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Comment: Digital optimisation over transformation

With technology innovation rapidly becoming the status quo in financial services, mortgage brokers face a difficult task in keeping up with customers’ expectations and lenders’ own fintech plans. The counter-intuitive solution may be to abandon the transformation mentality altogether.

Does this mean that brokers should drop their technology aspirations and simply concentrate on the great personal service that has been at the heart of their long-term success? No. It means they need to focus on maximising the digital capacity they already have, without letting technology dictate the way they run the business.

This approach is best described as digital optimisation – a process that will also help brokers ensure that they are prepared to adapt to new technologies and consumer preferences without having to put their business through the trials and tribulations of a full-blown transformation every couple of years.

Digital optimisation means ensuring that a company is using its technology effectively; that it is fully digital in terms of its functions and processes; and are therefore able to leverage its data, human resources and brand into new platforms and formats as the need arises.

For example, a digitally optimised broker business will not have data filed away in formats that are hard for staff to access, on different IT systems, or in documents such as spreadsheets, which are difficult to access. Instead, all customer and mortgage market information will be available through a single information hub, with staff able to view everything they might conceivably need to deliver excellent service on a single screen.

Ensuring that staff do not have to switch between devices, screens or desks to view different information is critical to creating an efficient work environment where customers can be looked after effectively and delays while searching for data are minimised. Digital optimisation ensures that all IT is working for the humans in the business, not vice versa. This is the key to maximising value because it allows people to offer the best service to the client.

Of course, it will sometimes be necessary to add a new interface to a broker’s client-facing offering. For example, to keep their appeal to homebuyers of all generations, intermediaries need to be able to communicate through the channels and platforms that customers feel most comfortable on. In a sector where customer loyalty is based on high quality service, and a convenient, yet responsible delivery of complex services, all channels need to be offered with the same high standard of customer care, underpinned by the prerequisite levels of compliance.

The digital optimisation strategy puts brokers in a position where they can introduce new customer engagement tools, be it an app or upgraded web portal, without major disruption: they will be in a much stronger position to tap into the latest consumer trends without having to compromise their service. This is achieved because the single enterprise information system that helps streamline services also means new formats can be integrated easily, whether the latest fintech interface or back office technology, such as process automation, which may have been implemented to reduce the need for hands-on involvement in resource intensive areas of the business. Automation will be useful to brokers in the future, but they should first ensure their technologies and people are working together effectively – otherwise they will automate the wrong tasks.

Digitally optimised broker businesses will be ready to adopt new technologies as they arise. Meanwhile, staff are not hampered or distracted by a transformation mentality that sees managers attempting force change on workers. Instead, technology is a facilitator to staff who are dedicated to helping clients, and people feel free to develop uses for existing technology that helps them help the customer.

The process of optimisations starts by identifying aims – what does the business want to get out of its use of technologies? Once the aims are clear, all systems can be integrated into a modern single enterprise hub system that will be tailored to address those needs.

As the business maximises its efficient use of current systems, it can start to think about investing in automation of the tasks which are time consuming but simple. And it can think about what new technologies can improve the business and help deliver value to clients. But it will always seek to incorporate any new additions into its existing ecosystem and service mentality, rather than attempting a fundamental technology overhaul every few years.

Colin Dean is director of digital transformation at Hyland.

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