Interview: Rameez Zafar, CEO at Eligible.ai

Author Livia Thimotheo
  • Date September 10, 2018
  • Reading Time 11 minutes

Rameez Zafar 2

Can you explain Eligible.ai as if you were explaining it to my mother?

We are a technology company that is trying to make the mortgage space easier for all the stakeholders, whether it's lenders, customers or advisers. We approach the mortgage process from the customer’s perspective and then build solutions for businesses, so they can better serve these customers.

Our first product, Mortgage Screen, makes the process of retention much more straightforward than it is today. For advisers, retention should be easy business; these are customers that they know and trust them. However, it's still taking advisers several hours to retain a customer, when it should be taking minutes. Mortgage Screen solves this by harnessing advisers’ existing customer information in order to track analyse, monitor and contact customers on their behalf. Mortgage Screen allows a customer to log into a collaborative online space; where they can work alongside their adviser to get through the process more quickly.

Why do you think that now is a good time to disrupt the mortgage market?

I don't really like the word disrupt. We call ourselves technology enablers.

For over a decade now, mortgage technology has been overly focused on the “back office”, to account for changing compliance and regulatory requirements. However, as we have seen in every other industry, technology is placing a greater emphasis on customer-led approaches and the mortgage market needs that as well. Two recent phenomena confirm that it’s the right time for the brokers to focus on improving their “Front office”, customer-facing technology.

The first is that lenders have frankly upped their game and product transfers technology is improving. That's a real threat for advisors, and it becomes more difficult for them to maintain long-term customer loyalty. Secondly, digital challengers are offering a new proposition to consumers, which is convenience. Today, customers expect convenience; and over time, convenience is equated to a trusted, high-quality service.

Mortgage Screen is a tool that allows advisers to offer the same level of convenience as Lender’s product transfers and the so-called “robo-advisers”, so that they can maintain their high-quality service offering to end-customers.

Some people get incredibly skeptical about AI, and others get excited about the opportunities. How do you manage expectations around that?

One of the reasons that AI has generated an adverse reaction is that some digital challengers have weaponised digital innovation to discredit traditional advisors and lenders. We completely disagree with that. We stand on the side of the experienced incumbents in this market, and we think they're irreplaceable.

However, we do believe there is room for improvement on the tools being used. When assessing any new technology; the question we need to be asking is: "can these are tools assist you in doing your job more easily?"

Rameez Zafar

How is the reception amongst brokers?

Something I'm very proud of at Eligible is the feedback about our approach. We are viewed as a firm that genuinely listens and tries to understand problems. That, for us, is a milestone in itself. With regards to the product, the feedback is that Mortgage Screen reduces a lot of the friction in retaining a client. There's a lot of extremely mortgage advisers that want to do their job well and are constrained by their internal processes.

So firstly, they really like the idea of being freed up to effectively do more of what they're good at which is giving advice. And not be burdened by admin and compliance.

And second, advisers find Mortgage Screen easy to use and simple. That has been the cornerstone of what we're trying to do. Eligible as a business is continuously focused on understanding the complexities and making them simple.

How do you get the end user to share their financial information online (Open Banking) without scaring them off?

It goes back to my talk during the Dock9 Mortgage AI event. Innovation doesn't work without trust. It will take time for people to get comfortable with sharing their banking data, but eventually, it will become the norm. The phase we're in right now is similar to where online card payments were six to seven years ago. You did not give your credit card details to a small independent website. But you were comfortable with large retailers. Because those large retailers you trusted.

People will have varying degrees of success when they employ Open Banking. But the core has to be 'Do you have the trust of the customer?' If you have that trust, then you're best placed to try to get them to use these technologies. In the long-run, open-banking will add value and simplify the process. But the adoption curve will be slow.

What is the most interesting lesson you've learned so far?

We spent a lot of time interviewing lots of brokers - and we asked them "Tell me about your day? What's the first thing you do? What's the last thing you do?” And everything in between.

The pattern that emerges is that brokers today live across many “systems”. Some of these “systems” are obvious, such as emails, CRMs and sourcing tools. But then there are less obvious, but equally important “manual systems” that Advisors. For example, an excel sheet that an advisor creates to track their customers (i.e. hotlists). Other “manual system” might be post-it notes and finally the trusted notebook. It quickly became evident that an advisor must jump across numerous systems to do their job. The solution had to allow advisors to “live in one place” and furthermore the customer needed to live there as well.

Mortgage Screen has always been about creating this living workspace – where people could collaborate, so you didn't need seven different “systems” to progress the conversation with your customer. We’ve consolidated all of that into a single system; which automates a lot of the process and uses collaboration between customers and advisors to drive efficiencies.

Rameez Zafar

What was the biggest challenge?

