Primed for change

by Victoria Ticha 02 Mar 2020

Almost two years after the lender’s private equity acquisition and split from its UK parent, Bluestone’s CEO Campbell Smyth reflects on the many milestones the business has achieved in quick succession, with one eye always on what’s to come

In April 2020, it will have been two years since Bluestone APAC split from its UK-based parent, Bluestone Group. As APAC CEO, I took our private equity acquisition as a heartening signal of the value Cerberus Capital Management saw in our existing operations, as well as a clear mandate for building our business into a strong, independent player in the Australian and New Zealand mortgage markets.

Looking back today, I could not be prouder of what we have achieved in such quick succession. I believe it’s fair to say that the Bluestone I lead today is unrecognisable from the Bluestone I joined almost nine years ago.

Once a specialist lender catering exclusively to credit-impaired borrowers, over the past two years we established ourselves in the near prime space before launching into prime lending in late 2019. We are now a home loan specialist that can cater to the needs of borrowers across the entire credit curve.

Striking while the iron is hot

There is a lot that goes into building a successful and profi table business, but I believe one of the most important things I have learned as CEO is to listen to the market and take opportunities when they come.

We have seen signifi cant change and even upheaval in the Australian housing market over the last few years, stemming from regulatory scrutiny, international funding conditions and domestically unstable property values. These conditions created a signifi cant opportunity for the non-bank sector, but also carried notable risks.

At Bluestone, we took considerable care during this time to develop our products in line with market needs, while pulling back from some areas we were traditionally known for. As a result, our growth signifi cantly outpaced others’ in the market as we expanded our presence in near prime and prime lending.

Becoming the lender for all

As we started to expand into a broader loan offering, it was important for us to maintain a consistent service proposition and identity in the market. Even as our primary customer segments moved up the credit curve, I was always very clear that Bluestone should be known as a flexible home loan provider with realistic solutions for borrowers who might not fit traditional lending boxes.

If the old Bluestone’s niche was specialist lending, I want today’s Bluestone’s niche to be home loans. In 2020 and beyond, I want to keep growing Bluestone’s capability to be the one lender that can provide home loans to all kinds of borrowers, whether they are buying to occupy or invest, have clear credit or not, and regardless of whether they draw income from their own business or from some form of permanent or casual employment set-up.

Customer is king

To become that lender, one of our most important projects in 2019 was the launch of our new product suite, which we successfully achieved in early November. During the development phase, our priority was to use the needs of our brokers and borrowers as the key driving force for every decision we made. The feedback we received from our broker advisory panel was instrumental to creating the home loan suite we ultimately released to the market.

The result is a product set that is far simpler and more aligned to market needs than we have ever offered before. I had the pleasure of attending some of our early launch workshops in Sydney and Melbourne to personally introduce our new products and was thrilled to see the warm welcome we received from our brokers. This sentiment has since translated to the bottom line, as we’ve witnessed an immediate uptick in volumes across the country.

As our volumes grow, it is still of the highest importance to me and the rest of Bluestone’s leadership to keep our brokers and customers at the heart of everything we do. To this end, we welcomed James Angus in the newly created role of chief customer officer in late 2019. His focus will be on guiding Bluestone’s transition into a wholly broker- and customer-centric organisation. 

Putting money where the mouth is

To ensure we would reach this goal, a decision our executive team made was to implement clear KPIs for all teams across Bluestone in relation to broker and customer satisfaction. Since the start of the third quarter of the current financial year, a minimum of 15% of the scorecard of every team from sales to IT will relate to broker and customer experience. The goal is to ensure that every employee at Bluestone will feel they have a personal and direct stake in ensuring our service delivery is the best it can be.

Alongside this initiative, we have launched regular NPS surveys for our Australian brokers and are planning to roll these out to customers as well as the New Zealand market over 2020. In our commitment to complete transparency to the market, we were extremely pleased to share our first NPS score of 42 in November; however, we want to stress that this first result will be used merely as a baseline to measure ourselves against as we progress.

Always one eye towards the future

Of course, looking to the rest of 2020 we have no intention of slowing down. Continuous growth and evolution have become the new normal at Bluestone. New exciting product innovations are already in development, and we are working hard to ensure our service delivery will continue to become faster, more consistent, and more convenient. To this end, we are pleased to announce the launch of no-cost standard upfront valuations for select customers via CoreLogic’s PropertyHub platform.

I’m also excited to go on the road again to meet more of our brokers. Under the banner ‘Thriving in Changing Times’, Bluestone held roadshows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in early February. At these events we will share some of our insights and those of other leading minds in the industry on how brokers can respond to changing market conditions to build strong, successful businesses.

The last two years at Bluestone have been a journey of ongoing change and growth both for the company and for me personally as its head. I am extremely grateful for the support we have received from our brokers throughout this time, and can’t wait to share with you all what we have in store for you in 2020.