For the first time since The Adviser began ranking the major banks, each one has managed to improve its overall broker satisfaction rating or retain a previously strong level, suggesting all four banks are finally striking a happy medium when it comes to the third party distribution channel
While the battle for market share has escalated during the past couple of years, nowhere has it been fiercer than between the majors.
In 2011, the big four banks managed to account for more than 86 per cent of all home loans written.
According to data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), Westpac, National Australia Bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ managed to increase their loan books by a cumulative $61 billion.
And while this was impressive growth, 2012 proved to be an even more fruitful year for the majors.
Despite sluggish credit growth, Australia’s big four banks managed to grow their market share to more than 87 per cent, according to APRA figures.
Of all the non-majors, ING DIRECT currently has the largest share of the market, at 3.6 per cent – which only serves to highlight just how much of a dominant force the big four are.
So what gives these lenders so much fire power?
And why is it that they continue to claw market share away from their competitors?
There are no easy answers to these questions; however, price would certainly be one relevant factor.
Over the past three years, price has played a pivotal role in potential home owners’ choice of mortgage lender.
Ultimately, the lenders with the lowest interest rates tend to receive the most business – and this has certainly been the case for the majors.
Australia’s big four are the largest of all and as such, they have access to stronger ratings, which attracts investor interest and allows them to price their products at lower prices than their competitors can do.
The majors’ cheaper rates then help them to attract more clients and, in turn, they achieve greater volumes and so retain a larger market share.
National Australia Bank (NAB) has led the majors on price for nearly four years after pledging to offer the “sharpest rate” of the big banks in 2010.
As The Adviser went to press, NAB was continuing to offer the cheapest standard variable rate (SVR) of all the majors at 6.38 per cent.
CBA and ANZ are not far behind, with both lenders offering an SVR of 6.40 per cent.
Westpac lags behind the pack with its 6.51 per cent SVR. However, Westpac has also said for some time that it has no intentions of being the “cheapest lender” on the market since the bank aspires to cater to “affluent” customers – a mission it is currently succeeding in quite well.
Recently, 78 per cent of all Westpac’s broker-introduced customers were considered “affluent”.
But while the bank seems to be achieving its own goals, its decision to go with a higher rate than those of the other majors has significantly impacted its placement in this year’s ranking.
That said, Westpac has managed to significantly improve its overall broker satisfaction rating over the past year, suggesting that while price is a compelling aspect of a lender’s overall proposition, competitive pricing in isolation is unlikely to capture a significant share of loans originated through the broker channel.
In this report, The Adviser asks brokers to assess the major lenders across product and pricing, support, technology and broker remuneration to identify which ones are hitting the mark across these aspects of their offering.
With approximately 43 per cent of all loans written through the broker channel, according to the latest Morgan Fujitsu Report, it is little wonder the majors now put such an emphasis on the success of their third party operations.
More importantly, if industry pundits are to be believed, broker market share could climb as high as 50 per cent in the not too distant future.
Because of this, the big four banks remain more committed than ever to providing their third party operations with unparalleled service, sharp rates and state of the art technology platforms.
Each one, however, takes an entirely different approach to their third party distribution network.
Some lenders, including CBA and Westpac, have tiered programs in place that allow them to offer their top performing, top writing brokers a premium service and, in some instances, better pricing.
Just last year, Westpac unveiled a new top-tier program for its broker channel.
The new segment program – known as Platinum – was developed to recognise the importance and value of its key customer group, the bank has said.
Westpac’s general manager for mortgage broking distribution, Tony MacRae, told The Adviser last year that the lender was “determined to deliver new business initiatives to ensure its most ardent broker partners are being delighted and well supported”.
“Brokers are an important business partner at a local level, with around 45 per cent of the bank’s mortgages delivered via the mortgage broker channel,” he said.
“Our aim is to bring our broker partners and Westpac’s team of local bankers closer together to build deep and strong business relationships, and Platinum helps us achieve this by rewarding brokers who work closely with us and really delight their customers.”
While Westpac and CBA are committed to providing their higher performing brokers with enhanced service, ANZ and NAB have both stuck to the ‘one channel, one service offering’ philosophy.
