Digital mortgage broker Habito recently welcomed multiple award-winning entrepreneur Ying Tan as its new CEO (pending FCA approval), succeeding founder Daniel Hegarty, who led the company since its launch in 2016.
Over the past seven years, Habito has submitted more than £10billion worth of mortgages and has achieved consistently high customer service scores from its 500,000 customers.
With an impressive background in investment banking at leading financial institutions including Deutsche Bank, UBS and Goldman Sachs, and a spirit of entrepreneurship, Tan brings a desire to harness the power of technology to create a seamless and transformative home buying experience.
In a chat with The Fintech Times, Tan shares his journey, vision for Habito, as well as his plans to disrupt and improve the arduous home buying process.
Tell us a little about you and your career path prior to joining Habito
I started in investment banking and was proud to become one of the youngest vice presidents at Goldman Sachs back in 2001. However, a life-altering event that year changed my perspective. I was in New York the day before September 11 and the next day I witnessed the towers fall from the Goldman Sachs trading floor. It made me reflect on my life and realise that while I’d gone up the career corporate ladder really quick, I felt like something was missing. I wanted to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams.
My parents played a significant role in shaping this spirit. They immigrated from Malaysia to London in 1958, with my father hitchhiking the entire journey with only £20 in his pocket. Their sacrifices and determination to provide me with opportunities, despite limited financial means, inspired me to strive for more.
So, I decided to build a property portfolio and quit investment banking. Over the course of a few years, I amassed a substantial portfolio and gained valuable insights into the mortgage industry.
During that time, I had frequent interactions with mortgage brokers, telling them what to do and how to do it. It made me realise that I had a strong understanding of the mortgage process and the potential to make a difference.
That’s when I decided to set up my own business – The Buy to Let Business – as a mortgage broker in 2006. It started as a one-man band in a small office in Guilford, but through organic growth and a dedicated team, we expanded to become one of the largest mortgage brokers in the UK, with around 200 staff and rebranding to Dynamo.
We were known for our innovative approach, which was not commonly associated with mortgage businesses at the time. We built our own technology to streamline our operations, although it remained relatively unknown since we developed it primarily for our own efficiency.
In 2016, I partially exited the business by selling a portion to Countrywide, a prominent property services company. I continued to grow the business until 2021 when Connells, a large estate agency and property services business in the UK, had an option to acquire us. I ultimately exited the business in May 2021, selling my remaining shares to Connells.
During the past two years, I have been ‘semi-retired’, while investing heavily in advising and mentoring fintech and proptech companies. However, with my daughters reaching school age, I was ready for a new challenge.
What motivated you to join Habito in particular?
I was speaking to Dan [Daniel Hegarty] over a span of six to nine months and the timing was right earlier this year to get involved. I invested heavily in the business, became CEO and it feels like I’ve never left!
I’d wanted to be in a business in which I had some element of control and direction of it, with the backing of various investors and VCs. Habito has an amazing story and is the envy of much of the mortgage industry due to some of the tech that it has built, which is something in my DNA.
Habito has almost double the productivity that most mortgage brokerages have. It shows how the technology is doing a lot of the heavy lifting of the manual tasks and the automation, which hopefully means the brokers can do more cases and get better outcomes for customers. I feel Habito has only scratched the surface of what it can truly do.
How do you envision revolutionising the home buying process through Habito?
The home buying process can often be slow, complex and fragmented. It’s not as straightforward as ordering from Netflix or booking a ride with Uber. Mortgages involve a substantial amount of money, and it’s a multi-step process involving various parties like estate agents, solicitors, valuers, mortgage brokers and banks.
The disjointed nature of these processes is a significant problem that Habito aims to solve by taking ownership of as much of the process as possible. We believe in eliminating the frustrations, such as repeatedly submitting documentation, which is a common issue.
Our platform offers intuitive tools for consumers, automating many of the manual tasks and allowing mortgage brokers to focus on providing personalised advice. The goal is to streamline the experience and provide a seamless journey for our customers.
Expand on how new technologies are shaping Habito’s approach
Technology is at the core of Habito’s approach and we’re always trying to invest in new technologies.
By leveraging technologies like optical character recognition, we aim to simplify the data gathering process and eliminate the need for repetitive information requests.
Technology also enables us to enhance productivity, improve outcomes, and ultimately make the home buying journey more accessible and convenient. It allows the advice process to be done online, digitally, as opposed to 95 per cent of the mortgage brokers in the UK where it’s either face to face or telephone.
Sometimes people mistakenly see Habito as a robo advisor, but it’s not. Think of us more as Iron Man where humans are made faster, stronger, more efficient with the use of technology, as opposed to robots making decisions.
Of course, technology makes us far better and quicker at everything we do. We just want to make the home buying process as easy as possible and I’m massively passionate about how that aligns with the values of Habito.
How do you plan to drive profitability while focusing on innovation?
Profitability is a crucial aspect for any business, including Habito. While innovation remains a key driver for us, we are also committed to achieving positive unit economics and sustainable growth.
One of the big problems we’re seeing in tech right now is that you can get loads of funding, but that funding stops, then you burn out and you’re in trouble.
You need to strike a balance between investing in cutting-edge technologies and ensuring a profitable business model and that’s really my focus and my job. By delivering exceptional customer experiences and improving operational efficiency, we believe we can achieve long-term profitability while continuing to drive innovation in the mortgage industry.
What is your vision for Habito’s future?
We want to continue simplifying and streamlining the home buying process, making it more accessible and efficient for everyone involved. Someone can go from just needing finance, then buying a house, all the way to getting the keys with Habito.
We are currently witnessing significant initiatives focused on data sharing and establishing a common set of criteria throughout the value chain. It requires collective efforts from various entities, including government initiatives, to drive this change.
During my early days at Habito, I’ve been actively fostering collaborative relationships within the industry to achieve this much-needed commonality. It’s important to acknowledge that achieving this goal won’t happen overnight.
We understand the complexity involved. However, there is a noticeable shift in the industry, with technology being ripe for implementation and, more importantly, people being open to adopting these advancements.
We’ve made significant progress over the past 10 years, but there is still a considerable distance to cover, and this drives me on to make a big difference in this industry. That’s one of the major appeals of Habito – considering where we are now and where it could be positioned in time to come.