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Building a brokerage: Technology and marketing

Building a brokerage: Technology and marketing

Technology and marketing are important areas of investment for any business. But with brokers under scrutiny by regulators, it could be worthwhile for brokerages to think strategically about their investments moving forward to ensure they’re in the best position to respond to changes. Tas Bindi spoke to some of Australia’s top brokers about how they used technology and marketing to grow their business.

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Identifying ways to use technology to automate or simplify administrative tasks means brokers can focus on bringing in new business. This is the mindset that underpins The Loan Company’s approach to adopting technology.

General manager Simon Kahl says that finding the right software, integrating them into various processes and training staff to use them as part of their day-to-day procedures proved to be highly beneficial for the Perth-based brokerage, resulting in considerable uplifts in efficiency and productivity.

A simple example, according to Mr Kahl, is automating the delivery of introductory emails to prospective clients.

“As soon as a lead is put into our system, our brokers have two days to phone the client and book them in for an appointment... Once the booking date is entered into the system, it automatically sends an email through to the client, which includes our privacy statement and our credit guide… so they know what they need to bring to the appointment,” the GM explains.

The Loan Company, which is a subsidiary of one of Western Australia’s largest construction groups, BGC, has additionally automated the provision of weekly reports to the businesses that fall under the group’s banner. Specifically, the brokerage provides updates on clients that cross over from one business to another within BGC, such as clients applying for construction home loans, so that they know when to move forward with construction tasks.

“We provide reporting on a weekly basis, with specific updates on every client we have of theirs in our system, so they know when they should order site surveys, start working drawings, get their building contracts completed… That flow of information from our platform to them is completely automated,” Mr Kahl explains.

The brokerage’s support staff also receive automatic weekly reports on the progress of loan applications, which Mr Kahl says is particularly important because the brokerage specialises in construction finance and approvals can take 60 or so days. As such, the support staff member is always on top of which clients they need to organise extensions for.

Looking to the future, Mr Kahl anticipates the launch of a mobile application that will “encapsulate everything that’s required for the broker and the client relationship”.

“Automatic updates [on loan applications] will be sent directly to the app, and if the client needs to provide information, bank statements, IDs, payslips and so forth, there will be a function that they can use in the app to send it directly to the broker,” the GM says.

“Stuff like that is very simple but will allow the broker to be more efficient.”

Mr Kahl admits that The Loan Company has been able to enjoy one advantage: Its aggregator, PLAN, was willing to customise its CRM for the brokerage because it is part of a much larger construction group that generates at least $3 billion in annual revenue.

Using technology to improve customer experience

Technology also has an important role to play in supporting the delivery of unique customer experiences, according to Sydney-headquartered financial services company DPN.

Managing director Sam Khalil says that human-centred design is at the core of DPN’s innovation efforts.

“Technology is only one factor. The customer experience [features] and programs that you overlay on top of the software is what innovation is about,” the MD says.

He contends that technologies that enable automation or improve efficiencies for financial services businesses are not particularly exciting for the end customer; they expect it as part of their overall product or service experience. A memorable experience requires going beyond the basics, Mr Khalil insists.

“Technology itself will become commoditised. What we mean by that is, how much excitement would a customer have about doing an online application? How long is that going to [take]? Do people say, ‘Have you seen my latest bank application on my iPhone bank app?’ It’s not really a bragging point,” the DPN MD explains.

“While we feel those things are important, it’s no different to why people eventually use email and get their website set up. It will become a functional element to facilitate ease of service... Innovation needs to be around customer experience and owning the customer relationship [beyond] just the transaction of getting that home loan.”

In its mission to control the customer experience, DPN began developing the “spine” of its own centralised CRM that links together its service offerings across finance broking, insurance, property investment advice and property management.

Mr Khalil explains that aggregator CRMs sometimes off er “limited” APIs, which do not fit with DPN’s business model, restricting the company’s ability to deliver on its service offerings due to issues around interoperability.

The MD says: “The idea [behind the platform we are building] is we have a client relationship manager who owns the relationship with the client and they use the software to interface with that client and manage their portfolio across a number of different services. The thing is, we’re not just a broker, and we don’t do the same thing as banks. A lot of banks don’t deal with property services; they provide the finance and that’s about it.

