loans shouldn’t be impossible to get and manage. The company aims to help students navigate university without the added headaches of high rates, incomprehensible options, and a painful experience while getting a loan.
But making it simple to, say, change how a student receives their loan—and any other part of the loan experience—requires great internal processes and robust technology.
That’s where Sascha Strand, a backend software developer at CommonBond, comes in.
Sascha isn’t one to let the kinds of workflows that are crucial to the loan experience—like backend updates that might require some manual work—slow him or his team down. “The truth is, there’s a lot that happens on the backend that can become tedious and hold people back,” he explains.
“I’m always looking for ways to improve the user experience, which often starts with making backend processes simpler and faster for the entire CommonBond team—which in turn makes for an even better end-user experience.”
Behind the scenes: The backend of the customer experience
The reality is, providing more options and simpler loans means servicing every part of the experience—whether the customer sees it or not.
“Simply put, you just can’t provide a delightful customer experience without great internal processes,” Sascha emphasizes. “And there are a lot of moving parts to the internal processes for CommonBond to provide loans.”
Users follow a ton of automated paths through CommonBond’s application that require backend automation.
For example, when a user asks for a loan, they see a simple user interface, but there’s a lot that happens on the backend. Scripts and manual processes run, all of which are executed by the operations team.
But sometimes there are parts of the behind the scenes work that can’t be done by ops because of a lack of permissions or domain knowledge. And that’s where software developers will get involved.
The rub, however, is that as developers, “Our joy comes from building things, not from updating someone’s social security number,” Sascha explains. “So we’re always looking for ways to automate the tedious steps in the process.” Whether it’s an inefficient process, an opportunity to automate, or a way to streamline a workflow, engineers will want to do it.
Overhauling the backend: Streamlining loan disbursement
CommonBond’s goal is to provide a better loan experience for customers—a lot of which comes down to loan disbursement.
But loan disbursement is one of the processes that can involve a heavy lift on the backend. For example, when a user gets to the point of their loan being disbursed, if they want to change how the disbursement happens (one payment or two payments) they will call CommonBond’s Care team. The Care team creates a ticket, which gets routed to the ops team, who then start to update the customer’s services.
However, the process doesn’t stop when they make the update on CommonBond’s backend—it then has to be synchronized with their external parties’ systems, too (such as lenders and banks).
Before, updating loan disbursement information would take a developer several hours each week. They would have to work on the feature and, to make it all line up on the backend, take a few hours to run the script. This meant that users’ issues weren’t resolved as fast as they could have been and the process heavily relied on a developer taking manual action to handle requests.
But as Sascha said, he and other developers are always looking to streamline and automate where possible—so they did.
“To make the process of synchronizing a change from our backend with our external party’s backend more efficient, we tried to automate it,” he says. “We created an API-synchronized loan profile but would still be waiting until we received user tickets to update their information. We wanted to pass this workflow on to the ops team so that we wouldn't be holding them up when they needed to update a user’s information.”
The plan was to have ops folks work in the backend API, filling out the form themselves and hitting send. But it just wasn’t that simple.
There was a lot of room for error because it’s not always obvious for the ops team how to format information in Postman. And because Postman isn’t built for work like this in production, a small error could leak sensitive user data into Postman’s cloud.
“That is the stuff of nightmares,” according to Sascha. While Postman is a great tool for CommonBond engineers, it just didn’t extend beyond its normal use to solve this problem. So engineers just kept executing the manual update process themselves—until Retool came along.
After spending an afternoon building a Retool frontend for their internal APIs, the engineering team no longer needed to be involved in the loan disbursement process. Ops team members could update information without risks and inefficiencies—without involving anyone else.
Sascha and his team created shadow descriptors, requirements, and tooltips to help ops teammates input information, ensuring the right information is provided every time. What’s more, the frontend shows an error message if something is wrong.
“We wanted something that would help our ops team feel confident and efficient. The dashboard helps them double check their work and get more done in less time.”
Serving customers better with Retool
“It was a great experience taking a single afternoon to put together a frontend for a script I’d already written and not need to complicate it,” says Sascha. “Retool helped me eliminate the need for backend engineers to get involved in operations-assisted user flows, saving us all time.”
With the new dashboard, human error is practically eliminated and CommonBond can better protect its users’ data and privacy. And more importantly, the ops team can now respond to tickets faster.
“Using Retool has helped us better serve our customers and better as a team, since everyone can do what they’re best at with the best tools for it,” says Sascha. “We can deliver on our promise of simpler, faster loans because our workflows are simpler and faster, too.”
To hear more from Sasha, as well as other financial services experts from Brex and Ramp, check out our Financial Services Lightning Demo