Navigating sales processes. This is financial services, and it's also the most significant decision that a customer is going to make. This is a debt that follows them their entire life. So as a business we take compliance and regulation very seriously. Our challenge is developing solutions that automate it.

We have spent nearly two years on navigating and intimately understanding various sales processes. We needed to ensure we know precisely when the terms of business need to be signed, how e-marketing consents were being signed, when KFIs are generated, what/how they are used for. That's why when we say, "we save you time, so you can do more advice", what we're saying is: we've looked at every single step of these processes and automated as much as possible. We just do that in the background for you. That learning was difficult. And I think that while every firm is different, there are enough similarities where you can start to solve those problems in a standardised way, that is meeting their objectives and the customer's objectives as well.

What would you say is your favourite feature?

There's a few. What I'd like to hope it's going to be the most successful part of it is the collaborative nature of the product. For example, if you look at the fact find, it takes two hours to complete it. It is effectively a meeting or a call which is difficult to schedule. The fact find meeting itself is primarily a lot of data collection. It's one to two hours of asking what's your name? How many kids do you have? What's your date of birth?

Instead, we take existing CRM information, and pre-populate fact finds. The first thing that is different is that a customer isn't filling in a blank form anymore. This is a partially filled form that a customer can quickly start updating. What's really different about Mortgage Screen is we address the problem of customers being unable or unwilling to get through that entire process themselves. There are portions customers don't understand, or they just don't want to do. What we mean by collaboration is something we call internally: "mirrored screens". The adviser is able to see and work on the exact screens as the customer; both sides are working together and updating information real-time. This is an online-hybrid; which is not forcing a customer to complete the online process alone.

A bit like Google Docs?

Exactly. Think of Google Docs for the sales process.

Rameez Zafar

How do you come up with those ideas? Are you familiar with the creative process at Eligible?

The creative process I couldn't describe to you at all. What we try to do is codify feedback. We interview a lot, and we survey a lot. We organise this information and use it iterate our approach to the problem. At the heart of this is talking to a lot of different people. Don't sell to them, talk to them. Genuinely understand what it is that they're trying to achieve. What are their anxieties? What are their goals? Patterns emerge pretty quickly. Our process is one of iteration and research, which is to say test a lot before you code anything. Flash test it, and see how is resonating with your target audience, advisors and customers.

Someone once asked me “how do you ensure that you're building a good UX journey”? Fortunately, I'm not the designer, and we have some very talented people driving that; I'd be a terrible designer, I'm sure.

Fundamentally, we believe in comprehension and that Eligible’s primary goal in making this process simple and clear; because mortgages are complex.

What is your background, by the way?

I’ve spent over a decade working at several bank in the mortgages and credit analytics space. My last job was to help manage down a multi-billion mortgage-linked portfolio for one of the largest banks in the world. So, I've always understood mortgages from an institutional perspective.

But I've also gone through the process of getting a mortgage. It's said that apparently, after divorce, it's the most stressful thing for a consumer - and I was that consumer. All of us in the industry often hear customer feedback, and whether it's the advisor's, lender's or solicitor's fault, consumers just hate the process.

Which goes back to who we are as a business. I understand the complex nature of mortgages from the perspective of the lender. We quickly brought in people who were advisors, so we could understand that dynamic as well. And, as I mentioned, we have also felt the pain as consumers. Eligible’s goal is to use technology to remove that pain. But on behalf of the businesses.

How do you imagine the mortgage process will look in 10 years?

Human interaction will still be a big part of it. Again, technology does not replace experienced individuals, it empowers them. Advice will always have a role to play. Technology will allow the process to be faster, more efficient. I think data will become more readily available and customers will be more comfortable sharing that data. That means that information will be accurate and verified, which allows each stakeholder to make their decision more quickly. So you will see compression in completion times.

Some of the significant innovations will dictate how much faster. For example, can we get to a point where we're using smart documents, living contracts. If that can be automated, the mortgage process can be reduced dramatically.

What are the plans for the future for Eligible?

Eligible's focus is on ensuring our products are enriching the experience of the customer, dazzling them and genuinely helping them. That is our immediate goal. It's the bedrock of everything that we do. As I said, the philosophy of the business will always be to look at the process from the perspective of the customer then enable enterprises to serve those customers better.

Regarding our roadmap, there are problems we started to identify that exist with lenders; which we're beginning to address. Longer term we want to leverage our own data. Today we codify feedback; over time we want to codify what is happening on our platform. Using interactions that we see between customers and their advisors to generate insight and develop further products.

To experience Eligible.ai for yourself check them out at https://eligible.ai

If you're interested in enhancing your online offering then speak to the mortgage website experts at hello@dock9.com or call us on 0207 977 9230.

 

Pictures by Judit Toth