Technology is becoming an increasingly important area of investment for brokers as their jobs get more and more burdensome. Tas Bindi speaks to broking industry leaders about the tools they use to support and advance their business.
High-performing brokers are staying ahead of the curve in boosting efficiency, lowering operational costs, increasing referrals and conversion rates, ensuring compliance, and improving the client experience through the adoption of technology.
MSA National chief executive Ayhan Baba says that there are many aspects of the traditional loan process that are “extremely manual, slow, inefficient, clunky and prone to error” – all of which can be eliminated through the use of technology.
“For example, borrowers spend hours collating copies of all of their supporting documents for their application. They make time to walk to and wait in line at a post office and pay $44 for a VOI (verification of identity). They wait for paper documents in the post and make time to drop the signed paper documents back into a postbox. They receive all information in the form of written text and have to make time to read their information. They lack the transparency and self-service tools to see the status and progress of their loan application,” the CEO says.
Additionally, the broker’s job has been getting seemingly harder and more time-consuming recently, with lenders altering their credit policies around income, expenses and benchmarking in the aftermath of the financial services royal commission and other regulatory reviews. This has made the case for embracing technology all the more compelling.
Brett Spencer, chair of regtech provider Opica Group, notes: “In the wash-up on the royal commission, there will be greater scrutiny placed on lenders in regards to the credit approval process and the quality of loans going forth. ASIC’s Regulatory Guide 209 is being updated with new guidance measures – and hopefully some hard and fast rules – but the lenders will not shoulder the entire burden of compliance with these changes.
“As lenders love to do, they push the requirements downhill and make the distribution channels responsible for adherence to any new changes. As much as this should change, it won’t, so brokers will need to be stricter on their own lending guidelines and processes, particularly around the creditworthiness aspect of an application.”
Mr Spencer laments that despite technology promising greater efficiency, many brokers “see it as a necessary evil” and “don’t like to pay the real cost of IT”.
“What brokers fail to realise is that the IT platforms provided to our industry cost many millions of dollars to build and maintain, and brokers get access to these for a fraction of the cost to replicate themselves,” the Opica Group chair adds.
But finding the right technology solutions to embed into a business is no easy feat in a market saturated with similar products – and there is no one solution that fits all.
William Xin, founder and director at North Sydney-based Xin Mortgage, says that before investing in new technology, brokers should conduct an analysis on the following areas of business: daily admin/business operation and application and compliance, sales and pipelines, business analysis, and post-settlement service – to identify pain points or areas of improvement.
“After that, they need to do research on what kind of tools in the market can help them on those areas and their cost,” he says.
“For individual brokers or small business groups, I would recommend firstly checking with their aggregator whether their CRM system can provide [certain] features. If not, they can use third-party tools to [perform tasks] and pay less cost or even no cost.
“For medium or large business groups, I would suggest [allocating] some budget for IT customisation to fit their own needs.”
Mhairi MacLeod, principal at Central Coast-based Astute Ability Finance Group, suggests that brokers may take advantage of free trial periods when shopping for off-the-shelf technology, as well as seek the advice of software support teams to ensure products are suitable for the business.
She also recommends networking with industry peers – such as by attending roadshows and other events – to stay on top of the latest developments, even those that are as simple as a new application.
“You won’t acquire more knowledge and generate ideas by sitting in a bubble in your office,” Ms MacLeod says.
According to Mr Spencer, it’s important to not settle for products that don’t fit the full bill.
“Look for something that gets you what you want. You wouldn’t drive a car with a wheel missing, so don’t settle for a CRM that only provides 75 per cent of the requirements you need to do your job, or a customer transaction verification solution that only collects the data and you still have to interpret it, or a marketing platform that doesn’t provide the right level of individual customisation,” he says.
utomation ensures that everyday tasks – such as collecting data, documents, customer signatures and sending update emails – are performed efficiently, identically and reliably.
Bernard Desmond, director at Melbourne-based Feedback Finance, says document collection is a “big pain point” for brokers, which he alleviates by using Ezidox. He explains that the document collection and processing tool eliminates the need to hunt down documents while also creating a better experience for tech-savvy clients.
He also describes BankStatements.com.au as a “big time-saver”. The tool provides businesses 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 business’s unique branding and guides them through the submission process. Upon completion, the statements get sent to the broker servicing the client.
Ms MacLeod of Astute Ability Finance Group says staff are “big fans” of TryCall, a subscription-based service that allows users to leave direct-to-voicemail messages or broadcasts, send out voicemails that can transfer back to the office/phone number, and undertake surveys.
“[TryCall] provides a simple three-step process to upload phone numbers to our database and web platform, record a voicemail message, and then choose a time and date for a call to take place. We contact clients when residual payments are due and also remind them regularly to get their loans reviewed. Every broker personally records messages to send to their clients,” Ms MacLeod adds.