Interestingly, the results of this year’s ranking show brokers are clearly divided on the merits of segmentation.
While Westpac’s decision to create a new ‘top tier’ received a lot of flak from the broader broking community, the lender’s committed brokers embraced the news.
Similarly, NAB and ANZ’s ‘one tier’ strategy has helped the lenders curry favour and lose admirers at the same time – and this is reflected in this year’s ranking.
The ranking also revealed the significant impact that one mishap or ‘road bump’ can have on a lender’s overall satisfaction rating.
Last year, NAB clearly dominated the pack, beating its nearest rival, ANZ, by 2.66 points.
This year, however, the story was very different, with less than one point separating the top three lenders.
NAB’s ‘one document’ initiative, which the lender launched late last year, proved difficult to implement and cost the bank important points when it came to broker satisfaction.
While the lender managed to come out on top for the second consecutive year, its dominance over the rest of the pack faded significantly, suggesting the 2014 ranking is really anybody’s game.
FINAL RATINGS AND METHODOLOGY
439 brokers participated in this year’s major banks ranking.
Each respondent was asked to rate the four banks on a scale of 1 to 5 (1: very poor; 2: poor; 3: average; 4: good and 5: very good) across 17 metrics covering product, technology, broker support and commissions.
For example, a rating of 3.5 would indicate that the bank was somewhere between average and good, based on broker sentiment.
With a maximum 85 points available, the final ratings were as follows:
Lender 2013 2012 Difference
Homeside / NAB 62.54 62.67 -0.13
CBA 62.26 59.45 +2.81
ANZ 59.28 60.01 -0.73
Westpac 51.62 50.64 +0.98
The Adviser applied the following process in undertaking this year’s Third Party Banking Report – Major Lenders:
- Brokers who subscribe to The Adviser bulletin, the daily email from www.theadviser.com.au were invited to participate in the survey in February 2013
- All four major lenders were also given the opportunity to offer brokers who write their products the opportunity to participate in the survey
- The survey was promoted on www.theadviser.com.au and remained open for two weeks
- Survey data were then assessed and analysed by business research house RFi, which provided the final ratings
Product range, policy and pricing play a critical role in determining where a broker places his or her business, as The Adviser’s ranking demonstrates
A lender’s product proposition is their most important weapon in today’s battle for market share.
With pricing such a strong driver for potential home owners, it is crucial that lenders offer sharp rates across all of their various products.
It is also important for these lenders to offer a variety of products as no two borrowers are exactly the same and, as such, they require different types of loan.
Over the past 12 months, all of the big four have made changes to their policy, products and, of course, their pricing.
In fact, price has probably received the greatest amount of attention over the past 12 months given the series of rate cuts we have seen from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
In 2012, the RBA cut the official cash rate four times, shaving 125 basis points from the cash rate and taking it to a historic low of 3.00 per cent.
But while the Reserve Bank may have cut 1.25 per cent in total, the big four failed to pass on the cuts in full.
Over the course of 2012, ANZ made the most significant change, cutting the lender’s standard variable rate by 1.02 per cent, while CBA passed on a 1.01 per cent rate cut to clients.
Westpac was next, passing on a 95 basis point cut to borrowers, while NAB passed on the least amount, cutting its standard variable rate by just 0.93 per cent.
But despite NAB’s decisions, the bank continues to retain the cheapest standard variable rate of all the majors, having taken a convincing lead in this area four years ago.
As a result, it is not surprising to see Homeside dominating the other majors on price.
In this year’s ranking, Homeside scored considerably higher than the other majors on pricing, thanks in large part to its dedication to continue to provide the cheapest standard variable rate of all the majors.
While few borrowers actually take out a standard variable rate mortgage, Homeside’s commitment to have the ‘cheapest SVR’ is obviously paying dividends for the lender.
CBA was considered to be the second best in terms of pricing, while ANZ was third and Westpac placed fourth.
Once again, this is not surprising considering that CBA has long held the “second cheapest” SVR of the majors, while Westpac fell behind the pack in this area sometime ago.
Homeside also performed strongly in the area of product range, scoring first place in this category as well.
That said, Homeside’s victory over the other lenders was not as dramatic as it was in the ‘pricing’ category, perhaps because the lender does not offer a basic home loan product that boasts no ongoing fees.
