When it comes to embracing technology, the mortgage and property industries are at the forefront of an entire new way of doing business.
It’s no longer breaking news that the industry has pivoted in a major way since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: the rate of technological change has been seismic, with the majority of banks and lenders either adopting or moving towards digital VOI and e-signatures.
“The fact is, the stress, uncertainty and longevity of buying and selling property are just products of an outdated yet somehow accepted system” Robert Hoban, co-founder and CEO, Offr
This comes off the back of a gradual shift over the last dozen years or so, in which programs and platforms like DocuSign and Ezidox have made the process of compiling paperwork and getting documents signed much more streamlined.
But there are also a number of other ways in which real estate – and surrounding industries, such as financial services, broking, accounting and legal – are embracing digital change.
For years, or perhaps even decades, the ability of those in the industry to serve with agility and to pivot direction and respond swiftly to opportunities and threats has been hamstrung by legacy systems that may have been the peak of efficiency and productivity 20 years ago but have failed to move with the times.
Now there are multiple businesses emerging that are taking advantage of technological advances to streamline the way we do business. One such example is Offr, a prop-tech platform that aims to digitise the buying, selling and leasing process for real estate agents and buyers. In August, Offr announced that it had raised $4.9m in seed funding led by Barclays in the UK.
Launched around a year ago with a goal to enable people to buy, sell, lease or rent a property with one click, Offr enables fast, digital property transactions, from offer to exchange, on any device, at any time and from anywhere in the world.
Property transactions have traditionally been restricted and weighed down by cumbersome paperwork, with no simple, fast and secure way of buying properties cross-border available. Offr co-founder and CEO Robert Hoban, who has two decades of experience in buying and selling commercial and residential properties, says the platform aims to change this by making property trading possible to largely online, even internationally.
Hoban, who says the platform digitises over 85% of the process of buying and selling property for agents and their customers, launched Offr in the second half of 2019 and says he didn’t expect such fast growth; however, COVID-19 “changed the landscape completely”.
Robert Hoban, co-founder and CEO, Offr
“It closed off real estate, so we’re bringing it online. I expected we’d be where we are today in five years’ time,” he says.
“We built Offr with a clear and simple goal: to change the way property is bought and sold, to make it faster, more transparent and more enjoyable for real estate agents, buyers and everyone else involved in the process. The fact is, the stress, uncertainty and longevity of buying and selling property are just products of an outdated yet somehow accepted system, so we made it our goal to address these problems.”
Another example is the online property exchange network Property Exchange Australia (PEXA), which is part-owned by Commonwealth Bank.
First launched in 2011, the network has bolstered the capabilities of its digital conveyancing platform in recent years. CommBank CEO Matt Comyn has said the lender’s involvement as “a key stakeholder in PEXA since its inception” represents its “continued commitment to support the property industry as it transitions towards an innovative, fully digital settlements process that aims to provide improved experiences for customers”.
With so much change, how are brokers and their borrower clients adapting and embracing it?
The pandemic has forced banks and lenders to adopt digital ways of doing business far more quickly than in the past, but some are arguing that they were behind the eight ball and could have moved forward sooner.
“Who’d have known how much more efficient it is to see a client via Zoom? And to be able to do it in Ugg boots? A revelation! Why didn’t I do this earlier? No idea” Kirsty Dunphey, director and mortgage broker, Up Home Loans
That said, Kirsty Dunphey, director and mortgage broker at Up Home Loans, isn’t quick to point the blame without self-reflecting first.
Kirsty Dunphey, director and mortgage broker, Up Home Loans
“If I said I found it frustrating that the banks took so long to evolve, I’d also have to look inwards and say that I was frustrated with myself on the take-up of things that we were forced into with the pandemic – so instead, I’m just grateful for the changes that have come about that have made my life easier through this,” she says.
“Who’d have known how much more efficient it is to see a client via Zoom? And to be able to do it in Ugg boots? A revelation! Why didn’t I do this earlier? No idea. I would stumble through phone or FaceTime appointments and as soon as we went to work-from-home mode, I had Zoom running as part of our process immediately.”
Dunphey adds that the pivot to working from home has also turned out to be hugely beneficial to her business.
“Why was I so scared about letting my employees work from home when it turns out that many were just as if not more productive from home, with some [of my team members] saving significant travel time, which leds to them putting in some extra time just because they weren’t stuck in traffic?” she says.
“Every time I get frustrated at anything this pandemic has caused, I try to find the counterbalance. Yes, there’s a lack of travel freedom, but there’s also an opportunity to finally explore my home state in depth. Home schooling has become an opportunity to see the bond between my two daughters grow even stronger. We’re all pivoting every day right now, and it’s hard and it’s challenging, but pointing the blame at banks isn’t the answer, and I’m just glad so many of them adapted so quickly to this new way of life.”
Looking ahead, Dunphey believes there are plenty of opportunities to innovate and evolve further, with many areas of the business still open to being streamlined or evolved from a tech point of view.
“We’re seeing the big Australian banks invest in fintechs both domestically and internationally, in order to move their own capabilities forward” Ian Pollari, global co-leader of fintech, KPMG International
“I hope for further streamlining of non-face-to-face identification and a one-size-fits-all method that every bank adopts, rather than needing IDyou for some, screen prints with one piece of ID for others, two pieces of ID for others still – the list goes on,” she says.
“I’d also like to see DocuSign or electronic signatures accepted on every lender form for ease. So many of my clients struggle to find a printer, especially when working from home.
“And I’d also love to see lenders all work towards the same sort of technology that some of the new lenders like 86 400 seem to be implementing to speed up assessment. With workforce interruptions, the speed of assessment right now is what I find the most frustrating. It’s understandable but frustrating, and if we could use technology to speed that up it would be amazing.”
While 2020 has seen an epic rate of change when it comes to digital innovation, there will certainly be more to come, adds Ian Pollari, global co-leader of fintech at KPMG International, as many existing financial institutions invest in more tech-savvy ways going forward.
Ian Pollari, global co-leader of fintech, KPMG International
“We’re going to see [banks] around the world seriously reconsider their technology stacks and how future-proof they are. This is going to include looking at their core banking and origination systems in the context of their overall strategy so that they can readily compete – with digital banks and emerging partnerships involving big techs and other scale providers,” he says.
“2019 has been a record year for fintech investment in Australia. We’ve seen some strong IPO activity from a diverse range of companies, like online lender Prospa, B2B fintech Tyro Payments, and consumer credit business MoneyMe ... But it’s not just fintechs driving change here. We’re also seeing the big Australian banks invest in fintechs both domestically and internationally in order to move their own capabilities forward.”