“That’s why we need software to support what we do, and we couldn’t find any in the marketplace that covers all of our different businesses.”

The company is also seeking cross-departmental analytics to be presented on one dashboard so that DPN’s management team can, at a quick glance, see the number of properties it has sold or the amount of finance settled in any given period of time.

The MD adds that, thanks to advances in cloud infrastructure and other technologies of scale, it’s now easier and cheaper to build applications from the ground up, especially if off -the-shelf products clash with the brokerage’s business model.

But that doesn’t mean the company does not embrace what’s already available in the market. Mr Khalil says that DPN uses a range of cloud-based products — particularly those that operate on a software-as-a-service model — such as Asana for project management, Zoom for video conferencing and Xero for accounting.

“It would be too costly if we tried to reinvent the wheel for every different interface,” Mr Khalil says.

Shopping for technology

The variety of brokerage business models — from solo practitioners working from home to large franchise operations — means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for technology.

For DPN, looking beyond the solutions provided by big tech players proved to be worthwhile from a cost and functionality perspective.

Mr Khalil says that the firm scoured the market for the most suitable cloud-based property management software and discovered Palace, a platform conceived and built in New Zealand.

As a young tech company looking to scale beyond its home market, Palace was open to feedback, customisation requests and negotiations.

“We wanted to find a progressive [company that] had built the right architecture from day one. We wanted cloud-based software that can interface with Salesforce. We found Palace and had a chat [with] them,” Mr Khalil says.

“They weren’t number one in the market, but they were really hungry to expand into Australia, so we were able to strike a really cost-effective deal with them.

“So, sometimes you should look for your twos, threes or fours in the marketplace and find out if their technology is compatible. Or find those challenger brands out there who are hungry to grow.”

Brokers who don’t understand software should involve someone more knowledgeable to evaluate the various options in the market and identify the product that best suits the business, the DPN MD advises.

“When you commit to some of these platforms, there is a lot of work involved — like building

a database, getting work habits around the platforms [and] training staff — so you don’t want to be changing too often. They might be easy to turn on and off, but you’re investing your time and corporate memory, so you don’t want to make judgements prematurely,” Mr Khalil says.

Those who cannot afford the time and money it takes to search for emerging (and often obscure) technology providers, or build software from scratch, have a range of widely used products they can trial.

Mr Kahl says that The Loan Company uses BankStatements.com.au to make it as easy as possible for clients to submit their bank transaction data. The fintech provides companies with a unique link, which can then be sent to a customer via email or SMS. The link directs the customer to a customised site with the company’s unique branding and guides [them] through the submission process. Upon completion, the statements get sent to the broker servicing the client.

“The commitment to marketing has to be maintained and it needs to be challenged on a frequent basis because it can become stale” - Stuart Donaldson, founder, Banyan Co

The general manager also commends NextGen. Net’s electronic lodgement platform called ApplyOnline, which lenders adopt to allow mortgage brokers to submit loan applications on behalf of their clients.

The interoperability mechanisms built into ApplyOnline means the brokerage can layer features and functions on top of it based on its own needs. Mr Kahl explains that ApplyOnline is connected to The Loan Company’s CRM, which means that when there is any movement with loan applications, notifications get sent directly into the brokerage’s platform, eliminating the need for brokers to log in to an external web-based or mobile application to get updates.

Mr Kahl says: “What we then do is use those milestones as triggers to send automated emails not only to our clients but also to our stakeholders. At various stages throughout a loan transaction, people will be automatically updated once those milestones are met. So, clients will receive automated emails at conditional approval, formal approval and settlement. The back-office administration teams of [the businesses within BGC] will also receive an update, which will then prompt them to move to the next stage of what they need [to do] in the path to settlement.”

According to the general manager, mortgage brokers need to keep up with the range of technologies available to them or they will likely fall behind.

Mr Kahl says: “A lot of the technologies that are available today will only make the mortgage broker more efficient, and the whole paperless environment is getting closer [to reality] with auto-signatures, auto-IDs, etc. There’s a lot happening and it’s not going to stop, so you just have to be across everything and be prepared to make advancements.”