According to brokers, the third party channel might be more inclined to do business with Homeside if the lender offered a basic home loan product with no hidden fees or charges.
Of course, Homeside was not the only lender to cop criticism from the broker market on its ‘product range’.
No lender was immune, with several brokers commenting that CBA’s products have “too many conditions” and “not enough flexibility”.
CBA also received criticism for not having a “100 per cent transactional offset account”.
“CBA have promised for eight years now that they will introduce a transactional offset account and we are still waiting,” one New South Wales broker commented.
Despite criticism of its product range, however, CBA managed to excel in the area of product policy, with the lender taking out top position this year.
One South Australian broker said CBA’s local credit assessment staff were a pleasure to deal with on a regular basis because they help brokers feel comfortable.
“Credit scoring can sometime prove very confusing for the borrower and broker, but CBA’s team create a level of confidence that is higher than the other majors,” the broker said.
But while CBA excelled in this area, Westpac failed to impress brokers, with many labelling the lender’s product policy “confusing” and “restrictive”.
“Westpac is postcode-restricted which has forced me to take customers elsewhere,” one broker said.
“Westpac also only has one valuer on their panel in one particular location and I find this negatively impacts my experience with them.”
Lenders have long recognised the benefits of using brokers to cross sell additional products to borrowers.
Not only are brokers a large – and growing – distribution channel, but they have strong relationships with their clients, who ultimately trust their advice and are happy to respect their lead in certain areas.
CBA took out the top spot in this category for the fourth consecutive year.
This is unsurprising given that the bank has long been committed to helping brokers with their cross-sell through the bank’s own Connect program.
Established almost a decade ago, the Connect program helps brokers cross sell additional products to their borrowers with a minimum of fuss.
Just as CBA performed well in this category for the fourth consecutive year, Westpac failed to impress brokers for the fourth year in a row, falling to the bottom of the pack.
But while Westpac continues to lag behind in this area, preliminary data suggests the bank is making inroads in this space.
Earlier this year, the bank’s general manager, mortgage broker distribution, Tony MacRae, said the bank had managed to increase the number of products it sells to each broker-introduced client to four.
“We are definitely progressing in this space and hope to improve even more as the years go on,” Mr MacRae said.
Should this prove to be the case, Westpac could be a lender to watch in the cross-sell category in coming years.
OVERALL PRODUCT RANKING
In an increasingly technology-driven financial services sector, a strong online presence can mean the difference between winning and losing market share
While lender pricing and policy will continue to play a pivotal role in influencing where a broker places his or her business, it is important not to overlook the role technology can have in the process.
Over the past few years, the extent to which technology can boost a broker’s efficiency – and therefore their bottom line – has increased markedly.
The better a lender’s online lodgement capacity, the more likely a broker is to do business with them since they understand their deals will be approved quickly and with minimal complications.
An up-to-date website can also help brokers hand in ‘flawless’ loan submissions first time around.
With product and policy constantly changing, it is crucial that a lender keep their website up-to-date to help brokers understand which loans will be approved and which will not.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) topped the leader board in this category, which is hardly surprising given the broker feedback.
One Victorian broker labelled CBA’s website as “best on ground”, while another said it was “well ahead of its competitors”.
“The Commbroker website is great and easy to use – best in class,” another broker said.
Of course, CBA wasn’t the only lender to receive praise for its web presence.
Homeside also got a considerable amount of positive feedback – which would be particularly rewarding given that the lender took a chance and completely overhauled its website in October last year.
According to the bank’s general manager for distribution, John Flavell, the new website – www.nabbroker.com.au – allows brokers to be more mobile by its providing a consistent customer experience, regardless of the device they use to access the site.
“The new website will give our broker partners flexibility, convenience and choice to interact with NAB how and when they want,” Mr Flavell said at the launch of the site.
“Whether accessing the website via a PC, tablet or smartphone, brokers can easily and consistently use all of the features of the website from any device.”
This seems to be functionality of which brokers are particularly fond.
According to one Victorian broker, the “new Homeside site is gold”, while another said it is “easy to search for relevant information”.
