From Airbnb to Uber, digital technology has enabled startups to transform the way business is done across a variety of industries. In terms of the Swiss mortgage industry, many wonder when the time will come for it to also undergo this type of innovative disruption, who its protagonists will be, and what the outcome will look like.

In search for answers (or at least a few good hints) to these questions, more than fifty industry professionals from major Swiss banks and insurance companies gathered at our recent Appway Mortgage Forum in Zürich. Our presenters included Stefan Koller, Strategy Consultant at e-foresight (Swisscom’s thinktank), Stefan Heitmann, CEO of MoneyPark, Jan Hinrichs, CMO of Scout24, and Jean-Marc Joris, COO of Banque Cantonale de Geneve (BCGE).

Overall, the Swiss mortgage market hasn’t yet experienced disruption, even if the volume of online mortgages is sharply on the rise and new business models are breaking up the traditional value chain, assisting mortgage lenders in specialist areas such as credit checks or loan processing. As Koller explained, “Most banks still believe in the traditional end-to-end process, from the initial advisory services to the point when the mortgage loan is actually approved.”

If disruption isn’t imminent, then what are the drivers of mortgage digitalization?

One driver is certainly the customer journey: Borrowers’ needs have evolved, and it’s clearly time to find a fresh approach to interpreting these needs. “For me, the customer journey never starts in the bank,” Heitmann boldly stated during his talk. “We see customers becoming more digitally savvy, less patient, and increasingly demanding. First-time buyers are now routinely comparing offers, while home owners are more easily willing to switch to another lender.”

Moneypark’s stellar rise as a mortgage advisory platform—brokering a mortgage volume of over 2 billion Swiss Francs per year and growing to more than 28 branches in the five years since its founding—combined with Heitmann’s controversial rhetoric, may represent the most compelling case for disruption. However, the company’s approach is to target the high margins of the traditional mortgage lenders. True product innovation that leverages the collection and analysis of customer data (which is typically viewed as an inherent characteristic of digitalization) remains largely absent.

ImmoScout’s marketplace presents itself as a serious contender for more product innovation. Attracting over 2.5 million visits every month, the online portal captures the dreams of millions of potential owners and assists them with the search for a suitable property. Yet “dreaming” and “searching” are only the start of a 10-step customer journey that leads to the conclusion of a new mortgage contract, explained Hinrichs. Because of this, Scout24 is intent on systematically servicing further user needs along the customer journey.

How could traditional mortgage lenders, especially retail banks, best respond to these new challengers?

One approach is to choose your battles, said Koller. “You need to understand your strengths and weaknesses. In the long run, you can’t excel in all parts of the value creation. Invest in becoming exceptional in what you do well rather than being average at all parts.”

An alternative approach is to digitalize your core processes from within, an approach chosen by BCGE. The bank used Appway’s digital banking platform for a complete overhaul of its customer-facing processing, in turn allowing it to launch its Avantageservice platform in December 2017. “We want to actively participate in the current market evolution, rather than stand by the sidelines and wait,” Joris explained.

When it comes to whether process digitalization will protect the bank’s mortgage margins in the increasingly competitive mortgage market, Joris was unsure but still positive: “That we don’t know yet, but by becoming digital in our core business, we are optimally prepared when disruption occurs.”

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