The founder of business advisory firm Banyan Co, Stuart Donaldson, suggests that brokers who are new to the industry or are in the early stages of building a brokerage use Canva to create marketing material. He says that the design platform, known for its signature drag-and-drop functionality, is particularly useful for those who have to work within the constraints of a small budget.

He also suggests the use of products like ezidox for document collection, management and storage.

“One thing we all know is customers don’t like using a lot of paper, or all this ‘sign here, provide your birth certificate, your driver’s licence, two years worth of tax returns, bank statements and so forth’. If you can make that easy via a mobile app, not only do you stay in control with your clients, the whole process also happens so much more seamlessly and swiftly, and you delight your client in the process,” Mr Donaldson says.

“You can probably add three to five hours per transaction back into your day that you can re-channel straight into face-to-face marketing.”

Marketing trial and error

There are significant marketing costs associated with building a brand, telling the world about your business and acquiring leads. But according to Mr Donaldson, a broking business needs a marketing plan as much as it needs a business plan, and the marketing plan should be reviewed every three months.

“The commitment to marketing has to be maintained and it needs to be challenged on a frequent basis because it can become stale. But that doesn’t mean you stop marketing; it just means you change the way you go about it,” the Banyan Co founder says.

While mortgage broking is still grounded in relationships, there are other ways brokerages can, and should, market themselves, according to Mr Donaldson, who referred to post-interaction email surveys and digital signage.

“There are [brokers] that are surveying their clients after every transaction and letting their clients know of all the other products and services they offer. That’s worked very effectively,” the founder says.

“I’ve seen other successful initiatives at an email level where businesses offer people the chance to win a prize, like a $10,000 trip overseas. It has achieved its objective because people are registering for the prize with no strings attached, and the brokerage is accumulating a large database of clients or potential clients.

“There are also examples of businesses that have a flat-screen TV in the waiting room with rolling advertisements for the full range of products and services they offer, and they keep the client waiting deliberately.”

For Sydney-based brokerage Zippy Financial, social media has proven to be a powerful marketing tool, with a majority of the brokerage’s business coming from Facebook.

Managing director and principal broker Louisa Sanghera says that she purchased several closed Facebook groups — the largest of which has a 25,000-strong membership base — and that marketing material (including blog posts) is regularly shared in those groups to gain and maintain brand awareness.

The managing director notes that the brokerage hires external contractors to manage its social media marketing efforts.

“It isn’t cheap to get somebody else to do it for you, but my time is better spent sitting in front of the customer working on deals and leaving [social media marketing] to the experts. You’ll never be able to build the business to anything other than a one-man band unless you’re prepared to reinvest into the business,” Ms Sanghera says.

“Also, things change so quickly, especially around Facebook, so even though I got educated three years ago, all those courses I did are completely different to today’s [courses]. The experts know what was working six months ago isn’t working today, so they’re changing our social media [strategy] all the time.”

Facebook has also been effective for The Loan Company, which posts content on Facebook every two weeks, typically sharing articles that provide financial advice. The brokerage also runs Facebook campaigns on special dates such as Christmas, Halloween and Father’s Day.

Last December, the Perth-based brokerage launched a Christmas wish list competition, asking users to submit the worst present they ever received or the worst present they can think of to give to their friends, with the winner to be awarded $250. Mr Kahl says that these kinds of campaigns have had high engagement rates.

Mr Kahl and Ms Sanghera both suggest that brokers test a variety of social media platforms before investing a significant portion of the marketing budget into campaigns, as what works for one business won’t necessarily work for another.

The general consensus among marketers is that the best marketing channels for a business are those that have the lowest customer acquisition cost, attract the highest volume of users and have the highest conversion rate.

Ms Sanghera notes that the brokerage does not splurge on untested marketing initiatives, whether it’s online or offline. For example, at the time of speaking to The Adviser, Ms Sanghera says that the brokerage launched an initiative involving the delivery of cupcakes along with an information package to prospective referrers such as accountants and real estate agents. The information package showcased the brokerage’s awards and achievements while outlining the benefits of choosing Zippy Financial.