While CBA took line honours in this category, one thing is clear: all of Australia’s big four banks need to make some enhancements to their online lodgement capacity.
According to brokers, none of the majors are particularly impressive in this area, with all of the lenders receiving an “average” rating from the third party distribution channel.
When asked to identify what exactly is wrong with the majors’ online lodgement systems, one New South Wales broker explained that they all had “imaging issues that require brokers to send supporting documents at 300dpi only to be told the images are not ‘high resolution enough’.”
Brokers also commented that they are often not given “enough room to include supporting comments, which can sometimes play a pivotal role in determining whether or not the loan is approved”.
OVERALL TECHNOLOGY RANKING
The level of support a bank provides not only impacts whether or not brokers do business with that bank, but determines whether or not they will continue to do business with them in the future
Product pricing and technology play an important part in determining where a broker places his or her business. However, it is often said that the level of support a broker receives from their lender plays the most significant role of all.
Go to any lender roadshow and you will see brokers letting their banks know that good service and consistency of service are absolutely crucial to doing business effectively.
In fact, while good service by way of credit support and BDM help is invaluable, many brokers will say consistency is what really matters.
Lenders that provide brokers with consistent turnaround times and consistent credit support can be assured of writing solid volumes – consistently.
This year, all of the lenders managed to improve or maintain their “broker satisfaction” rating in the various support categories, suggesting the changes each lender has made to its own support system are paying dividends – with brokers rating the level of support they receive from their lender as “average to good”.
Homeside has certainly come a long way in the past three years.
After falling to the bottom of the pack in this category in 2010, the lender managed to rebound and take out the top spot in 2012, a position it has retained in 2013.
According to the respondents of the survey, Homeside’s BDM team is “awesome”, with some brokers even taking the time to identify certain individual BDMs who have shone.
“Grant Paul from Homeside is wonderful,” says Aussie broker Mary Thomas. “He is on call to answer our questions whatever the strange hour.”
And Ms Thomas wasn’t alone in her praise for NAB’s BDM workforce.
An NSW broker said he found “Homeside’s BDMs to be the best in the business as they always return calls in a timely manner”.
Another Aussie broker said while he doesn’t write Homeside products on a regular basis, he has been impressed with the level of service he has received from his new “desk-bound” BDM.
“He has been so helpful to me and my business that I hope to match a deal up with him shortly,” he says.
But while Homeside’s BDM force won considerable praise, when it came to Westpac it was a very different story.
According to a majority of brokers, Westpac’s BDM force is “sluggish and slow to return calls”.
Del Wratten from Quick Assist Lending believes Westpac should “review their BDM force”.
“Westpac Bank need to seriously look at their BDM support,” he says. “I haven’t seen a BDM since Craig left and he only ever did branch training.”
Daniel Dawson from Investor Property Finance echoed Mr Wratten’s comments, arguing that the BDM force needs a lot of work.
“Westpac’s previous BDM was rubbish – their new one is average and often unhelpful,” he said.
CREDIT ASSESSMENT STAFF
The story didn’t get much better for Westpac when it came to credit assessment staff, with brokers ranking the bank as “average” in this area.
According to the survey’s findings, many brokers are disgruntled with Westpac’s decision to push some of its assessment processes overseas.
“Westpac need to bring their support staff back to Australia because I think many brokers have a hard time understanding the foreign loan assessment team,” Mortgage 123’s Mark Doley says.
Mr Doley’s comments were supported by Aussie’s Lachie Pitman who said that when he and his team can get through to an assessor, they have trouble communicating due to language barriers.
Of course, Westpac wasn’t alone in the criticism it copped from brokers, with ANZ also criticised for “offshoring” some of its processes.
“ANZ are difficult because a lot of their lending managers are offshore and it is very hard to speak with them due to both language and time constraints,” Mark Weight & Associates’ Mark Weight says.
Thankfully, the majors managed to redeem themselves when it came to client support, with all four receiving a “good” satisfaction rating from their third party distribution channels.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) took out the top prize in this category, securing a win over ANZ for the fourth consecutive year.
Mr Weight says CBA’s win was well deserved as the bank has very good processes in place to help strengthen the bank/broker relationship.
