Covid-19 forced many companies to adapt their approach to accommodate remote working. At the same time, demand in the property market soared, contributing to a record-breaking mortgage market in the UK.
Smartr365 took this time to address how it could create a quality experience for homebuyers while allowing brokers to operate at scale. Out of this, Smartr365’s HomeBuyer app was born.
The pandemic changed customers’ expectations of services, expediting the shift toward technology versus a more traditional face-to-face approach to mortgage advice.
To meet these expectations, the end-to-end mortgage and protection platform ensured that from within the HomeBuyer app, buyers are now able to verify their ID, connect via open banking to share bank statements for affordability checks and keep up to date with their mortgage application in real-time on their phone.
Additionally, while QR and NFC technology had been around for a while previously, the pandemic saw usage rise with consumers being required to scan QR codes for ordering their meals or checking in at restaurants.
The platform replicated this feature within our app, connecting brokers to homebuyers via QR codes or NFC chips which could be in place at home viewings, estate agents’ windows, or on digital social posts, as well as within traditional printed media.
Here in our latest Behind the Idea feature, we sit down with Thora Kehoe, head of product at Smartr365, to gauge how the company is addressing current frictions in the mortgage market, and how its application of fintech has helped in overcoming said frictions.
What has been the traditional company response to financial technology innovations nationally?
Smartr365 provides technology solutions for the mortgage intermediary market. The intermediary market has traditionally been seen as a fragmented market, with very little connectivity between the parties involved.
For most, purchasing a home can be an incredibly stressful process, which is why the value of brokers still very much resides in their advice-offering and their ability to explain to buyers the nuances of mortgage products, and how these will impact them in the long term.
Therefore, most brokerages are keen for improved financial connectivity between all parties in the home buying process that will enable a streamlined end-to-end experience across the entire ecosystem. In turn, this will allow brokers to dedicate more time to providing advice, and less time to administrative tasks such as rekeying buyers’ information to lenders.
While these fintech innovations have largely been welcomed within the industry, a broader question now exists around how tech can provide greater value for homebuyers themselves.
How has this changed over the past few years?
The mortgage industry has been forced into taking buyers’ expectations into greater consideration in the last few years, with most consumers now expecting a premium digital experience. This was consolidated during the pandemic, with a greater necessity for carrying out processes remotely.
We have seen this shift in the neobanks, so it goes without saying that if consumers can carry out all financial transactions online, why can they not complete a mortgage application online too?
What consumers want from processes is something that is simple, easy and available on the go, which means the mortgage industry has had to catch up to be able to meet these demands.
Is there anything that has created a culture of change inside the company?
At Smartr365, we understand the importance of building a diverse leadership team, made of individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds and identities. In doing so, this creates an innovative culture, where new ideas and a wider pool of opinions can be heard in conversations. As a result, more informed choices can be made.
This cultural dynamic ensures that the clients we serve feel more comfortable and better represented. It also means that, ultimately, the best possible solutions can be found through collaboration amongst the team.
What fintech ideas have been implemented?
Since the launch of the HomeBuyer app in 2021, we have added a variety of fintech features to make the home buying process more seamless. These included the Digidentity integration, meaning users can verify their identity through the Digidentity ID software, reducing manual work and providing brokers with verified leads.
Additionally, we adopted Experian’s Affordability Passport, an open banking-powered technology, which allows customers to consent, connect and share their financial information with their broker quickly and easily via the app.
Once a homebuyer has completed their purchase, we share updated home valuation data with them to ensure our app continues to provide value for end users.
What benefits have these brought?
As buyers are able to fill in their own details from the beginning of the mortgage application process, brokers have reported to us that clients are completing more information which streamlines the end-to-end process. This benefit is twofold: not only does it mean brokers have the information they need from the outset, but it also ensures buyers are receiving the most appropriate advice in a frictionless way.
Additionally, the integration of Experian’s open banking technology reduces the time and manual aspect of the credit checking and (Experian doesn’t have identity verification) processes for buyers, while also allowing advisers to swiftly confirm a customer’s affordability securely as part of their overall mortgage application.
The reason this technology solution has worked so well is because it is a simple, tailored process based on the existing brokerage advice model, and therefore is a supporting tool to ensure brokers can fulfil their roles to the maximum potential, while giving buyers a more efficient and stress-free experience.
Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon?
The next challenge for the mortgage industry is gaining standardised market-wide acceptance from lenders for new technology services.
Whilst the FCA‘s recent Thematic Review highlighted that incomplete record keeping is a widespread issue across the sector, being the first to market in providing a streamlined homebuying app solution means that we spend substantial time working with lenders on the adoption of these new services to resolve such barriers.
This includes demonstrating the benefits that the mortgage landscape will reap from a fully connected end-to-end experience, driven by technology that is not yet widely accepted in the space.
Can these challenges be aided by fintech?
Ultimately, consumers will drive the demand and they are proof that a digital experience provided through fintech is needed in the mortgage market. Fintech is therefore a viable solution to existing barriers in the mortgage space, as it creates a seamless experience for both brokers and homebuyers.
This is especially notable at the beginning of the process, when buyers can key in their own details, eliminating the need for a lengthy back-and-forth conversation. As such, we expect to see uptake from lenders increase in the coming years, although there will likely be some challenges until the full benefits are understood. We’re excited to be pioneering this as we continually transform the mortgage space with technology.