As Smartline prepares to welcome 30 new franchisees by mid-2019, Australian Broker catches up with CEO, Sam Boer
It’s been a busy 18 months for Smartline. In July 2017, real estate heavyweight REA Group bought an 80% share of the business, strengthening its presence in Australia’s $400bn home loan market.
REA isn’t the first or only company to combine property and finance. However, recognising brokers as a key inroad, the Smartline deal was a smart move indeed, giving access to a nationwide network of 400 loan writers and over 300 franchisees.
In July, a re-energised Smartline announced that CBA’s former GM of broker distribution had been appointed CEO, effective from August. A specialist in broker distribution, Sam Boer’s remit is to “lead Smartline into a new era of broking”, one that will be shaped by the royal commission, new lending policies and a heavier focus on using technology to promote efficiency and productivity.
“We are already in the new era. We have to be more accountable for what we do, and clearly the one thing that has come out of the royal commission is that, first and foremost, we have obligations to our clients as well as to the suppliers we use,” Boer says.
In part, Boer will focus on increasing efficiency in processes and identifying where time – and money – can be saved through outsourcing and automation. Elsewhere, he will examine how the quality of broker and client relationships can be improved.
“At the end of the day, there will be some form of legislative benchmark change ahead but, from my view, that’s the minimum baseline for us,” Boer says. “We then look at that and think how do we differentiate ourselves and how far do we go in setting the standards for ourselves and our business?”
A case of compliance
Hand in hand, investments are being made in an internal compliance program combining technology, culture, leadership and training, as well as processes. This will be spearheaded by a new team, soon to be recruited.
While the backdrop of new owners and new leadership has clearly influenced the current strategy, the impact of the royal commission cannot be underestimated.
In November, Boer attended his first PD day as CEO, and his message to brokers was clear: “Now is the time to get your house in order. While the market is a little softer, do your spring cleaning, make sure your processes are solid, and then formulate a plan for the future.” he said.
“Let’s not get stuck and let fear hold us back, which I think is the natural response when there is so much uncertainty. Let’s use this to stay above the line and ask the question of how do we capitalise and how do we set up? So when the market returns and improves we are really fit to do good business.”
Time for growth
Preparations for that time also include a franchise network expansion building on the current network with an additional 30 franchisees by the end of June 2019.
Opportunities will exist for both new and established brokers, with support available in loan writing, marketing and lead gen, internal mentoring and coaching schemes.
“We are in the business of producing successful franchisees – they win, we win. So we don’t rack, stack and pack with just throwing anyone in and hoping they succeed. We bring people in who are very selectively chosen to ensure they succeed,” says Boer. “I have the opportunity now to take that forward. That’s the exciting part for me.”
Boer is also reviewing the lending panel with a view to expanding the line-up to support broker diversification into such areas as asset finance and personal lending.
As if that wasn’t enough, 2019 marks Smartline’s 20th anniversary. “I think 2019 will be a great year. It’ll be about acknowledging the whole legacy of Smartline, our history and culture. Everyone here has such a strong sense of belonging, and it’s a fantastic environment; that means people stay with us,” Boer says.
“I’m looking forward to next year in terms of how we recognise that and how we preserve it as we move forward, while leveraging the assets and strengths that being part of REA will undoubtedly bring to the party.”