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Atom Bank’s Maria Harris reveals mission to reform mortgage process

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  • 07/12/2017
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Atom Bank’s Maria Harris reveals mission to reform mortgage process
Maria Harris is on a crusade. The mortgage director of app-based Atom Bank is battling to transform the gut-wrenching home buying process for consumers.

Purchasing a new home should be one of the happiest times of our lives, Harris tells Mortgage Solutions, yet research suggests it’s an ordeal that routinely puts people through huge stress.

“That’s such a sad indictment on our industry, and such a sad reflection,” she says.

“That should be somebody’s most joyous occasion – we reduce them to tears. So, I’m on a mission – a crusade – to get this in a better place.”

Harris divulges her plan, directly after hotfooting over from the Future of Retail Banking conference.

The Geordie brims with energy and the scope of her vision is well beyond the realm of mortgages.

“I would like a customer to able to move home within seven days if they wanted to,” she says firmly.

Harris is now swiftly taking the necessary steps to get homebuying to this point.

The journey started in December 2016 when Atom Bank launched its intermediary-only mortgage offering.

 

Rollercoaster ride of 2017

Highlights to date include launching five-year fixed rate products at the same price as the two-year counterparts, which stunned the market and attracted the attention of Martin Lewis. The resulting popularity meant the product had to be pulled within two weeks, with around 3,000 customers referred to brokers in the first day alone.

Harris says: “The amount of volume that we put through the system was unbelievable. And the system stayed up and functioned 24/7 for the whole time.”

She added: “We had a whole load of really happy intermediaries who had been sent all of these customers, who might never have spoken to an intermediary otherwise.”

Another memorable moment has been bouncing ideas off popstar and tech entrepreneur Will.i.am, who has been appointed as a special adviser to Atom Bank.

 

maria harris william.The star is feeding into the lender’s implementation of artificial intelligence, so that borrowers get the help they need directly from the app and without talking on the phone.

But there’s been tough learnings for Harris over the past 12 months too.

The lender was “bitten in the bottom” by industry conveyancing issues after launching to the market with fees-assisted legals.

Harris says: “We hadn’t realised what it would mean for the customer in terms of the conveyancing service they’d get… It was so out of our control.”

The lender had to build an open panel from scratch, which took around two months.

Harris says: “Had I known [the issues] I would have had the general panel ready before we launched.”

Atom Bank has since joined the Conveyancing Association as associate members– an attempt to inject change into an industry that has been slow to adopt to the digital world.

Harris says: “I’d love us to be in a place where all of the data that the conveyancer needed was all available in one digital place – whether that’s on a blockchain or on some distributor ledger.”

 

Targeting process inefficiencies

For now, Atom Bank has just finished its latest capital raise, which will feed into lending plans for 2018.

Harris is also looking to get functionality in place for further advances, with the lender’s retention proposition in place for the first maturities in January 2019.

Also on the list for next year is working with brokers to take inefficiencies out of the mortgage process.

Atom’s current record for getting a mortgage application to offer is 17 minutes with the bank’s average completion time at a notable 33 days.

There’s still a way to go if Harris is to bring her seven-day vision to fruition, but she’s in close contact with other mortgage innovators such as Trussle and Habito, as well as the wider fintech community to learn how technology can help speed up and streamline the process.

Aside from the lending model, Atom Bank has little in common with the culture or methods of traditional financial companies and is closer aligned to start-ups and tech firms, according to Harris.

But at the heart of it all is the desire is to quite simply take the hassle and stress out of getting a mortgage.

Harris says: “We just want to help and make it much easier for customers to have access to advice and have access to a really nice easy journey.”

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