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New Macquarie-backed player enters mortgage market

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Reporter 7 minute read

A new fintech founded by two former NAB executives has received $15 million from major investors to facilitate its entry into the Australian mortgage market.

Cloud-based digital mortgage platform Athena Home Loans has closed a Series A raise of $15 million with investment backing from Macquarie Bank, Square Peg Capital, Apex Capital and Rice Warner.

Athena, founded by former NAB executives Nathan Walsh and Michael Starkey, pulled in a $3 million seed round in June 2017 and has now set its sights on disrupting the $1.7 trillion Australian mortgage market.

Speaking to The Adviser, co-founder and CEO Nathan Walsh noted that Athena plans to bypass the banks, offering super fund-backed mortgages directly to borrowers through its cloud-based digital portal.

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“We know that the big banks are very constrained by customer pain points that are caused by ageing technology in the manual, paper-based processes, and we know there’s a real opportunity to improve on that,” Mr Walsh said. 

Chief operating officer Michael Starkey claimed that Athena’s super fund-backed investment model would also allow it to offer lower interest rates than its competitors. 

“By investing in home loans directly with Athena, super funds can cut the spread between what mortgage borrowers pay and investors receive,” Mr Starkey said.

“In countries such as the Netherlands, where pension systems are similarly advanced, the impact of this model is already evident.”

Mr Walsh added that the potential savings for a typical Australian family switching from the big four banks to Athena could be significant.

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He also noted that Athena aims to settle $100 million in home loans this year, which the CEO said equated to approximately 200 home loans.

The Athena chief went on to say that the online lender plans to ramp up its offerings once it is established in the marketplace.

“We see a big opportunity [for brokers] here,” Mr Walsh continued. 

“Next year, [it’s] game on; we really see a big opportunity. It’s a big market and we’re very keen about giving all Australians access to a better deal on their home loan.”

No immediate plans for the broker channel

Mr Walsh revealed to The Adviser that while Athena has no immediate plans to originate home loans through the broker channel, it could be an option in the future.

“[We’re] a direct model, so consumers are going direct to [Athena] and opening accounts directly, but we do know that, clearly, mortgage brokers are an important part of the market and we’ll consider that in our roadmaps for the long term,” the CEO said.

“[We] are considering those options, so I think those are probably things for future discussions.

“At this stage, we’re really focusing on our launch, which is targeting our direct channel.” 

Compliance with responsible lending obligations

Mr Walsh also insisted that Athena would ensure it’s complaint with responsible lending obligations, saying that a “huge part” of the build phase has been “the ongoing process of design, legal and compliance review, to really make sure that we’re stepping through each stage of that journey.”  

The CEO said: “[We want to] make sure we’re providing those really important protections, but at the same time, managing the complexities so it is a process that borrowers feel comfortable using digital channels. And that’s a really big part of the design thinking that’s gone into building that.”

Square Peg co-founder joins Athena board

As part of Square Peg Capital’s investment, co-founder Paul Bassat is set to join the Athena board. 

“We are thrilled to be joining Athena’s journey,” Mr Bassat said.

“This is a great example of the type of team we love to back — smart, driven and focused on solving an important problem.

“The win-win model that Athena offers to investors and borrowers has huge potential to disrupt the way home loans are originated, serviced and funded in Australia.”

[Related: Regional bank invests $25m in P2P lender]

New Macquarie-backed player enters mortgage market
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