The News Corp-controlled online real estate giant’s move into mortgages is major a wake-up call for brokers without a digital presence.
This week’s announcements from REA Group, which will absorb Choice Home Loans and acquire national franchise group Smartline, are a clear indicator of where Australian mortgage broking is headed.
REA’s mortgage play can essentially be boiled down into two processes: lead generation and fulfilment.
Realestate.com.au has the lead generation piece down pat: the website boasts average monthly audience of 5.9 million potential borrowers.
Now, with an 80 per cent stake in Smartline and a strategic partnership with NAB and Choice Home Loans, REA Group looks set to take a serious slice of broker-originated mortgages.
This is a vote of confidence for the third-party channel; it shows that a digital giant like REA Group understands that customers still want to speak to a broker face-to-face. However, it also shows how significant digital lead generation has become to brokerages like Smartline and Choice Home Loans.
“At the moment, some fintech companies are able to generate leads but if they are unable to fulfil, those leads are wasted,” Smartline executive director Joe Sirianni told The Adviser. “The reality is you have to be able to serve the customer the way they want to be served. Right now, customers are still enjoying the fulfilment through face-to-face contact,” he said. “That may change progressively in two, three, five or 10 years’ time.”
For Smartline, the benefit of tapping into a lead generation source like realestate.com.au is huge, and will no doubt force other broker businesses to consider their own digital strategies.
“Over 85 per cent of all properties are advertised through REA. There is a lot of traffic and a lot of leads being generated through their system. It is a real opportunity,” Mr Sirianni said.
However, he explained that there is still plenty of work to be done before the tap can be turned on.
“The first thing is to build a digital interface to capture the leads electronically,” he said. “Some clients will be happy to deal electronically or digitally and others will need to talk to someone. We are in the process of building a new electronic platform. That needs to be completed before we integrate.”
In addition to its acquiring Smartline, REA Group has deepened its strategic partnership with NAB to form a new broking business with Choice Home Loans. A realestate.com.au branded white-label home loan, funded by the major bank, is central to the operation.
“Choice Home Loans will be transformed into realestate.com.au Home Loans,” Choice chief executive Stephen Moore told The Adviser.
“Choice Aggregation Services (CAS) will continue to provide support services to all brokers in the new strategic partnership. For brokers it’s really the best of both worlds, with the continued expert support of Choice and market leading brand and digital expertise,” he said.
“We expect the new strategic partnership will appeal to brokers who want to be part of a business with digital expertise and high brand awareness.”
[Related: REA to acquire major brokerage]