Behind the Idea Acre
Behind the Idea Proptech

Behind the Idea: Acre

The financial upheaval of the previous year prompted numerous homebuyers to develop a heightened regard for mortgage brokers.

Earlier this year, Acre, an intermediaries platforms for brokers, bagged £6.5million investment to grow its tech platform and to further its ambition to digitise the homebuying journey to buying.

In this week’s Behind the Idea, we chat to Justus Brown, CEO and founder of Acre, discusses how the company is shaking up the mortgage and insurance advice process, aiming to streamline and automate tasks for brokers while providing homebuyers with faster and better advice.

 Justus Brown of Acre
Justus Brown, CEO, Acre
Tell us more about your company and its offering

Acre is an all-in-one intermediaries platform designed to revamp the mortgage and insurance advice process. We help homebuyers get the fastest and best advice for their purchase, by making brokers’ jobs easier and more automated using all the existing data on the property and homebuyers upfront.

In what is a very regulated and box-ticky process, we help everyone have a better and quicker experience – which gives homebuyers peace of mind and brokers more time to do what they do best – helping customers.

What problem was your company set up to solve?

I was inspired to create Acre after my own poor, very long, and overpriced experience of buying a home. I soon learned I was like 80-plus per cent of homeowners who lean on brokers to secure funding – and yet the process is poor and feels like wading through tar for all involved. And I knew something had to change.

Acre’s mission is to rewire the entire home buying journey. That means we are not here to do fact finds and ID checks and rekey applications the way they are done today – we have to think about it differently. We’ve built an engine and rule set for each advised product our brokers sell, which helps them give compliant advice while eliminating rekeying.

We log those rules and each action into our private blockchain, so we can go back and see at any time everything that has happened. Our ambition is to get to a point where it only takes a click for brokers to source and secure the best mortgage for clients and help homebuyers avoid any unforeseen harm.

Since launch, how has your company evolved?

We launched Acre after going deep with everyone in the mortgage journey, listening to the ways the pieces fit together and hearing the pain points. It soon became clear that a new way of thinking about the whole process was needed. This has gained momentum through a big post-Covid shift in brokers’ and lenders’ openness to innovation. I think we made more progress in the past two years than we would have in five in 10 years without the pandemic.

Our platform is continually evolving and adding new functionalities to go deeper into broker’s organisation and be the only system they need to run their business. We closely align ourselves with our customers’ business models so we need to have the best-in-class tech to make sure they write more business.

What has been the biggest challenge or most ‘tricky moment’ to overcome?

There remains a large amount of scepticism by brokers of technology in general – broking after all is a people business. Covid did cause a mind shift in how they utilise technology to make doing business easier but, as suppliers of technology, we have to go the extra mile to convince them that change is worth it.

It is my job to assure current and future Acre customers that we are here to work with them to revolutionise the mortgage process and make everyone’s jobs a little easier. Tech itself should never be another barrier for brokers to overcome.

It’s not just our customers that have proven a challenge. We also have been held back by just how slow big lenders (and insurers) in the UK move with technology. Some of them have (in)famously announced £1billion-plus year technology transformations that have yet to bear fruit. Too often in the UK, corporate leaders push the button on tech spend and consultants with a lack of understanding of how the key pieces of their business interact (the ‘system’). In reality, they probably need to spend time documenting how they (and their existing technology) currently work and how they want that to evolve first.

Finally, we think there’s a huge opportunity to use the data we are collecting to both enable and disrupt mainstream lending, as in the foreseeable future Acre will be seeing more customers per month than even the biggest mortgage lenders do.

What are your biggest achievements or ‘proudest moment’ so far?

I am super proud of how much we have achieved to date, even though there is still so much to do! We launched our product to the broker market in the second half of 2021, and since then we have become one of the fastest growing intermediaries platforms – with a year-on-year expansion of over 400 per cent in mortgage volume. In a very difficult time for both the financial industry and for fundraising, it wasn’t easy. But with the help of a stellar team, in 2023, five years on from the first line of Acre code being written, Acre completed over £10billion in mortgages for over 100,000 homebuyers.

Some big highlights for us include our distribution deal with PMS (2022); signing The Right Mortgage network (>£5billion mortgage) and Mortgage Matters Direct / Arun Estates in the past few months; and our recent distribution deal with Paradigm Mortgage Club.

And we’re not done yet – 2024 is going to be an exciting year. We’re looking forward to working with new and existing partners to champion the use of Acre to thousands of brokers and educate them on how it can improve ways of working, save admin time, secure greater operational efficiency and fuel easy adherence to rules and regulations like Consumer Duty.

How would you describe the culture of your company?

At Acre, our cultural pillars of diversity, growth, and innovation shape everything we do. As one of a handful of European fintech companies led by an LGBTQ+ founder, we take pride in our team’s composition: over 40 per cent female and with 35 per cent representing non-UK backgrounds.

Yet, the importance of diversity goes beyond numbers. It infuses our collaborative environment, where every individual’s unique perspective is valued as a catalyst for innovation. This ethos not only guides us in designing our platform in close partnership with users but also empowers our team to develop cutting-edge solutions. I think the record is clear that diverse teams deliver better outcomes – and I think too often, financial advice is missing those other voices.

Another point at the heart of our culture is growth. We meticulously recruit individuals with exceptional potential, rather than focusing on credentials, who have quickly demonstrated their value within our talented team. This has worked for us time and time again. By prioritising talent development and support, we ensure that each member has the chance to make a meaningful impact and grow with Acre. These things, coupled with our razor focus on innovation – we’re the only engineer-led company in UK financial advice, enables our company to be a leader in our space.

What’s in store for the future?

In the short-term, we are refining and relaunching our protection-only offering – Acre being a platform for a number of financial products and services often sold to homebuyers.

At our core we are a software company so we will continue to build and improve the way we work. A lot of the time it takes to build something right is locked up in understanding what to build – and we’ve done that homework. We’ll be able to bring greater automation into the mortgage journey, while establishing more relationships with key figures around the fintech and mortgage landscapes.

If I look a little further forward, we also expect to be break even at some point in the next two years, and alongside that may want to raise a Series A. With the volume of mortgages, insurance policies, and data running through us, we expect to be able to pick from several options for deepening our monetisation in the UK, as well as being able to expand internationally (US, EU, and English-law countries would be logical places to go). As my house purchase debacle shows, there is plenty of opportunity to improve home buying and lending across major housing markets, and the challenges are much the same.

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