In 2013 there’s no denying that our reliance on technology is growing, both in business and our personal lives – but what can technology and software offer brokers? How can you use it to run an increasingly efficient workplace?
SOME BROKERS aren’t getting what they want from their software platform – others aren’t even quite sure what they want.
Having a platform that works for you and your brokerage, however, is often cited as a key driver in brokers’ business decisions.
The Adviser’s inaugural switching aggregators survey, conducted in the second half of 2012, revealed that poor technology or software was the primary reason brokers would consider leaving their aggregator.
When asked ‘what would be the main reason you would leave your current aggregator?’, 24.8 per cent of brokers voted for ‘poor software and technology’; 23.4 per cent said ‘commission structure’; and the remaining votes were split between lack of business support, level of aggregation fees, dissatisfaction with ownership model, lending panel, assistance with compliance and professional development and education support.
It should come as no surprise then that many aggregators seek to make technology their point of difference in marketing and recruitment drives.
Throughout 2012, many aggregators – and software companies – invested significant time and capital in improving their technology offerings.
Timely updates, innovations and multi-device functionality have become essential in the broker technology space. In the next few years, broker software will have become such an integral part of brokers’ businesses that it will be as commonplace as a regular phone, according to Connective’s director, Glenn Lees.
“Everyone has a phone and expects that you can talk to your brokers or talk to your customer over the phone,” he says. “People don’t look at a phone as this amazing piece of technology; it’s just something that’s around and that you take for granted.
“Software is moving to that point. It will become another mechanism by which brokers can talk to their customers and customers can talk to their brokers in a way that suits the way they want to do things.”
Even though technology increasingly offers more features and greater capabilities, people still expect it to take up less time and to reduce the time spent on other areas of the business.
The efficiency of a broker’s software and the extent to which a platform can help boost productivity across their business operations overall will become increasingly important.
AFG’s chief technology officer, Jaime Vogel, says there are multiple areas in which software and technology should help brokers increase their professional efficiency.
“Everyone’s time is valuable,” he says, “so it’s vital that brokers choose an enterprise-wide solution that enables them to help their customers choose the most suitable products, meet their compliance requirements, market to their client base, manage commissions and other aspects of their business and stay in touch with and service their existing customers – all without repetitive data entry.”
According to Mr Vogel, a software platform’s capabilities should benefit all of the areas of a broker’s business.
“A system that provides these advantages frees a broker up to work on what many do best – building their business,” he says.
Liberty Network Services’ managing director, Brendan O’Donnell, agrees and says that if a software platform can improve efficiency then it’s good technology and worth having.
“You want to work smart, not hard,” he says. “If you’ve got the right software or technology platform, it allows you to do this.
“The challenge of course is to have a technology platform that is seamless, easy to use, quick to use and is focused on process – as opposed to technology for technology’s sake.”
Simon Dehne, CEO of LoanKit, says efficiency and productivity must go hand-in-hand when it comes to software.
“Software should be a tool that allows you to be more productive,” he says. “In other words, it should be seamless. It shouldn’t be a barrier that you have to get over; it should just help you be more efficient.
“It shouldn’t be an issue and it should give you the right answers or the information that you need without you having to worry about it.
“Software allows brokers to do their job more efficiently because it can automate any of the functions around NCCP, and it allows brokers to give accurate information to their clients regarding maximum loan, interest rates, best rates and comparison rates available.
“Software should be about allowing brokers to meet their customers’ needs quickly so they don’t have to be running around trying to find bits and pieces of information from various sources to give the customer what they need.”
Mr Dehne says a software package’s efficiency should deliver two noticeable differences in a broker’s operations: the ability to do more interviews or allocate more time to marketing, freeing up additional leisure time.
So, even though having an effective and efficient software platform won’t necessarily generate new business, it can help with client retention and the professional image of your business.
Technology operates ‘below the surface’ and drives and assists many elements of a broker’s business.
“Technology doesn’t get you clients through the front door,” says Mr O’Donnell, “but technology is absolutely essential for managing efficiency and effectiveness in your business.”
Advantedge’s general manager for broker platforms, Steve Kane, agrees and says the way in which a broker uses their software can be the key to how efficiently they can run their business.
“Obviously the software alone won’t make the difference,” he says. “It’s about how it is applied and harnessed by ambitious brokers looking to grow their business.
“The right kind of software can certainly help drive efficiencies, allowing the broker more face time with their valued clients and [allowing them] to deliver higher service levels.”
Stargate’s CEO, Brett Spencer, says efficiency is already essential to the ‘battleground’ of customer retention and will continue to be a key differentiator.
“Efficiency for a broker is absolutely key to ensuring that customers stay with you,” he says.
