“We have to be on top of the growing generational expectation for digital services. Digitisation is something we have to maintain and evolve to keep on top of the market.”
Insightive.tv: Can you begin by giving an overview of your customer contracting process?
Dale: It varies customer to customer. Our business model is not only based on providing complex products, but in providing them to all different kinds of people. There is a lot of technology involved in all areas of the market. But our involvement as both a mortgage broker and packager does make us a little different from your average mortgage arranger.
We also look at complex cases, people with CCJs, defaults, people who need to put cross collateral charges onto multiple properties, lending into retirement. All of these things are outside the mainstream, and that increases the difficulty for technology to cope with already complex problems. I don’t think a computer will ever truly be capable of algorithms that can account for every single person in the market. Some cases will always require face-to-face interactions. Often, this is the time that the unusual issues arise.
The majority of the time our contracting is done via email or other online facilities. We will direct the clients to an online fact find. We will go through all the necessary documents, and will most likely give the customer a call to confirm the information.
Insightive.tv: So, the process is done online, but with manual checks?
Dale: Yes and no. Normally we’ll do sanction searches and ID checks online. But if the online ID verification doesn’t work, we’re going to want to see somebody’s original passport or driving license, in which case we’re back to Special Delivery and ‘snail mail.’ Although we do verification via Skype or Facetime as well.
Ultimately, this is an inefficient way to do things. But we want to be able to provide a wide range of service options to everyone who is eligible, and we don’t view their ability to fit through an online verification as the criteria for eligibility.
However, our documentation signing is automated and can be done online. So, for many of our customers, the whole process is often digital. We look at it on a lender-by-lender basis. One of the things you have to remember about the mortgage market is its age demographic hangs behind some other financial services. At the moment, the average mortgage broker age is mid-to-late 40s, and some of our lenders have been around over 100 years! As the new breed of millennials come through, there will be greater customer pressure for full digital solutions.
Insightive.tv: What are the main drivers pushing digital change?
Dale: Speed and customer demand. The quicker we can do things, the quicker my team can move on to help other customers. It allows us to focus our efforts on the most complex areas of our business. People want to be kept up to date as well, whether that is by text message or email. Technology is the means by which society now communicates, so we have to be able to engage in that way.
For example, every Monday morning at 4:00am, our whole system will download and update every single one of our lenders with every case we have going on with them, every submission, every decision in principle, the whole scenario. In that respect, we are keeping every one of our lenders up to date, but we are doing it with technology. This is something that we couldn’t have done six-twelve months ago.
On the other side, we have to be on top of the growing generational expectation for digital services. Digitisation is something we have to maintain and evolve to keep on top of the market, and it is something we want to do because it improves our business model and allows us to deliver better services to our customers with less effort on our behalf.
On the arranging side of the business, I want to make it as easy as possible for us to gather all the information that we need to provide to a lender. If a customer from abroad sent us an enquiry at two or three o’clock in the morning, obviously my team aren’t going to be working at that time. There are types of services, and efficiencies within services, that can only be delivered through digital solutions.
Insightive.tv: What are the biggest challenges you have faced in creating these digital solutions?
Dale: Three come to mind. One struggle for us was catering to the costs of compliance considerations. In 2014 MMR came into play, this year was had the EU Mortgage Credit Directive. Because we are an independent, family owned and self-funded business, everything is at cost. I think that is actually quite a big barrier for some of the building societies and smaller lenders as well. However, we have now designed and written our own CRM system and can make changes when we need to with minimal cost to ourselves. So we have finally mitigated this problem as much as possible.
I think there is also a systemic problem with how information is presented. In some ways, I think there is almost too much information online and customers can easily become confused trying to decide on a mortgage using online resources. So creating an interface that customers find accessible and understandable is an important challenge that needs to be overcome.
The biggest challenge, however, is that a complete digitisation of every customer journey is just not possible, and accommodating these people is something we take seriously. On the mortgage packaging side, we have specialist lenders who have just launched into the marketplace. They might not have the staffing capabilities or systems in place, therefore they pick five or six packagers in the country to distribute, market and manage the upfront administration on their products. We are also stuck in the middle between lenders who embrace technology and lenders that have been around for a long time who will probably never pick up the massive cost of transition to digitisation and will always manually process every application. So we are trying to be the best of all worlds even though we aspire to be a paper-free broker.
The World is moving quickly, but there will always be people who fall out of the mould and need a home. I think we all need to recognise that technology won’t completely take over the mortgage market. There are always going to be people who are gifted equity from their parents, deposits coming from family friends or inheritance, people looking to buy a property over commercial premises or maybe multiple units on one title. These are just some of the many scenarios that make it near impossible to create a computer system capable of catering to everyone’s requirements. But technology is a great thing, it makes our lives easier. I just think that it is a two-way street and people will always need people!
Dale Jannels has been Managing Director of the business since 2011 and has worked within the company since 1999. He is the son of Victor Jannels, the company’s founder and chairman. After working at Legal & General for five years, Dale spent twelve years gaining extensive knowledge of every facet of the company before taking over the position of MD. We spoke with Dale to dig into how technological change is impacting the mortgage industry and how AToM onboards and communicates with their customers.
THE DIGITAL FUTURE OF CUSTOMER CONTRACTING series