The next frontier

by AB22 Aug 2018

Suncorp’s head of bank intermediaries Mark Vilo, explains the three point strategy that will redefine the group’s broker partnerships

The world of business and finance are not without their challenges. At the mercy of global markets, political point scoring and regulatory scrutiny, the industry – as well as the brokers who keep it alive – have had a tough few years. Unfortunately, things are unlikely to improve any time soon.

For Mark Vilo, head of bank intermediaries at Suncorp, the challenges presented by the current climate range from more rigorous application processes to ongoing threats to remuneration and, one of the greatest concerns of all, the unknowns that lie ahead.

Helping brokers to not only weather the ongoing storm but thrive despite it, Suncorp is executing a three-point strategy that spans partnerships, diversification and education.

“We have reflected as an organisation and seen that education is the next frontier for broker businesses. We have the capability within Suncorp to reach and utilise the talent we have in-house to help brokers,” says Vilo.

“We are using education as a key strategic approach, and it’s not just around learning but how we engage with our associations. It’s almost like a multipronged focus we have.”

The first step towards boosting professional development is to build on the power of partnerships by focusing on aggregator and broker partners and restructuring the BDM teams that support them. For example, phone-based BDM support now dovetails with traditional face-to-face interactions to keep Suncorp front of mind.

To encourage diversification, brokers are supported in their transition into commercial, small business and even insurance broking. Finally, education ties all three avenues together.

Suncorp’s Learning Campus is the product of examining existing vendor relationships within the group and leveraging those to pull together the hundreds of broker professional development opportunities in the marketplace. To date, Suncorp has identified seven vendors with 25 different learning opportunities and more than 450 different modules. It is now working with each to fill the educational gaps that naturally occur in a free and competitive market, with a focus on building brokers’ core, soft and auxiliary skills.

“We have structured it from a bank point of view to be really focused at the aggregator level. As a partner we are not so obtuse as to think we know everything; we want them to work with us in partnership and for them to tell us what they think they need and we will look for a solution for them,” Vilo explains.

Recently, Suncorp collaborated with Aussie Home Loans, touring Australia to meet their new brokers and talk about good customer conversations. This work is supported by further partnerships with the Australian Institute of Management and ongoing work with Kaplan, as well as a subsidy scheme for brokers wishing to complete their Certificate IV, and initiatives such as online courses in business and leadership skills.

“We are really advocating this opportunity. We know that, as Suncorp, we have a really important role to play, and we are making headway in that,” Vilo says.

“Naturally, as we progress over the next few years, it will be great to have a focus on additional education, as we have already seen in the financial planning space.”

Creative synergy

The mission to address gaps across multiple learning platforms and programs is one that few in the industry are positioned to take on, and for Suncorp to champion the cause marks a fresh approach to the lender’s role in the marketplace.

Continuing this message, Suncorp’s Sunrise Series of national PD events is fully focused on what brokers want and need to know, rather than taking the opportunity to push a corporate message. Each event delivers essential skills and knowledge, with high-touch interactivity as opposed to traditional learning techniques.

For example, the most recent event – held in Sydney in August – starred award-winning documentary maker and Body Hack creator Todd Sampson, who inspired the audience with stories of how he has worked to overcome challenges.

The rest of the event saw three Suncorp CEOs, from lending, marketplace and insurance, debate their market observations, as well as a session, ‘Innovation in Action’, that was developed in direct response to feedback from previous events and took a speed-learning approach, with 12 speakers on 12 tables, each tackling a different topic.

“Brokers need to have skills around good client conversations, and even though most think they do, they should and can always continue to learn. I find that when I attend these programs, I’m always learning myself,” Vilo says.

“Brokers should also be aware of their obligations around responsible lending and making sure they understand the additional information on living expenses. There is more rigour involved now, and I think the expectation is that we are looking at brokers to be more involved and integrated in the process.”

Smaller events are held in Suncorp’s Discovery Store on Sydney’s Pitt Street. A space for partners and customers alike, the store has been used to host client meetings, broker training and aggregator events, and even events involving reality TV contestants.

“We ran an event called Option Advantage featuring contestants from The Block. We had a buyer’s advocate and a real estate agent and we got brokers to bring their clients in so they could actually understand the buying process,” Vilo says.

Suncorp’s approach has provided a boost to its loan book as well as the number of brokers the lender works with. Just under 70% of business is derived from the broker channel. “We have had a very good year in terms of growth in our business, and the model we have in place has helped to drive greater impact,” Vilo says.

“We have done a lot more campaign work, not just rate campaigns but different ideas to bring to brokers to get them interested in talking to Suncorp. Whether that’s through retention initiatives or new processes, we always look for new ideas and we will continue to do that.”

Looking ahead

For Vilo there are three things that will define the rest of 2018. Firstly, he says aggregator and broker technology will support greater efficiency and connectivity. Secondly, he believes responsible lending will continue to define the space.

“It’s not about being tough; it’s about being appropriate for what the industry requires,” Vilo says. “Brokers need to ask customers for more comprehensive information – that will become the new norm.

Brokers will have to fully understand the facts around the customer and their credit situation, have conviction when lodging their application, and be prepared to support it and discuss it with the lender.”

The final piece of the puzzle is collaboration.

Praising recent initiatives of the MFAA and FBAA, Vilo says their work over the last year has been “outstanding”, with specific reference to the FBAA’s training around small business lending and the MFAA’s ‘Your Broker Behind You’ campaign.

“There is a strong advocacy for brokers, and I think from a collaboration point of view the CIF has also done some really good work to set our future direction and self-regulate. That takes us to a place where we are really striving towards better customer outcomes.”

Vilo sees a strong future ahead for brokers, who he advises to focus on “practices, policies and processes”.

“We are seeing brokers and their businesses going from strength to strength,” he says. “There is a real resilience and can-do attitude in the market, and there is a real optimism that I have seen in the last few months, despite the challenges.”