“We get tremendous feedback about this from our clients; they love it! As well as person-to-person contact, it’s an important way to stay in touch with our clients and reassure them we are always looking after them.”
Meanwhile, Louisa Sanghera, principal at Sydney-based Zippy Finance, recommends a tool called Snagit, a go-to screen capture and screen recording tool that she uses to create videos explaining reports – such as product comparison reports – to clients seeking a home loan.
“Snagit allows us to talk them through all the reports. Clients love it because they don’t have to come back asking questions, because we’ve verbally told them without having to spend an hour on the phone talking them through the report,” she says.
Similarly, MSA National offers a tool called My Video, which allows brokers to send personalised videos containing important information about a customer’s loan. According to Mr Baba of MSA National, delivering information via video can increase customer engagement to 80 per cent, compared to less than 20 per cent with print or text.
Opica Group has developed an artificial intelligence-powered income and expenses verification engine, called Relie, which eliminates the need for brokers to spend hours manually sifting through troves of transactional data.
The platform automatically analyses a customer’s banking and credit card transaction data, then provides income verification and categorises transactions and transaction types. It also highlights areas of concern within the transaction data, such as undisclosed debts, missed payments, suspicious spending habits and spikes in expenditure of high-risk categories such as gambling.
“Relie provides brokers with access to a customer’s bank statements and 365 days of transaction data, but our AI engine provides the broker with a range of credit insights as a result of interpreting the data,” Mr Spencer says.
“We automatically categorise expenses into the standard 13 LIXI categories (currently being revised and upgraded to 19 categories), but we also break down all spending into mandatory (living expenses) and discretionary (lifestyle spending) and provide a ‘customer compare’ function, which lets the broker compare the customers’ disclosed estimated expenses with their actual expenses.”
He adds: “Brokers can then drill into the data to get exact income and expense figures to support their submissions. As a true AI learning system, when brokers make changes to the data set – such as recategorising expenses – Relie learns and will recognise the changes for future transactions.”
According to the Opica Group chair, brokers using Relie have been able to reduce the expense verification and categorisation time frame down to an average of 20 to 30 minutes compared to more than two hours of manually processing paper statements.
“Brokers have also been able to prove to lenders that some applicants do live below the HEM benchmark by using the platform, thus ensuring that the applicants are able to qualify for greater loan sizes,” Mr Spencer says.
“Brokers have also been able to avoid being a victim of fraudulent applicants who don’t disclose everything to the broker or lender as part of their application.”
Further, verification of identity (VOI) apps, such as MSA National’s IDyou, are designed with the aim of making the verification process faster, simpler and more secure. IDyou, which is free for brokers and borrowers, has a built-in workflow that guides the user through the process of completing a compliant VOI, with all data encrypted and stored securely.
There are also other virtual VOI solutions that are being utilised in loan applications. For example, last year, La Trobe Financial became the first lender in Australia to adopt e4 Australia’s Virtual VOI tool, allowing brokers to make secure video and audio calls to customers, which are overlaid with “key systematic authentication checks”, including facial biometric matching, location tagging and document authentication verification.
On completion of the call, the tool compresses all video and audio records – which are stored for future use and as evidence of due diligence should any dispute arise – and produces a VOI report.
There are a number of broker-facing loan processing platforms, such as NextGen.Net’s e-lodgement platform called ApplyOnline, that lenders adopt to allow mortgage brokers to submit loan applications on behalf of their clients.
The interoperability mechanisms built into ApplyOnline means brokerages can layer features and functions on top of it based on its own needs. For example, ApplyOnline is connected to The Loan Company’s CRM, meaning 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 external web-based or mobile applications to get updates.
The brokerage previously said that those milestone notifications are used as triggers to send automated emails to clients and stakeholders at various stages of a loan transaction, such as at conditional approval, formal approval and settlement. The back-office administration teams of BGC Group subsidiaries also receive an update, prompting them to move to the next stage of actions that need to be taken in the path to settlement.
Simpology also has an e-lodgement platform, called Loanapp, which reads a lender’s published “electronic guidebook” – containing the lender’s dataset requirements and associated validation business logic, print forms, supporting document rules and serviceability metrics – and provides the most up-to-date lender requirements to the broker.
Fintech company MOGO’s integration with Loanapp means data entered into Loanapp is captured once, categorised and delivered to the lender’s decisioning system in the required format and structure.
Brokerages that view data as an important business asset and embrace decision-making practices that are based on objective data are the ones staying ahead of the curve. Previously, analysing data was a cumbersome task requiring the use of tools like Excel spreadsheets. However, technology has advanced to the point that businesses can monitor progress on centralised dashboards, with key metrics presented in graphs and charts.
Mr Xin says having graphs and charts to visually demonstrate how different aspects of a business are performing – such as revenue and conversion rates – has made keeping track of progress a lot easier for the Xin Mortgage team. He says he uses a free data visualisation and discovery tool, called Qlik Sense, to analyse data more easily and therefore make business decisions faster.
