There's no denying the pressure that banks are under atthe moment, with questions being asked and enquiries being launched from all corners – customers, businesses and politicians alike. In fact, lenders have been so inundated in recent weeks that according to reports they are fielding as many enquiries in one week as they usually handle over the course of a year.
Angus Sullivan, group executive, retail banking services at Commonwealth Bank, says finding ways to facilitate swift turnaround times and process client enquiries as quickly as possible has become its key focus.
“The coronavirus pandemic presents a challenge like no other, and our Australian-based call centres are open for business and processing applications,” Sullivan says.
“We have processed approximately 80,000 requests from customers to defer their home loan repayments as at 27 April. While we continue to receive ongoing and significant demand from customers experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus, our investment in people and technology has allowed us to respond, while also maintaining our industry-leading end-to-end application processing and turnaround times.”
The bank is committed to “doing whatever we can to help customers who are worried about the immediate future and still navigating the home buying journey”, Sullivan adds – but it is also paying attention to the needs of its staff, to make sure they’re coping in a high-pressure environment that often involves stressful conversations with anxious customers.
“Our people are having to navigate complex conversations with our customers; however, they are particularly skilled and highly trained at managing these, especially those who are dealing with financial hardship situations,” Sullivan says.
“Our people are having to navigate complex conversations with our customers ... especially those who are dealing with financial hardship situations”
“We understand that these are difficult times for our customers and also our people, and we’re very proud of how our employees have responded during these unprecedented circumstances to support our customers when they need us most.
“To support our people, we offer a range of health and wellbeing resources. These include a free and confidential counselling and coaching service available to employees and their families, provided by a team of qualified professionals who have experience in wellbeing coaching and counselling.”
An interesting dynamic is that many CommBank staff are also customers of the bank, which means they may need to access some of the assistance packages that have been rolled out to support financial wellbeing.
The bank’s latest offering, Home Loan Compassionate Care, is one such product (see boxout below). Designed to help homeowners cope in a time of genuine stress, it is “a first for Australians”, Sullivan explains.
“We know that mortgage repayments are the single biggest financial commitment for Australian homeowners, so we announced in February that we would support our customers by making their home loan repayments for around 12 months at no cost to the customer, if an eligible borrower, their spouse or dependant passes away or is medically certified with a terminal illness,” he says.
“We’re proud that together with AIA we have been able to deliver this for new home loan customers and will be making it available to our existing customers at no cost, to thank them for their loyalty.”
CommBank is also pleased to continue working with a number of first home buyers.
Despite property market conditions and the general economy being so uncertain, there are plenty of people who have been saving for a deposit and, up until very recently, had been planning to buy their first home.
The First Home Loan Deposit Scheme – which provides a government guarantee that allows first-timers to enter the property market with a deposit of as little as 5% of the purchase price – is still in play, and Sullivan confirms the bank is still seeing strong borrower appetite from first-time buyers.
“As Australia’s largest lender, we help more Australians buy their first home than any other bank, and it’s exciting that we can help get more first home buyers into the market under the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme,” he says.
“Since the scheme launched on 1 January, 1,000 Australians have purchased a property with CommBank. In addition, CBA has helped a further 2,400 customers secure a place under the scheme through our home loan channels, including brokers.”
The bank also announced at the beginning of April that customers who had reserved a place under the scheme but had not yet found a property could now request an extension of the deadline to find one, which would give them additional peace of mind during this difficult period.
Another new product the bank has launched to assist its customers during this time of heightened anxiety is CommVal, a valuations platform that aims to improve the customer and broker experience around valuation ordering.
“We have been investing heavily in our valuation infrastructure with the launch of our CommVal platform, and we will continue to invest in technology, including using more of our proprietary property data to improve the quality and frequency of internal decisions, deliver faster turnaround times when an external valuation is required, and provide better visibility and tracking of the valuation request for the broker,” Sullivan says.
“I want to personally thank all of our broker partners for their support, as we recognise the importance of a strong mortgage broking channel”
This is all part of CommBank’s overarching strategy to streamline processes and communications with brokers, to ensure they have the smoothest possible experience and achieve optimal outcomes for their clients.
“We provide our brokers with support, expertise and convenience through a dedicated team of relationship managers and our Broker Support Hub, and we’re investing in technology through our CommBroker website, a full-service online support hub for our broker partners where they can access CommVal, Application Status Tracker, policy, tools and calculators all designed to help them deliver the best customer outcomes,” Sullivan says.
“We’ve also invested in people and systems to help us deliver market-leading turnaround times and processing through our dedicated assessment teams and Australian-based call centres to ensure we’re providing fast, consistent decisions.”
To that end, Sullivan says CommBank remains committed to the broker channel and recognises the important role that brokers play in helping to meet its customers’ complex home buying needs.
“In addition to support for customers experiencing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including deferring home loan repayments for six months, I am proud that brokers can count on CommBank to help them and their customers achieve the best outcomes,” he says.
“This includes industry-leading turnaround times and refinance decisions; competitive products, including our lowest-ever advertised rate of 2.29% for customers considering fixing some or all of their variable rate mortgage to a one-, two- or three-year term (owner-occupied, paying principal and interest on a Wealth Package); and $2,000 cashback when customers switch their eligible home loan to CommBank.”
Providing such optimal outcomes to clients wouldn’t be possible without the support and leverage of brokers, Sullivan says.
“I want to personally thank all of our broker partners for their support, as we recognise the importance of a strong mortgage broking channel and welcome any feedback on where we can do better.”