Uno Wants to Own the Digital Mortgage Space Down Under

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / LevKrThe process of getting a mortgage in Australia is different than in the U.S. But it still sucks, and new early-stage fintech company Uno is out to change that.

No one knows how painful the mortgage process can be better than Uno CEO Vincent Turner, who spent years building software for mortgage brokers before founding a San Francisco-based startup, Planwise, to help people figure out the mortgage process. Planwise is no more — Turner returned money to investors who exited and the website now redirects to Uno, his new, Sydney-based venture.

Uno has already entered Australia’s brokerage market with a sophisticated digital platform that includes human support.

Turner brought the IP from Planwise to Australia, his native country, and has found fertile ground. Uno has grown from 3 to 33 employees, launched a consumer-facing platform, and established relationships with Australia’s major lenders.

Australia is friendlier terrain for early-stage companies than the U.S. for a number of reasons, Turner said. The cost to launch a lending business and get the necessary licensing is in the six figures versus seven figures in the U.S., where it’s “hand-to-hand combat,” he said. The Australian banking system is more homogeneous, and there is greater uniformity about regulations. This makes it easier and cheaper for fintech companies to innovate quickly, Turner said.

Furthermore, mortgages down under retain a privileged position at the center of a customer’s banking relationship. “Australians, more so that Americans, want to deal with major brands, and other services come with it,” Turner said. When Australians sign up with a mortgage lender, in other words, it’s typical to also sign up with that lender’s retail banking and ancillary products, whereas in the U.S., a mortgage is just another product that has little to do with one’s checking account.

The Australian market also retains healthier margins compared with the U.S., which Turner described as highly securitized and split between 7,000 lenders. “Brokers still have a massive role to play in Australia,” Turner said, noting that they own 53% of the market and offer access to 50 or 60 brands.

Here is where Turner sees Uno’s opportunity. Uno will be a platform offering access to more brands than most brokers, plus service. Too often the service and support offered by brokers is overly sales-driven, Turner said. Uno will not be that way. The hybrid model of digital plus human support is the way millennials — and more customers generally — want to do business.

“So much of the way it’s done sucks,” Turner said, referring to getting a mortgage. “Searching sucks, plugging in your info sucks, the advice sucks, applying manually sucks. We’re leveraging technology to make it better, better outcomes for customers and lower total costs.” Technology allows the consumer and lender to get closer together, with less of the selling and commissions. “When you’re buying a home, one of the most important financial decisions you make, you don’t want someone to close you,” Turner said. “You want someone to inform you.”

Uno maintains a service team that is available from early morning to late at night to offer this support, and Turner pays them based on customer satisfaction, so that incentives are in line with the customer’s.

$1.8 billion goes to mortgage brokers every year, Turner said. Within a few years, he sees a new category emerging — the hybrid digital-human platforms that are growing in popularity — that can capture 10% of that. “We can own that,” he said.

Uno has seen $500 million in loans on its platform in the last several months, and will soon make public its investors, who have given the company enough to keep operating comfortably for some time.

Turner, who ran San Francisco’s premier fintech meetup for several years, takes a dim view of investors in Silicon Valley today. “Fin is just one of the techs,” he said. “Investors try to run fintech companies through the same process that works for traditional tech, and it doesn’t work. The Valley still doesn’t get that.”

Neither, for that matter, do the banks, Turner said, who have vastly more money than VCs but don’t put it to use. Turner sees the best option for early stage fintech companies, down the road, being the larger well-funded fintechs who understand the industry funding insurgents. “The bigger thing will be when Mike Cagney [CEO of SoFi] starts taking money off the table, without the banks and VCs,” Turner said. “This is what Google did. This is their nightmare — Adam Nash [CEO of Wealthfront] walking around and waving money around.”

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