Why would a distributor give its sourcing system away to its competitors? BestAdvice’s Kevin Rose went to SMG in search of the answer

At the beginning of 2018, Specialist Mortgage Group (SMG) unveiled Lenderlink, a lender-integrated sourcing system designed specifically for second charge loan brokers.
Lenderlink is a technology solution, developed and used internally by the South Wales based brokerage group over the last year.
Creating accurate quotes and rekeying data across multiple lender portals all takes a huge amount of time and causes headaches for brokers and delays for clients, explains SMG’s CEO, Matt Cottle.
“It’s an age-old problem that has never really been solved properly. Lenderlink is a long-term project designed to remove the issues and help brokers get on the technology ladder for free.”

SMG started developing the first part of the system early in 2017 to integrate with Optimum Credit. Since then the business has built 11 more lender integrations, and made the system live and available to all second charge packagers. The beta (test) version was made available to the first broker in February 2018; since then SMG has registered 27 second charge brokers onto the system, with the beta phase ongoing.

So what was the thinking behind the decision to offer it, at no cost, to other second charge loan packagers and brokers?
“To create a feasible user test, you must have lots of people testing it,” says Cottle. “I went to every competitor I know and offered it to them for free. They must have thought I was mad, but I told them that if they paid me for it and it had issues, then I would have lots of people calling me up and complaining. With it being free, they are just thankful to have the product and I am thankful to have the users.
“Some of the other system providers must be shifting in their seats a bit, but I’m not out to cause them headaches or steal their business; I am just trying to use my knowledge to build something interesting and new, and to help create a technological advancement in our industry.
“Offering a useful, high quality, free product attracts large numbers of people. That’s what gets me excited. Obviously, the spin off business will be lucrative for SMG too.”

There are currently 170 people from 24 brokerages in the second charge industry logging in and using the system every day, carrying out quick quotes, remortgage comparisons, product suitability reports and transfers of information via APIs.
At the present time there are 38 lenders and around 1,000 products on Lenderlink. Over 10,000 live API transfers have been pushed through the system.
In November 2018 SMG is launching the multi-product interface to all 30,000 mortgage brokers in Britain, which Cottle says will be “wild”, although he adds that they will launch it quietly to start with and build up the numbers slowly.
“Giving mainstream mortgage brokers free access to a tool which accurately sources a wide range of specialist mortgage products on one site has never been done before,” explains Cottle.
“We did build it for our own group, but we thought, hey, if we can build this for us, we can build it for everyone, give it away for free to get maximum traction and work out how to monetise it later. It’s about creating something that is useful for everyone and seeing where it could go.”
Cottle is not a fan of other second charge sourcing solutions currently available in the market, describing them as “quite clunky” and built by IT people for brokers.
“Ours is built by a broker for other brokers with a broker’s knowledge of the market and offered at no cost,” he says.
“I can develop a feature with my team upstairs, put it live, then run downstairs and see what our team of 60 advisers think of it. If it’s wrong, I can run back upstairs and tinker with it until its right.”

NEW FEATURES

In April, SMG added the ‘Referrals’ feature to Lenderlink. It allows broker users to pick up a client application at any point, and refer it to an SMG adviser for full processing. Users will be able to access any product or lender on SMG’s specialist first and second charge panels. The same SMG adviser is assigned to any brokerage that refers applications.
Cottle explains the thinking behind this feature: “If you see a product/lender you don’t have on your panel, you’re not confident about packaging a specialist application, or the lender doesn’t want any more brokers to send them business, you can refer the case into SMG for packaging through our lender agencies. It’s dead easy.”

SMG is not looking to rest on their laurels, developing additional features for Lenderlink all the time. They’re currently testing a secure document portal which will solve GDPR issues of sending and receiving emails with attachments containing highly sensitive documents such as bank statements and passports. “Every broker does it; Lenderlink will eliminate the worry and it’ll be free,” says Cottle.

The firm is also developing a free CRM which will bring together all the functions of Lenderlink, as Cottle explains: “There are lots of brokers who don’t have a CRM, they work off spreadsheets and paper files. Our CRM will be free, so it won’t be as sophisticated as some paid systems, but it won’t need to be. It will be strong, safe and fast and it’ll be available early next year to everyone who signs up.”

For SMG, Lenderlink is a long-term solution for the market. While the firm has invested around £300,000 in the system to date, Cottle is supremely confident that they will recoup the money over time. “Miloanbroker.com has cost us £600,000 and it has so far generated in excess of £7 million, and it is by no means as versatile as Lenderlink.” That should silence anyone who thinks SMG isn’t serious about sourcing.