Except, in 2011 two men launched the Uber app, which allowed anyone with a smartphone to make a trip request and have the cab closest to them make the pick-up. Five years on and Bloomberg estimated the company’s revenues to be around $5.5bn.
It’s an astonishing story and one that was utterly inconceivable a few years ago. And Uber is not alone. Airbnb is another good example.
One of the reasons it happened is that no one owns the taxi space, in the same way that no one owns the mortgage space. As radical as it sounds, anyone is free to come in and be a ‘disruptor’, and if people like the idea then it could blow everything else out of the water and irrevocably alter the way mortgages are sold.
For all the advances in mortgage technology, they do tend to follow a fairly linear path, or adapt and enhance ideas that have worked in other industries. Apps, for example, were well established in other sectors before arriving in the mortgage market. ‘Robo-advice’, however you interpret it, is commonplace in areas such as car and home insurance and systems integration has been around as a concept for a little while now.
No one, however, has yet invented the mortgage industry silver bullet; the idea that could transform the industry. And what would it be anyway? Would it allow consumers to have mortgages that are tailor made? Mortgages that automatically change whenever a new and more desirable product appears? Maybe even a completely new way of buying a house that makes mortgages redundant at a stroke?
I’m not saying these ideas are feasible or even attractive (and in case anyone is wondering, no, Mortgage Brain isn’t working on any of them) but we shouldn’t discount the idea that someone, somewhere could be working on something radical.
It’s worth pointing out that coming up with a brilliant idea doesn’t make you an overnight success. Techcrunch.com reports that Uber’s losses are expected to hit $3bn in 2017, Airbnb has had its run ins with authority, and there will be always be plenty of people willing and able to piggy back on the success of early adopters. But the tantalising possibility remains.
So what can the industry do about it? It’s hard to fight against something that doesn’t exist and that no one knows anything about, so the best defence is to make the industry as future proof as possible. This means moving with the tech times and offering as high a level of professionalism as possible. As the tech improves, so the window for uberfication is reduced.
In the meantime, keep watching the skies.