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Industry veteran questions compliance of ‘robo’ brokers

This article originally appeared in The Adviser, by James Mitchell on 10 Jan 2018.

One mortgage industry veteran has questioned online broking models and warned players operating in the space to ensure that they are compliant with consumer credit laws.

Traditional mortgage brokers are under increasing pressure from regulators and new digital entrants. ASIC’s review of broker remuneration, the Sedgwick report and the consequent Combined Industry Forum (CIF) report have all put forward suggestions about how the third-party channel can become more compliant and deliver good customer outcomes.

While the intensity of this regulatory focus shows no sign of abating, new fintech-style operators and online broking businesses have been entering the market. Some of them are competing directly with mortgage brokers.

Speaking to The Adviser, Australian Mortgage Marketplace COO Kym Dalton said that there are a number of different businesses operating in the home loan space that call themselves “fintechs”. However, he questioned whether these groups are scrutinised to the same degree traditional “warm-blood” brokers are.

“The robo brokers really need to be careful that they are complying with key responsible lending conduct requirements of the NCCP,” Mr Dalton said, “particularly the requirements to make reasonable inquiries about the consumer’s financial situation, their requirements and objectives and to take reasonable steps to verify the consumer’s financial situation.”

While traditional mortgage brokers go to great lengths to verify the identity and income of their clients and ensure that the loan is not unsuitable, robo-style online platforms are using algorithms and “scrapes” of transaction account data to approve loans faster.

Mr Dalton said that some fintechs are actively competing with mortgage brokers and believe they are “cutting out the middle man” by providing a complete digital solution. He added that some of these players, such as auction-style home loan platforms, are heavily focused on rate.

“If there is an inference that they’ll achieve a better rate for the consumer, they should be careful not to be accused of misleading or deceptive conduct,” Mr Dalton said.

One of the latest fintech players to enter the mortgage market is Tic:Toc, which offers its own line of branded mortgages and boasts that a loan can be approved in 22 minutes through a completely online process.

“The new competitive battleground in mortgages is speed, and that is best delivered through an end-to-end digital fulfillment process like ours,” Tic:Toc founder and chief executive Anthony Baum told The Adviser.

“I don’t just mean time to decision. Convenience is also an important factor. What we know about consumers is that a growing segment are happy to self-service and are getting more used to self-serving through fulfilling other requirements digitally in terms of purchasing products and services.”

Mr Baum led Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s third-party business for close to four years. He believes that home loans are “not actually as complicated as the industry makes out” and told The Adviser that they “are really a means to an end, which is more a utility-style product”.