We sat down with the founder of Loans.com.au, Marie Mortimer, to discuss her innovative approach to finance, one that brings wholesale mortgage rates to her customers.
We sat down with Marie Mortimer, Founder and Managing Director of loans.com.au, to talk about how merging a background in investment banking and IT brought about a way to get customers more directly involved in the wholesale mortgages market.
What inspired the launch of loans.com.au?
Back in 2011, Firstmac came out of the Global Financial Crisis thriving. Firstmac is a non-bank lender and funder of mortgages via securitisation. What this means is that we started as a wholesale funder, one which primarily distributed mortgages through third-party networks, such as mortgage brokers.
When I launched loans.com.au, it was to see if we could connect retail customers to our wholesale systems, which were already really innovative.
It was a success almost immediately. Our retail customers applied for home loans online and received some of the lowest interest rates in the country. We cut out the middle man and retail customers were able to access the wholesale funder directly. This means they aren’t paying extra for things like they do with mortgage broker commissions or bricks-and-mortar bank branches.
What do you feel is your greatest strength as a business?
Our people. We are backed by Firstmac, who has been in business for over 40 years, so as a company we have a lot of experience. But time in business isn’t actually our strength, it’s an outcome of our biggest strength – our employees.
Ultimately, we are a small family business that has grown into Australia’s largest non-bank lender, and loans.com.au is one part of the picture. We couldn’t have got to where we are without the staff, who have been a part of our family and our amazing growth along the way.
What’s your professional experience? Can you give us a bit of background on your career prior to loans.com.au?
I have a finance degree and originally started with Firstmac as a graduate, until I moved away to London and worked in an investment bank. It was there I moved away from traditional finance, and learnt a lot about IT and delivering innovative software solutions within the banking sector. Those skills set me up for life.
In 2010, I moved back to Australia and came back to Firstmac to work in the IT department, not finance. In 2011, I merged these two skill sets together to launch loans.com.au.
What has been your company’s biggest hurdle so far, and did you overcome it?
Initially, there were a lot of naysayers who didn’t believe customers would ever apply for a home loan online.
We also were doing something very different from Firstmac’s traditional business as a wholesale funder, so we faced a lot of criticism within the industry. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, like any new business, but we persisted and made adjustments along the way to be very adaptive; to ensure we always meet the needs of our customers.
Nine years later, loans.com.au represents half of Firstmac’s loan book, being $6 billion of its $12 billion under management. Both business models run cohesively beside each other, and technology improvements in one channel benefits customers across all others.
How is technology helping your business (and/or the solutions you offer customers) evolve?
We have always said we are an IT company first, and a finance company second; so technology is a very important part of our business. However, we are a customer-centric organisation, and the home loan is a very technical product to sell. We offer personalised service to our customers, and we use our innovative technology to help us make better decisions and ensure that the customer journey is really simple.
It’s important to be innovative, be ‘technical’, but only in the right places and not to the detriment – or confusion – of your customers.
How do you keep up with industry news?
Information is so readily available these days with digital media. I keep up to date with the news in general, but nothing beats the human connection of your network. With online networking platforms such as LinkedIn, it’s easy. I also try to meet different people within my industry on a regular basis. Your networks are very important to keep up to date with what is going on in any industry. Also, it’s a great way to meet some fantastic people along the way.
How is loans.com.au adapting to the fast-changing landscape following the outbreak of COVID-19?
We adapted quickly. We have a truly cloud-based lending platform. As we don’t rely on physical infrastructure as much as traditional finance companies and banks do, so we were able to move to a full at-home workforce within days of the situation developing.
The key to this is communication. We have been fully operational the entire time and that has been great for both our staff and our customers. We have stayed connected with each other and our loyal customers, and we can adapt to whatever comes our way.
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.