Most of us have gone through the mortgage application and approval process one or more times. Back in the day, the process was paper-intensive and took days, or even weeks, to complete. As frustrating as that could be for consumers, imagine what it was like for brokers juggling dozens of clients at a time.
Then along came innovative mortgage aggregators like Australian Finance Group (AFG). They burst onto the scene in the mid-1990s, quickly building a brand in the industry by being on the vanguard of automating broker activities. As a mortgage aggregator, AFG supports brokers by providing them with a network of lending partners, a team of experts at the ready and a diverse range of products and services, as well as tools for moving the lending process along with both lenders and clients.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the company continues to improve the lives of brokers and their clients. That is the inspiration behind launching Customer360 last December, a broker fact-find and documentation tool that digitally connects the broker and the consumer. It’s the first step in rolling out the company’s full technology and platform refresh, called Suite360, which sits on Oracle’s cloud technology infrastructure and employs Oracle’s cloud applications across finance, operations, and customer experience.
With a team of over 200, supporting 3000 plus (and counting) brokers, AFG is one of the largest mortgage aggregation companies in Australia. The company has also diversified beyond being an aggregator, offering bespoke financial products and solutions.
In Australia, record low interest rates, government incentives and competitive cash-back offers from lenders, have driven high volumes of new and refinanced mortgages. This has come at a time when new regulatory requirements have been rolled out, putting mortgage brokers under intense and sustained pressure to be more efficient. As they lean on technology to streamline their activities, they need to trust that a step won’t be skipped that could put them at compliance and regulatory risk.
John Sanger is AFG’s COO, with responsibility for all operational activities. He sums up AFG’s focus on the broker experience by sharing three core goals.
“First, and foremost, we enable broker efficiencies and provide help to grow their businesses,” says Sanger. “Second, in a world where regulation and compliance are steadily increasing, we need to keep our brokers and customers safe. And third, we’re empowering brokers to deliver an outstanding digital experience for their customers. With Customer360, we bring the broker and customer together in a digital experience, helping them adapt to a new world in which face-to-face meetings are less commonplace.”
Jon Amery, AFG’s head of marketing, says that the overarching Suite360 program will deliver what the industry has been asking for.
“For activities that don’t require face-to-face interactions, like document verification, Suite360 speeds up the process,” says Amery. “We’re accelerating the adoption of digital processes by not just brokers, but also our lending partners. It’s something they’ve been wanting to do for years.”
Back in the 1990s, the Australian mortgage market was dominated by a handful of national banks and independent brokerage firms. As one of the first aggregators, AFG became a “wholesaler”—an intermediary between the broker and the lender—that disrupted business-as-usual, delivered consistency, and created B2B competition. The company has diversified to also become a “manufacturer,” creating products and services for brokers to sell directly in a B2C relationship.
“We helped create a more competitive market for regional and state-based banks to connect with customers on a nationwide basis,” says Sanger. “Now, for example, a Perth-based consumer can have a mortgage with a lender in Adelaide or Sydney or have a direct relationship with us. Twenty years ago, that would have been unheard of. It’s all about enabling competition and giving lenders and consumers more choices.”
“AFG’s business model starts with innovative and entrepreneurial ideas that are delivered via the latest technologies said Matt Faries, AFG’s CIO.
“Twenty years ago, brokers were submitting mortgage applications via fax to the bank,” says Faries. “Our founders revolutionized the industry by offering the ability to electronically submit those applications. They faced a lot of resistance back then because people didn’t always trust computers or the internet. As we continue to innovate, Oracle technology and cloud applications are the backbone for everything we do.”
Aggregators that compete with AFG have generally established a platform using on-premises systems and customized it, or built their own platforms from the ground up. As a legacy Oracle E-Business Suite customer, AFG’s leadership decided to move to Oracle’s cloud platform as an early adopter in 2015, recognizing that customizations represented a risk of bogging the business down.
“The pandemic has accelerated our broader adoption of Oracle Cloud,” says Faries, “including the applications behind Suite360. We know that change is a constant now and we need to be prepared to move quickly.”
Although AFG has been an Oracle customer for over fifteen years, the company evaluated numerous options for cloud capabilities.
“We started by asking, what problems are we solving—both now and into the future?” says Sanger. “What opportunities are we trying to unlock for our brokers and how can we design and create better experiences?”
AFG engaged with three global software companies, over the course of a few months, to determine how they would support the company’s Suite360 initiative.
“A major factor to choosing Oracle Cloud was that we recognized that Oracle was on a digital journey of their own,” says Faries. “We’ve watched as Oracle has moved away from being perceived as just an engineering-focused vendor to being more of a customer-focused partner. We feel a bit like we are sharing that journey.”
“Perhaps our relationship had become a bit transactional over the years,” adds Sanger. “But, as we started developing the Suite360 plan, we were impressed with the effort Oracle put into understanding what we wanted to achieve. Along with the breadth of products and the future vision, it created a good match.”
With a broad and deep cloud foundation to build on, AFG has started a cadence of launching more sophisticated capabilities to their brokers and customers, moving beyond contact management to tools such as email integration, marketing automation, workflow, and task management.
“The next five years are going to see a lot of change, driven by brokers, customers and new regulation,” says Amery. “Our cloud backbone gives us a competitive advantage with our ability to iterate, change, and update the broker and customer experience rapidly.”
Key success factors will be reducing the end-to-end cycle time for brokers and customers, digitizing information to reduce manual activities, and reducing the number of applications AFG needs to support internally.
When asked what they are the most excited about, AFG’s executives are quick to respond.
“We want to enable brokers and our internal staff to use data in different ways,” says Faries. “to reduce churn and identify opportunities to grow their business. But I’m most excited to see the look on a customer’s face when they start using the Suite360 platform.”
Amery agrees. “When brokers and consumers start using Suite360, it will be like stepping into a new luxury-class roadster with all the latest gadgets. I’d love to see the look on their faces when they realize how much easier it is to get the information they need and to accelerate their activities.”
“We’re building something that is future-proof,” says Sanger, summing it up. “That's the difference between today's and yesterday's technology. It opens up opportunities for continuous innovation. We’re just in mid-flight now. I can’t even see the end of the possibilities.”