Sam Boer: Forging Ahead For 2014

by Adam Smith19 Feb 2014
Sam BoerCommonwealth Bank’s general manager of broker sales says the bank remains committed to helping brokers gain efficiency

The past few months have seen some big changes at Commonwealth Bank. Sam Boer, general manager of broker sales, service, cross sell and business productivity improvement, has said the year ahead may see the bank staying the course in its strategy, but that doesn’t mean CBA will be standing still.

One can hardly discuss Commonwealth Bank’s relationship with the mortgage broking channel without discussing Kathy Cummings. Cummings announced in November that she would move on from her role as executive general manager of third party and mobile banking at CBA. Few could dispute Cummings’ influence in the channel, and her decision to move on amounts to the departure of one of the industry’s most high-profile personalities. But Boer said the leadership transition had been a smooth one, largely due to the quality of the team Cummings had in place.

“Kathy’s been in the industry so long, and it’s tremendous the business she’s built and the relationships she’s had in the industry, and the impact both internal and external. So the transition, whilst it was a bit of a change, she’s trained us up well. When I look at the broader team, at the amount of knowledge and industry experience that sits in the third party team at CBA, I believe it’s second to none. So it’s been a pretty seamless transition.”

While Cummings may have moved on, her strategies remain vital to the bank’s goals in 2014, Boer said. Rather than a wholesale rework of strategy, Boer said 2014 would see CBA reviewing and tweaking the way it goes about implementing its strategy.

“We set our strategy a year ago, and strategy doesn’t change just because of a change of leadership. But there are a few tactical changes we can do, and we already have a number of those things in the pipeline.”

And this doesn’t mean the bank will remain stagnant, Boer said. He mooted a number of initiatives CBA planned to launch in the year ahead that he said would deliver benefits to the broker channel.

“We have a number of initiatives in 2014 that – when they come online – I think the broker market will see as a refreshing change. I don’t want to give away all our trade secrets, but we have a few game changers as well, which I think will take our broker partnership model to another level,” Boer said.

“We’re really excited about the opportunities in front of us, and showing both the bank and the market that we have a lot more to offer the industry.”

One of the key strategies that will remain in place, Boer said, is the drive towards greater productivity in the channel. Boer said productivity remained an important goal for the bank, though he conceded it could be a contentious subject.

“I’ve been talking to brokers for some time now about the productivity challenge, and I still believe that’s the biggest challenge facing the industry,” Boer said. “Now, some people when they hear that will probably say, ‘Here we go again’. But what we’ve seen – and we’ve learned a lot from our industry workshops with our broker partners – is that there’s clearly an underinvestment in process excellence. There’s still a lot of waste in the system.”

Boer said he realised many brokers chafed at the idea of being told they weren’t working as efficiently as they could be. But for Boer the productivity challenge is not about finger-pointing. “I think it’s been a bit of a blame thing.

Whenever you start talking about process efficiency, banks are quick to point the finger at brokers and vice versa. I’m not interested in that. Instead, let’s all get on the same page as to where the opportunities are, because I believe if we can improve it helps brokers improve.”

While processing efficiency may be a sore spot for the channel, Boer argued that the statistics bore out the need for improvement.

“The facts are that as a channel we still have the lowest straight-through processing rate. That’s a fact, and we have the data to prove that. We really need to close that gap, and I think there are things that we can do, and we will do them and we are absolutely committed to that,” he said.

And banks are by no means immune to productivity challenges of their own, Boer said. He argued that CBA had its own shortfalls, and was working to do its part in the drive for greater efficiency.

“We’re investing heavily in our own business improvement projects, so we know where we’re deficient in our operations and where things fall over, and we’re also committed to getting that fixed. That in turn flows down the line to brokers,” he said.

The productivity challenge, then, applies to both banks and brokers, Boer said. Furthermore, solving the challenge is in the best interests of both parties. “Brokers want to be out seeing more clients. I don’t want them spending their day on the phone to us chasing up files.”

Boer said brokers of all sizes and business types could benefit from process efficiency.

“I realise that every broker’s business is different. We have some operators who are very diversified, and then we have some more monoline guys who are going very gung-ho and writing as many home loans as they can, and then we have some on the retirement end of things who are probably managing their existing customer base, writing loans here and there but don’t want to set the world on fire. I still believe that for each and every one of those different types of operations, efficiency is the key. We all want to make more money. A lot of time we see people spending time on low value-add activities when they could be out seeing more customers,” he said.

For its part, Boer said Commonwealth Bank was working to identify logical areas where it could help brokers spend less time on paperwork and more time seeing clients.

“Some of it is simple things, like the printing of documents in the broker’s office. Anything we can do to reduce the amount of time that documents are out to the customer is going to be a win-win for everyone. And we are expanding our print-doc capabilities. That’s a major initiative we’ll be rolling out.”

Boer also said the bank listened to feedback from its third party partners, and looked to take action accordingly.

“It’s about sitting down with our business partners, finding out what their concerns are and then implementing changes.” And Boer said the bank remained committed to helping brokers grow their businesses in the year ahead.

“We are committed to making sure that we are still investing in our learning systems, training, PD days and the like to give brokers as much information as possible from the experts around the business so they are fully equipped to have the best conversations they can with their customers and set themselves apart from their competitors.”