“CBA provide wonderful ongoing support. Their various branch network programs ensure they continue to work with the broker throughout the client’s entire financial life,” he says.
But while CBA shone in this area, Homeside was considered to offer some of the poorest client support.
According to the findings of this year’s ranking, NAB branches are not interested in helping Homeside clients or brokers.
“NAB retail branches tend to be a very poor service channel,” one broker commented.
But while Homeside failed to meet broker expectations when it came to client support, the lender did manage to make some fans in the area of broker communication.
According to the results of the survey, Homeside communicates with its brokers the best, with the third party channel giving the lender a satisfaction rating of 3.91.
This is hardly surprising, given Homeside’s commitment and emphasis on being more transparent.
At the end of last year, the lender announced that while it would continue to make enhancements to its broker proposition, it would spend more time clearly conveying those enhancements to the broker market – a strategy that has obviously paid dividends.
“While I believe all lenders could stand to enhance their broker communication techniques even more, on the whole, Homeside are very transparent and clear,” one Victorian broker says.
The story was much the same for the lender when it came to broker interaction, with Homeside tying with CBA for first place in this category.
Not to be confused with broker communication, broker interaction is the level of face-to-face or personalised interaction that a broker has with their lenders – including roadshows, roundtables, golf days or other events.
According to the survey’s findings NAB and CBA both excelled in this area, which is largely unsurprising given the fact that both lenders host roadshows, roundtables and other broker events on a regular basis.
Last year, NAB hosted a series of broker road shows around the nation as well as many intimate dinners with some of the lender’s long-supporting broker partners.
Similarly, CBA is constantly holding roadshows and roundtables to seek broker feedback on the lender’s systems, processes, policy and products.
Mortgage Choice’s Peter O’Brien says that over the past 12 months he has been invited to and attended dozens of broker training days hosted by Homeside, CBA and Westpac.
Mark Weight & Associates’ Mark Weight agreed and said CBA always makes the effort to communicate with its brokers through training days, roadshows or roundtables.
“They go the extra mile to help us,” he says.
TRAINING AND EDUCATION
The level of training and education a lender provides can significantly impact its place in the market.
According to the results of the ranking survey, lenders who provide more opportunities for brokers to learn and train ultimately fare better in terms of broker market share.
As one broker explains, “lenders that host training and education sessions show that they are committed to the industry and committed to brokers”.
Interestingly, all of the lenders managed to improve their broker satisfaction score in this area this year, suggesting each lender has added to their existing list of training and educational activities.
ANZ, for example, last year launched its broker business webisode series through The Adviser.
Each quarter, the bank brings a group of high achieving brokers together to air their thoughts on at least one topic of interest, including business recruitment, business planning, networking and mentoring to name but a few.
This free discussion of ideas between high achieving brokers is filmed, edited and presented to other brokers to provide them with food for thought for their own business.
But ANZ isn’t the only lender to make enhancements to its training and educational offering.
CBA, Westpac and Homeside have all improved their activities.
Homeside has, over the past 12 months, hosted a women-only roundtable to give female brokers the chance to discuss in private any issues they face on a day-to-day basis in business.
Meanwhile, CBA is constantly refreshing its training and education program, with the lender rolling out social media workshops over the last year to help brokers embrace the online medium and work with networking sites to help them build their business.
In this category, both CBA and Homeside performed strongly, while Westpac was left behind.
According to the survey and broker feedback, Westpac and – to a lesser extent – ANZ tend to miss the mark when it comes to providing sound business support.
One broker commented that Westpac tends to host a roadshow “once in a while” and feel this all the support they need to give.
“We need to hear from our lenders on a regular basis,” one broker said. “If they are making improvements to their systems – tell us! We need and want to hear about what you are doing for us, otherwise it gets lost.”
But the news wasn’t all bad, with some brokers commenting that “several lenders” provide a good level of support.
“Homeside made some significant changes to their processes in 2011 and I am just glad to see that they have kept up the good work,” one broker commented.
But while Homeside received praise for its level of business support, that praise was less forthcoming when the conversation turned to turnaround times.
In fact, Homeside managed to slide from first place last year to third place in the category this year.
However, this result is unsurprising given that the lender’s decision to send brokers one merged documentation pack, rather than a series of packs, backfired.
