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‘Be alert, not alarmed’: Aggregators react to COVID-19

by Charbel Kadib9 minute read

Broking industry heads have reached out to members amid growing uncertainty surrounding coronavirus pandemic, reassuring brokers that opportunities will continue to present themselves as borrowers increasingly seek their highly valued expertise.  

Over the past few weeks, the world has grappled with the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has posed an increasing threat to both the health and economic wellbeing of the international community. 

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In Australia, fiscal and monetary policy measures have been deployed to provide stimulus to the domestic economy in response to weakening consumer confidence and social distancing measures, which threaten to significantly dampen business activity.

However, the full extent of the economic strain caused by the virus remains uncertain, with some analysts warning that the shock could ripple through the housing market, which has seen a resurgence in activity over the past six months. 

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In lieu of the crisis, Loan Market, Connective, Finsure and Outsource Financial have joined the Finance Brokers Association of Australia (FBAA) and the Mortgage & Finance Association of Australia (MFAA) in providing brokers with guidance in light of the unprecedented challenges posed by the outbreak.

Loan Market

Loan Market executive chairman Sam White acknowledged the difficulties associated with the drastic turnaround in market sentiment, which have dulled renewed optimism in the industry.    

“I know many of you went through Christmas, after a big year of dealing with [the] uncertainty of 2019. I thought at the time, at Christmas, that we had a really good runway through 2020, and this [new] uncertainty, this cloud, has now come over what was a really strong start to 2020,” he said.

“I know many of you have been busy looking after your customers, [but] we’re in this uncertain period again, of not knowing exactly how long this virus will go for, what impact it will have, and there’s no one who can give you that answer. So, that uncertainty is something that we’re all living with.”

However, Mr White urged brokers to rise to the challenge and play their part in support of a broader economic recovery.

“[The] Prime Minister [has spoken] about how it’s important that confidence and economic activities still continue, and brokers are key parts of the economic environment,” he continued.

“It’s important that we step up to this as well.”

Mr White said the crisis would present brokers with new challenges, as borrowers increasingly look to the industry for expertise.

“I know that in this uncertainty, what we’ve seen is that expertise is more highly valued than ever before, and you’ve seen that, you know that the expertise that you bring to your customers and to your referral partners is critical, and right now I wanted to remind everyone that the best thing that we can be doing is talking to our customers,” he said.

“Whether they are existing customers who are uncertain, not sure what’s [going] to happen, or whether they’re new customers or whether it’s future customers coming through.”

Mr White added that he is confident demand for credit would remain robust, with some segments of the market likely to view current conditions as a “buying opportunity”.

“[There’ll] be some others who may choose to delay, but there’ll [still] be lots of activity,” he said.

“[What] we need to be looking at is being the people that can help those customers get the best finance packages that they can.”

The Loan Market chairman encouraged brokers to maintain contact with existing clients and referral partners throughout the crisis, noting that they too would be grappling with uncertainty.  

Echoing remarks made by the FBAA and MFAAA, Mr White also encouraged brokers to leverage technology throughout the application process, adding that the industry would consult with lenders to discuss alternatives to face-to-face communication as part of the compliance process.   

Connective

Connective has reassured its broker network that it would support them throughout the crisis with “transparency and an open dialogue”.

Connective's executive director Mark Haron conceded that a downturn in property sales is likely, but noted that there are emerging opportunities in the refinancing space.

“Brokers can actively service existing customers to ensure their loan still meets their requirements and has the most competitive rate,” he told The Adviser.

Mr Haron urged brokers to familiarise themselves with the state and federal government stimulus packages, which could support them financially, adding that they should prepare their businesses for the looming downturn.   

“Brokers need to do financial projections now to ensure they have adequate cash flow for the next one to two quarters,” he said.

“If they are concerned about their financial position, they should understand what assistance is available for small businesses.”

Moreover, like its peer groups, Connective is encouraging brokers to investigate options to conduct client meetings online.

Mr Haron said Connective would take steps to help protect its members, staff and the community by delivering all learning events between March and June via interactive webinars.

The Connective director told The Adviser that it would also be reaching out to all its members to ensure they’re receiving appropriate assistance.

“We’re conscious of our brokers’ financial and mental wellbeing, so we’re reaching out, via video meetings, to our whole broker community to check in and ensure they are receiving the support they need from us,” the group noted.

Mr Haron stated that Connective would also be working closely with lenders to understand their verification of identity and interviewing policies amid the coronavirus outbreak.  

“We’ll be collating this information in the coming days and sharing it with brokers to ensure they are equipped to provide their customers with great service,” he stated.

“We also had discussions with lenders and the government to see how we can help customers who may experience hardship through interest-only periods and fee waivers.”

Finsure

Finsure has also reassured its network that it is “well prepared for the challenges posed by the coronavirus”.

“We have a comprehensive crisis management plan in place ready to mitigate any adverse effects of the virus, including provisions for staff to work from home, should the situation evolve further,” Finsure Group managing director John Kolenda said.

“In this environment, we are confident that Finsure is well placed to deliver its world-class broker support services to our broker network even under the strictest of social distancing measures.”

Mr Kolenda added that Finsure has further strengthened its service solutions by placing a “large amount of resources” into education and training programs, designed to “keep brokers abreast of changes affecting the industry”.

The Finsure MD noted that the group's Infynity customer relationship management platform would enable brokers to “streamline workflows and become proactive in their business activities”, adding that it has expanded its compliance offering to ensure its network of brokers remain “on top of their obligations”.

“We take great pride in supporting them as they continue to provide their clients with the highest standards of service and expertise,” he stated.

Mr Kolenda concluded: “It is hard to predict the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the domestic and global economy, but we are in a world where interest rates are at record lows. In Australia, property markets are still strong, while unemployment is around the 5 per cent mark.

“The Australian government has already announced a $17.6 billion stimulus package and has plenty of ammunition to try and prevent the economy from going into a recession for the first time in 30 years.”

Outsource Financial

Meanwhile, CEO of Outsource Financial Tanya Sale urged brokers to remain calm throughout the crisis and maintain communication with their aggregators.  

“Be alert, not alarmed, there is no need to panic if we [continue] doing the right things and [are] guided by [health advice],” she said.

“Rest assured that Outsource is on the front foot with this.”

She concluded: “We’re here to guide you through this challenging time. We’re all in this together, and please do not hesitate to reach out to the team or to myself for any questions that you have.” 

[Related: Associations issue advice amid coronavirus challenge]

‘Be alert, not alarmed’: Aggregators react to COVID-19
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Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

AUTHOR

Charbel Kadib is the news editor on The Adviser and Mortgage Business.

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