“If you get a customer the right product, but then your efficiency and your service is terrible, the customer isn’t going to recommend you to anybody.
“If you give the customer the efficiency and the service that your technology can provide, that person is going to go and tell their friends, their family and their work colleagues to come to you if they want a loan.
“Software is key to that.”
Many business people will be using the earlier part of 2013 to assess their business operations and evaluate how effectively things are running.
However, while it is traditional to assess elements of your business at certain key points during the calendar year, many industry stakeholders believe now is always the right time to be assessing whether your software is working for you.
Brokers should be constantly reviewing their software and thinking about how well it is working for them, according to Mr Kane.
“With technology changing more rapidly than ever, we’d recommend brokers constantly evaluate their software and keep the conversation going around what improvements they need,” he says.
“Only in this way can we continue to deliver the right kinds of solutions and ensure we remain one step ahead.”
Mr Lees agrees.
“Why is now the right time? It’s always the right time,” he says.
“It’s always the right time to make improvements to your business. ‘Now’ just happens to be now.
“It was right to do it six months ago; it was right to do it 12 months ago; it will still be right to do it in six months time.
“It’s a question of competitive advantage – many of our brokers are already right across this stuff and engaging with their customers successfully on social media.
“Those who wait and [who] don’t assess their software and aren’t making sure that they’re getting the most they can from it run the risk of being left behind to some extent.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but there is a real competitive advantage to be had by engaging and evaluating.”
Mr Vogel, says that technology has come so far and there are now so many more options than ever before that constant evaluation and assessment is an essential – if daunting – task.
“We understand that,” he says, “and do the legwork for our new recruits, clearly illustrating to them where our technology solutions will help grow their business.
“In terms of when, technology has changed so rapidly over the past few years and is set to do the same at an even faster pace in the next few years, now is the time to pounce to ensure you’re streets ahead of the next guy.”
Mr O’Donnell agrees that there is no perfect time to evaluate your technology, although the beginning and end of the year are both particularly good times to do a full assessment.
“It’s always a good time to look at it,” he says. “Brokers should be reassessing the current technology they use, the current partner that they have chosen to be with and whether they’re getting the right kind of support. They should do that review all the time.
“And obviously once you’ve got to the end of the year, or the beginning of a new one, it’s always a good time to step back, reflect, reassess, review and plan for the year that’s lying ahead.
“Part of that review is asking, ‘Am I being efficient? Am I optimising my time? Is one of the drags on my business technology?’
“‘If so, let me explore whether there’s something better in the marketplace that can help me be more efficient.’”
HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE
Mr Spencer says brokers shouldn’t just look at their software; they should consider their hardware as well.
“Software is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to technology in these businesses,” he says.
Mr Spencer adds that if you’re using old or outdated hardware to run your business, you probably aren’t taking full advantage of your software’s capabilities.
“If you’re going to use a five-year old laptop running Windows XP, and you’ve now got Windows 8 technology available and solutions that are now on tablets, you need to address that as well as software,” he says.
Hardware can also limit your business operations and damage your business model.
If your business relies on a desktop computer but you’d like to become a more mobile broker, hardware would be one of your primary considerations.
Compatibility is an issue for people who run their operations on multiple hardware platforms.
“If you’re running your business on Microsoft Windows, there’s no point trying to run a business on an Apple iPad because of the incompatibility of the two systems,” Mr Spencer explains.
He also emphasises that even though the iPad has excellent features – many of which appeal to borrowers and enable a more interactive relationship between client and broker – you can’t rely on the device for all your business needs.
“The iPad is a glorified entertainment device,” he says. “It is not a business tool.”
However, Mr Spencer adds that if you do use a tablet computer – such as an iPad – in conjunction with other suitable hardware and effective software, then ultimately you and your business will see benefits.
Indeed, in an online straw poll conducted by The Adviser last year, it was revealed that of 380 poll respondents, 40.4 per cent already had a tablet while 9.8 per cent intended to buy one.
Many industry stakeholders are keen to highlight that technology for technology’s sake is not the aim or the ideal outcome. Instead, brokers should be using platforms with which they are comfortable and which should, in turn, ultimately boost the productivity, efficiency and profitability of their business.
Mr Lees says that if a broker is engaged with the market and is running their business efficiently with the correct software, external market factors are likely to have less of an impact on their business.
“The property market and interest rates – all of those things – are external factors that feed into the amount of activity a broker has,” he says. “So those things are environmental and you have to operate within the environment.
“It’s all about the relativities of working within a set of market conditions. The broker who is more agile, who is more efficient, will always do better than the one who isn’t.
“It’s the relative advantage that software gives you that’s really important. I don’t buy into ‘property market good, property market bad’, in terms of the success of a broker. It’s activity and efficiency that matter.”
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