In May last year, Homeside announced it would simplify its documentation process by sending one pack rather than many.
However, creating one pack proved time consuming and caused the lender’s turnaround times to blow out for a series of weeks – a problem the bank’s general manager for distribution, John Flavell, says that the bank has now rectified.
“We did see a blow out in turnaround times last year when we first moved to one-pack documentation, but we managed to resolve the problem pretty quickly and start sending one-pack documentation kits in an efficient manner,” he says.
The blow out in turnaround times was short lived, but it did manage to affect the lender’s ranking in this category this year and effectively handed the win to ANZ which has had consistent turnaround times for some years.
CBA was not far behind, improving its broker satisfaction rating from 3.44 last year to 3.51.
While all of the big four have several initiatives in place to reduce the threat of channel conflict, this remains a major problem for brokers.
According to a recent The Adviser straw poll, 82.2 per cent of brokers believe channel conflict represents a challenge for the industry.
Of the 129 respondents, only 17.8 per cent said it was “no longer” an issue.
As a result, it is hardly surprising to see that all of the big four failed to impress brokers in this category, with a majority given a “poor to average” rating.
Topping the pack in this area was Homeside, while Westpac came in at fourth place for the fourth consecutive year.
But while Westpac has never done particularly well in this category, the lender’s general manager, mortgage broker distribution, Tony MacRae is hopeful this will soon change as the bank’s ‘local squad’ initiative continues.
In March last year, Westpac launched the local strategic campaign which it hoped would quash broker beliefs that they are in competition with their branch.
According to Mr MacRae, the squad was designed to help brokers form sound relationships with their local Westpac bank branch managers.
“We want our brokers to feel as though the branch is an extension of their operation and therefore they feel comfortable introducing their customers to the branch,” he says.
“We want our brokers to feel confident that their customers would enjoy the same quality of service from the branch that they do from them.
Mr MacRae says the bank has worked “very hard” over the past 12 months to dispel the idea of channel conflict and he believes it has “almost” achieved that.
“We do not want to have a strong branch network and a weak broker network or vice versa. We both need to be strong and we need to work together so that we can all win in this market, and there is room for all of us to win in this market,” he says.
OVERALL SUPPORT RANKING
As Australia’s lenders become hungrier for business, broker commissions are increasingly used as leverage to drive brokers to the bank.
While the majors have been a little sluggish on this front, Australia’s non-majors consistently use broker commissions to drum up business.
Over the past few years Bankwest has, on more than one occasion, used bonus commissions to incentivise brokers as has Citibank and ING DIRECT.
Knowing that business will come through the door regardless of their commission structure, the majors have been less inclined to make changes to their remuneration packages.
In fact, over the last few years, not one of the majors has moved on commissions.
As a result, it is not surprising to see this year’s ranking parallels the 2012 results.
Once again, Homeside’s ramped trail structure has proven very popular with brokers, giving the lender the edge in this category.
Peter Famlonga from Peel Finance Brokers says the ramped trail structure is not only easy to understand, but very considerate of brokers who do a good job of looking after their client.
“I really appreciate the ramped trail structure, it makes good business sense,” he says.
And Mr Famlonga is not alone in his sentiments.
The broker’s comments were echoed by several others who described Homeside’s ramped trail as “simple, and easy to understand and use”.
But while Homeside’s ramped trail structure received praise from some brokers, a majority still believe the commissions offered by the major lenders are not good enough.
It is therefore not surprising to see that none of the lenders received high scores, particularly in the remuneration category.
“No trail in the first year is a significant deterrent,” Gary Benzan says.
The Clear broker says lenders who offer trail in year one will always receive more business from the third party channel – a thought echoed by many of his counterparts.
“No trail in the first year effectively reduces the net commission received in year one, leaving CBA and Homeside both providing low income when compared to their competitors,” says DHL Stateplan’s Jack Chaffey.
John Hymet from Logical Choice Finance says it is wrong for lenders to withhold trail in the first year.
“I hate not being paid trail in year one. In addition, I dislike the clawbacks that many lenders have in place. If the customer, for whatever reason, discharges then that should not impact the broker and their bottom line.”
OVERALL COMMISSION RANKING