“You’ll never be able to build the business to anything other than a one-man band unless you’re prepared to reinvest into the business” - Louisa Sanghera, managing director, Zippy Financial

She says that the brokerage did not immediately go to the big businesses it wanted to target; rather, it tested the initiative with a business it was “half-interested” in to assess the response. After the cupcakes and information package were delivered, the brokerage followed up with a phone call saying something along the lines of, “We hope you enjoyed the cupcakes; just wondering whether we can come and have a chat with you?”

Mr Kahl says that The Loan Company uses PLAN’s Podium Direct Marketing platform for sending emails to clients, including emails simply wishing the client a happy birthday or keeping clients in the loop with regards to loan contract expiry dates and Reserve Bank of Australia updates. The brokerage also sends emails off the back of the promotions that lenders are offering.

“Whenever there’s a refinance rebate campaign, we definitely push that out to our clients,” Mr Kahl says.

He also notes that he writes monthly articles for a section of a local newspaper, sharing insights on how to save a deposit, first steps to take when looking to buy a new home, the value of consulting a mortgage broker and other relevant topics.

Ms Sanghera similarly writes guest articles for publications she feels has the right audience to generate traction. She says that her content marketing efforts have been largely successful thus far.

“I recently [wrote] an article about single mums on a budget, and I got loads of single mums calling me saying they read the article and that it helped them understand things. [Content marketing] definitely works,” the MD says.

The managing director’s final piece of advice for brokers with limited marketing experience is to take inspiration from what others are doing.

“If you’re not sure about what to do with marketing, look at what other businesses are doing, and not just mortgage broking businesses. Look at the adverts you see. Listen to things on the radio. I hear and see things all the time and think that could be good for my business,” Ms Sanghera says.

BROKER INSIGHTS

Shehan Wijayasinghe, director at Melbourne-based brokerage Elephant Financial, shares his top tips for brokers looking to strengthen their business using technology and marketing.

What are the top three software Elephant Financial uses?

Salestrekker provides us with a structured approach to serve clients’ needs. We create pipelines with structured stages to ensure each client follows our client life cycle.

If you have a loan processor, Slack is a must. Between our team of four, we use Slack to keep everyone informed of client updates, to store lender emails for ease of retrieval and to share great articles and funny memes.

Canva helps us create social media posts, marketing flyers and templates. Everything is easily customisable, so it’s perfect for a small team that doesn’t have a big marketing budget.

How should brokers go about shopping for technology?

Before venturing into the myriad of software available, it’s important to understand where the most improvement is required in your business. Once you find the need, it’s easy to find a solution. Sometimes a simple Word checklist will do; other times a more sophisticated tool is required. We use a number of off-the-shelf tools that cost from $10 to $50 a month.

What other technology tips do you have for brokers?

Technology allows you to do something faster, better and more easily. However, just because you have a tool doesn’t mean it helps. There must be a base process in place for it to be improved with technology. The process has to be mapped out from when a client comes into your business until they leave with a loan and a smile. We suggest layering technology on top and not letting it dictate how you deal with clients or with internal staff or processors.

What initiatives have proven to be successful from a marketing standpoint?

This year, we joined a networking group to meet other business owners and build relationships with each other’s client bases, and we consistently receive two leads per month.

We also moved into a coworking environment, which has provided a big kick in organic marketing. Similar to networking, talking to other business owners automatically expands the reach of our business. We receive two or three leads per month.

What advice do you have around measuring the effectiveness of marketing initiatives?

Marketing is an acceleration of your brand, so if your brand isn’t well thought-out, then you can end up wasting money on a Facebook ad. We worked hard conceptualising Elephant Financial, including our tone of voice as well as our target market. This provides a consistent approach to marketing, which over time returns better results.

Building a brokerage: Technology and marketing
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Tas Bindi

Tas Bindi is the features editor with The Adviser magazine, Australia’s leading magazine for mortgage brokers. She writes about the mortgage broking industry, fintech, financial regulation, and mortgage market trends.  

Prior to joining Momentum Media, Tas wrote for business and technology titles such as ZDNet, TechRepublic, Startup Daily, and Dynamic Business. 

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