“As an owner of a broking business, you need to have a clear picture about your customer demographic, sales performance and business growth history. Based on the information, you can identify the right strategy to bring your business back on the right track or boost your business in the most effective way,” the Xin Mortgage director says.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are critical for, and widely used by, brokers, as it allows them to make more efficient use of customer information while improving customer service reliability and service monitoring. However, not all CRMs are made equal, and there is no one CRM that fits all brokers.
There are subscription-based platforms such as Salestrekker, PipeDrive and Salesforce that brokers say they use, either in isolation or plugged into their aggregator’s CRM. There are brokers that say they rely solely on their aggregator’s proprietary CRM system. And there are others that say they have been able to get their aggregator to customise their CRM to suit the brokerage’s requirements, while some brokers have decided to take matters into their own hands and develop their own CRM.
Mr Xin, who has more than 12 years of IT experience, says he custom-built his own CRM, called X-Online, when he couldn’t find an off-the-shelf product that was ideal for his business.
The Xin Mortgage director says his CRM system allows him to custom-design post-settlement client service activities, which “include annual rate reviews, referral catch-ups, birthday greetings, property valuations, fixed term or interest-only term end reminders”. He notes the importance of brokers differentiating themselves through the delivery of post-settlement services.
X-Online has multiple modules to help brokers manage their sales pipeline, an area Mr Xin points out is directly related to conversion rate and income generation. These include a referral partner function that allows referral leads to be “transparently tracked” in the system, a sales pipeline management function that divides leads into different categories (company leads, introducer leads, client leads and personal leads), and a “sales targets” function, which allows the broker to see their sales and pipeline performance and sales target variance through a visualised chart.
He also designed his CRM system to include a payment module that handles commissions to brokers and referral partners, client rebates, and trailing commission cross-checks.
“The payment file preparation, processing test and post-processing audit, the whole monthly commission process just takes less than two hours,” Mr Xin says.
Another brokerage that took a similar route is DPN, which last year began developing the “spine” of its own centralised CRM to be used across its finance broking, insurance, property investment and property management service propositions. DPN managing director Sam Khalil previously said that aggregator CRMs sometimes offer “limited” APIs, which was restricting the company’s ability to deliver on its service offerings.
Meanwhile, The Loan Company’s aggregator, PLAN, was willing to customise its CRM for the brokerage because it is part of a much larger construction group, BGC Group, which generates billions of dollars of revenue every year.
There are costs associated with building a trusted brand, telling the world about your business, and acquiring leads, but brokers say the benefits of investing in digital marketing outweigh the costs when the right tools are being used with the right approach.
While the hottest leads come from referrals, brokers have much to gain from taking advantage of social media platforms for generating leads.
Nathan Saunders, sales and operations manager at The Loan Company, says the East Perth-based brokerage uses Facebook and LinkedIn, as they are the best platforms to engage current and future clientele.
“Our referral partners are constantly on this platform, and therefore we are always front of mind; we find our referral partners often sharing our content on their own pages, and it is a great reference point for our clients,” Mr Saunders explains.
Using digital tools for marketing has resulted in a substantial 119 per cent growth in leads in the 2017-18 financial year and 14 per cent growth in the 2018- 19 financial year, according to The Loan Company’s sales and operations manager.
Sabri Suby, founder and head of growth at digital marketing agency King Kong, has previously said that a Facebook lead will probably cost brokers between $6 and $100 depending on the offer and target market, noting that not every lead is going to convert into a customer immediately or at all.
He recommended that a broker spend at least the value of an average customer (e.g. $2,000) on lead generation per month, including on split testing different messages and designs to see what resonates best. According to Mr Suby, brokers could acquire three or four times the volume of clients by adopting this approach than they would by relying solely on referrals.
Further, automating the delivery of introductory and follow-up emails – by using email marketing tools such as Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and those provided by aggregators – means clients can enjoy a consistent experience.
“This is perfect for keeping current clientele up to date with recent changes, upcoming changes, as well as constant touch points such as birthdays and holidays,” Mr Saunders says.
He also stresses the importance of keeping track of where leads originate.
“Over time, this will provide insight into whether or not what you are investing in is worth the time and associated cost. Whether this is through your CRM or a simple spreadsheet, the ability to compare and track is invaluable. Without this, you would be making blind decisions,” Mr Saunders says.
The sales and operations manager acknowledges that marketing can be “extremely daunting” at first, noting that consulting a marketing expert on a monthly basis has helped The Loan Company stay on top of the latest trends and tools.
“There is so much to be aware of, such as Google keywords and algorithms, that it may seem too much to handle. That certainly was the case for us as it was completely different to our core business. We leveraged off those who are experts in their fields, and we continue to do so,” Mr Saunders says.
Tas Bindi is the features editor for The Adviser magazine.
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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