In a Nutshell: A new player has burst onto the Australian home lending scene and promises to disrupt the traditional mortgage broker landscape. Financial technology company uno specializes in helping Australian homebuyers find the best mortgage deals available to them from among dozens of lenders. Using software tools that were developed over years working with banks and brokers, the team at uno has built a platform that’s designed to help consumers get the best rate possible. It’s this focus on providing a better customer experience that has led the up-and-comer uno to grow at a rate of 20% month-over-month. All of this, along with seven-day support from home loan advisers and access to a range of calculators and tools, means Australian homebuyers now have more options when it comes to choosing a lender.
The dream of homeownership is as universal in Australia as it is in the US or just about anywhere else in the world. A welcome sense of financial security comes from knowing you’re investing in something of real value for your family’s future. It was this motivation that led Susan to the idea of refinancing her home loan to buy an investment property she felt would help ensure her family’s financial health.
Now, Susan wouldn’t be considered wealthy, but her finances were in good order, and she had a lot of equity in her home. She also had a good track record of making her mortgage payments on time. You would think Susan would be a prime candidate for a lower rate on a home refinance, but Susan’s credit score had taken a big hit due to a loan she co-signed with a family member. When the loan defaulted, Susan’s credit score suffered the consequences.
All of the banks and loan brokers she spoke with were unable to help, so Susan turned to uno, a new FinTech player in Australia’s home lending landscape that works with dozens of lenders all over the country. The company uses proprietary software to search from among all of the loan options available to borrowers and finds just the right match. In Susan’s case, that meant a lender that took into account her long history of on-time mortgage payments, and one that would give her a waiver for the incident that had lowered her score.
Although uno is a relative newcomer to Australia’s home loan landscape, the company has a foundation in financial services technology that goes back more than 15 years.
Founder and CEO Vincent Turner spent nearly a decade developing mortgage software for banks and brokerages before setting off for Silicon Valley in California in 2010. When he left the US and returned to Australia in 2016, it was with a renewed interest in helping provide consumers with a better experience in searching for a home loan.
“When I was developing software for the banks and brokers, I found that it changed those businesses for the better, but it didn’t improve the experience for the customer,” Vincent said. “I wanted to change that by creating technology that would make the process more transparent and easier to use.”
How Technology Makes for a Better Customer Experience
Australian homebuyers have traditionally had few options when it comes to searching for home loans. They could go directly to a bank and hope they qualified for a decent rate, or they could enlist the services of a broker and trust that things were done in their best interest. In both cases, it was hard to ever really know whether they were getting the best possible loan rate, or just the rate a particular lender was willing to offer at the time.
The concept for uno was born out of this frustration. Vincent explains that banks only offer their products. Brokers may say they represent 25 different lenders, but really they tend to focus on just a few.
“It’s simply that brokers can’t know all of the different credit policies of all the different lenders, let alone keep up with all of the changes to them,” Vincent said. “But our technology has 50,000-plus rules in it that do all of that heavy lifting. So when you come to us, you actually get access to all 25 of those lenders.”
That last point is especially important. Most lending institutions want to see certain minimum criteria, such as time at your current job, consistency of earnings, etc. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lenders out there that are willing to consider special circumstances. uno is unique, in that it’s built the credit policies of its lenders into the platform.
“Let’s say you’re self-employed and have only been in business for six months. If there’s a lender that does that type of mortgage lending, we will probably have it in our system,” Vincent said. “Or if you’ve got some credit challenges, we have a better chance of finding a lender for you because we have a full understanding of everything that all the lenders do and can work with.”
Just as important to know is that the technology behind uno is designed to help prospective borrowers help themselves. Before they ever engage with a consultant or advisor at uno, consumers can do their own research using a simplified version of the same tools uno employees have access to.
“At some point in the process, the customer says, ‘I’m done with my research, and I’ve made my decision,’ or ‘I need advice,’ and then they can speak to our home loan advisers who can give them specific advice, help them apply, and negotiate with lenders on their behalf,” Vincent said.
Help for Australians with Complex Credit Situations
For prospective homebuyers with complex financial situations or less-than-perfect credit, it’s difficult to know if they’re getting the best deal possible. Transparency and a willingness to work with borrowers’ special needs have not been hallmarks of the traditional Australian home loan industry. uno is setting out to change that. In our conversation, Vincent explained that between 60% and 80%of mortgage deals have some level of complexity.
“It might have to do with the applicant themselves, such as with someone who’s self-employed, or there might also be transactional complexity, such as a divorce where one partner might want to buy out the other,” he said. “We definitely see more situations that are complex than those that are simple and straightforward.
“Many people think that they’re an island of one when it comes to their credit challenges, but it’s just not true. There are plenty of lenders who will accommodate unusual credit situations. There are almost always options for people, especially if they’ve got mid-tier to low-tier issues with credit, where a major bank says ‘We’re not touching it’; there are plenty of other banks that will at least take a look at it.”
Bringing Transparency and Simplicity to the Lending Market
Although uno has been in business for just slightly over a year, the acceptance of this business model and the benefits the company provides to borrowers is impressive. Vincent told us the company is growing at a rate of around 20% month-over-month. And while it initially paid for advertising within search engines to spread the word, the company now relies almost exclusively on social channels and word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients.
In large part, the company’s success is driven by Vincent’s business philosophy and what he calls the three pillars: Be great advocates for the customer, have better expertise, and deliver better technology.
There is also the fact that uno employees are all salaried, with no one receiving individual commission for selling products. The result is what Vincent described as a more collegiate rather than competitive environment.
“We believe this improves the outcome and the experience for the customer, because instead of trying to close a deal, our people are trying to help get the outcome customers want,” he said. “This is especially helpful if the right answer for someone is to wait for six months because that will be the advice we give.”
As we have all experienced, technology can be simple to use, or it can be frustratingly and needlessly complex. Fortunately, uno has developed a platform and tools that take advantage of technology in a way that makes it simple to use. The software is also transparent, in that customers can see exactly what the various loan offers are when it comes time to make a decision, which is exactly the type of technology we can all get behind.