Embracing the unknown

by AB29 Jan 2019

Brendan O’Donnell, managing director of Liberty Network Services, advises brokers how to navigate uncertainty

For Liberty Network Services, 2018 was a year that defied the odds.

While a slowdown in loan approvals across the major and second-tier banks caused credit to crunch, specialist and non-bank lenders like Liberty Financial posted some impressive results.

In the 12 months to December, 146 Liberty advisers facilitated double-digit growth across motor, commercial, SMSF and credit insurance settlements (see boxout), thanks to a fresh approach to troubled times and a commitment to diversification.

“Our advisers are passionate about helping more customers ‘get financial’, and Liberty provides the breadth and depth of products and solutions to enable this,” says managing director Brendan O’Donnell.

“Being a Liberty adviser provides opportunity to focus beyond mortgages and offer a broader range of products, solutions and services to help customers, as highlighted in the year-on-year growth figures.”

The impressive milestones were achieved against a backdrop of unprecedented challenges. However, the year ahead will see the company’s focus turn to the opportunities that naturally arise from such events.

O’Donnell shares his advice on how brokers can succeed in a changing – and challenging – environment. “Now more than ever, brokers need to demonstrate and reinforce the exceptional service they provide customers,” he says.

“Every survey commissioned in our industry over the past 10 years clearly shows that brokers provide superior service to that of traditional bank branches. Brokers cannot afford to be complacent, and they need to ensure that every customer they help walks away with an exceptional experience.”

In practical terms, O’Donnell says this demands that time is invested in listening and understanding customer objectives. Brokers must remain proactive and professional, and ensure their work results in good customer outcomes.

To achieve these results, there are several key skills that the coming 12 months will demand, with respect to compliance, management and communication.

“Brokers should refresh their knowledge on NCCP, ensuring they fully understand their responsible lending obligations,” O’Donnell explains. “They must also understand and embrace the Combined Industry Forum changes that came into effect this January.”

When it comes to management, planning remains of the essence. O’Donnell reminds brokers that, first and foremost, they have entrepreneurial obligations to fulfil in order to keep their business afloat.

“Time management remains a key challenge for most entrepreneurs and small business operators. Plan more and stick to the plan. To do this it’s important brokers have a coach to keep them honest with themselves,” he says.

Finally, effective communication remains paramount. In the most basic form, this means brokers must focus on listening and capturing their customers’ objectives, while also learning to leverage multiple channels of communication simultaneously, both digital and analogue.

“Brokers should avoid being prisoners of their own experience and embrace the rapidly changing world we live in. Embrace new technologies and ways of doing things,” he says.
 

The digital broker

It isn’t the first time O’Donnell has imparted such advice.

Technology is a core principle of Liberty Network Services. Since inception the aggregator has been a force for innovation in the fintech space, not least through its award-winning, end-to-end broker platform Spark.

“Brokers should avoid being prisoners of their own experience and embrace the rapidly changing world we live in. Embrace new technologies and ways of doing things,” he says.

“Brokers should avoid being prisoners of their own experience and embrace the rapidly changing world we live in” Brendan O’Donnell, MD, Liberty Network Services

The launch of Spark made Liberty one of the first to move away from traditional, web-based platforms – a move that has since inspired many to follow. Introduced to the market in 2012, Spark has supported better customer and broker outcomes, as well as diversification and modernisation of the broker channel.

In 2018 a new feature was added called ‘MAY’, or ‘more about you’. Designed to enable customers to self-serve, it narrows the gap between adviser and client, allowing information to be gathered efficiently, while reducing time burdens on all parties.

“Our mobile platform Spark is cutting-edge and a fintech solution that enables advisers to engage with customers and prospects in a seamless and efficient way. Our agile approach is paying dividends as our data scientists, developers and product owners work closely with advisers to ensure good customer outcomes,” says O’Donnell.

The innovations don’t end there.

Urging brokers to embrace “all things digital”, O’Donnell has been a vocal advocate of online and mobile marketing for many years, and today the Liberty digital marketing store has more than 150 customisable tools to support its advisers.

The aggregator also contributes dollar-for-dollar support for local marketing actions and supports its network with lead generation from social and digital platforms, allocating more than 5,000 leads in the first six months of the current financial year.

The efforts are coordinated by an in-house marketing team and supported by the customer appreciation program (CAP), which commences with a customer survey, followed by a gift after every settlement.

It’s not just the brokers who are happy; more than 300 positive testimonials have been generated over the last six months alone.

“While we have exceptional technology and constantly seek ways to work smarter, digitise and streamline processes for advisers, we recognise that nothing replaces local face-to-face support, coaching and mentorship. We pride ourselves on ensuring that we have no more than 25 advisers per network sales manager,” O’Donnell says.

Pillars of success

According to O’Donnell, the key to the network’s success is the unique value proposition it offers, as detailed in a growing list of key pillars that define the direction of the business.

At the core, this list comprises economics, technology, diversification, marketing and high-touch processes.

Last year saw the addition of agility, placing emphasis on proactive support and quick response times.

This is facilitated by operational and productivity data that is captured and analysed in Spark to highlight how and where adviser efforts are being spent and the returns they are generating.

The seventh pillar is compliance.

An essential part of company culture since the beginning, this year it has been formally recognised as a pillar. Topical to say the least, in practical terms it encompasses just as much of what has happened over recent years as the unknowns that lie ahead.

“Integral to our culture is ensuring good customer outcomes at all times. We are fortunate with our agile approach and progressive technology that we are able to adapt to any new requirements emerging from regulatory or industry bodies,” O’Donnell explains.

“We have implemented CIF recommended changes across our credit guides, customer engagement processes and registers, and we are well positioned to meet any further requirements that may emerge from regulators following the royal commission.”

As the industry prepares to weather its next potential storm, the focus for Liberty Network Services will remain on providing the solutions – and service – that others cannot.

Reflecting on figures from the last year, as many as one in five settled loans fall into Liberty’s custom category, and as many more borrowers struggle to secure finance, that number looks likely to grow.

 However, for O’Donnell, a slowdown in mainstream credit is only the start of what’s to come, and brokers must position themselves now to fully capitalise on the opportunities that will emerge.

“With a softening property market and more volatile markets globally and locally,” he says, “brokers need to proactively help their customers navigate these uncertain times.”