By Robyn Molloy
Aussie Home Loans expects to roll out “ambitious growth plans” later in the year as the home loan provider and mortgage broker regroups from the banking royal commission and softer lending conditions.
CEO James Symond, who’s been with Aussie since he was 19 when it was a start-up in 1992, shares his thoughts on how the company has navigated the difficult period and why there has never been a better time to be a mortgage broker in this Q&A with BP Digital.
How important was the banking Royal Commission for the industry?
Aussie supported the important work the Royal Commission undertook and we hope it will help to restore trust, strengthen confidence and improve the practices of all aspects of the financial system in Australia. When it comes to implementing the recommendations, care needs to be taken to ensure customers are not negatively impacted. We’ve already seen the Government reject some of the recommendations.
What did it mean for Aussie?
The recommendations to move to a consumer pays broker model and scrap commissions could have really hurt the mortgage broking industry and in turn, the customers and communities it supports.
After a very strong campaign by our industry, the Federal Government announced that it would not implement a consumer pays model and that it will preserve the current commission structure for at least the next three years.
This was the right outcome. We believe the current commission structure strikes a balance between good customer outcomes, preserving competition in home lending and maintaining our thriving mortgage broking industry.
What lies ahead next financial year?
We certainly have ambitious growth plans for our network nationally. We’re hosting our biennial national conference in August, and it is perfectly timed for our brokers and franchisees to regroup, refocus and really arm themselves with the thinking, skills and techniques they need to take their businesses to the next level.
They will also be the first to hear our new strategy and see the exciting evolution our brand will embark on over the coming months and years, so watch this space.
How did you keep everyone motivated?
We activated a comprehensive communications program to keep our team members, franchisees, brokers and business partners close and fully informed about our strategy, including our extensive engagement with politicians and our industry body.
But this wasn’t just one-way. Our entire network was galvanised and played a crucial role engaging and educating their local MPs. In just over three months, we held over 120 meetings with local MPs, candidates and influencers at all levels to ensure the value of mortgage brokers was heard loud and clear, and importantly, understood.
What impact did it have on everyone in the business?
The recommendations were tough for us all. Our franchisees and brokers are small business owners who employ hundreds of people in their communities and support many local organisations through sponsorship. They help tens of thousands of customers find a new or better deal on the home loan every year. The recommendations, if they had been endorsed by the government and implemented in full, could have been catastrophic to the industry.
However, the right outcome was achieved and I honestly believe there has never been a better time to be a mortgage broker. Right here, right now, the future is what we make of it and it’s incredibly exciting.
What impact did it have on customer perception?
Our customers are our most avid supporters. They see, feel and experience the value of the service their Aussie Broker provides, and this is reflected in our strong net promoter scores and customer feedback.
Is the outlook brighter now, in light of the Federal election?
No matter your political view, the re-election of the Morrison Government was a great outcome for our customers and the industry. There is now significant opportunity on our doorstep. History tells us, and we’ve already seen in the weeks since the election, that consumer confidence and the property market bounce back in the weeks following an election.
Can you recall another difficult time the industry has gone through?
Our industry has faced challenges before, and I’m sure this won’t be the last. The GFC was probably one of the biggest.
What impact has the uncertain times had on Aussie’s bottom line this FY?
The softer conditions in the lending and property markets have affected many in the industry, but we’re still running a strong and profitable business.History shows that businesses often pull back investments in tighter times however we like to push harder.
We have been making significant investments to ensure our brokers have the tools and resources they need to support our customers and grow their businesses. We have a serious investment spend rolling out to build a safer, stronger, future Aussie. This investment will ensure Aussie is “match fit” for our next 27 years, and beyond.
Has WA’s experience been the same as other states throughout this time?
We are seeing green shoots appearing in many parts of the WA market, and are very confident about our future in the state. We have just added Keystart to our panel of lenders, and the upside of the recent challenges in housing values in WA is that the market has become increasingly affordable which makes it especially appealing for first home buyers.
With a supportive range of government grants available, close to one in five customers in WA at present are first home buyers – there is definitely a lot of interest and this is a really positive sign.
What advice would you give leaders who are guiding businesses through tough times?
Communication with your team is crucial in difficult times as people need to be informed, whether the news is good or bad. Tough times reinforce the rule that looking after your team is a top priority, as they are the face of the business for your customers and a company’s greatest asset.
And mobilise your people. We’re stronger when we work together and getting your team not only on-board but involved and active is an incredibly strong engagement tool.
What keeps you passionate about the industry despite the uneasy times?
When I think back over the last 27 years I’ve really grown up in this business and this industry, and I love it. While there may be some headwinds that we’ll face over time, we can’t forget that we have a really great industry that drives competition in home lending and delivers exceptional outcomes for customers.
Change is the one constant in life and there is no doubt our industry has been through plenty of it. My view is you’re either part of change or a victim of it, with these periods of change simply being opportunities for us all.
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