Interview: Richard Hayes, Co-Founder and CEO at Mojo Mortgages

Author Livia Thimotheo
  • Date January 03, 2019
  • Reading Time 9 minutes

Richard Hayes

Can you tell me a bit about Mojo?

Mojo is an online mortgage broker. Our vision is to create a better mortgage experience for everyone. We started out as a business called Life’s Great, which was effectively a digital financial adviser. We used natural language processing to build a chatbot that would ask the customer questions and offer insights about products that were available. It taught us a lot, allowing us to make an educated decision to pivot into an entirely mortgage focused business. We launched Mojo in April (2018) and we haven’t looked back.

We’ve grown significantly, in terms of customers and our team. We went from 20 staff to more than 50 in a short period. The team is pretty much a 50/50 split of financial services and product/tech experts. We’re genuinely a fintech, not just a mortgage broker with a fancy website.

Mojo’s growth has been driven by direct acquisition and relationships with third parties. Whether people come directly to us or they are introduced to us, we’re not really precious about that. What we care about are better, more empowering mortgage experiences.

Can you describe the Mojo experience compared to the traditional way of doing things?

It’s a more intuitive experience. We do everything we possibly can to make sure we’re not asking customers questions they can’t answer. The other major thing is our flexibility compared to traditional mortgage brokers. Over 60% of our traffic comes outside of traditional working hours when bricks and mortar brokers can’t help. If you drill down into why we do what we do, it’s all about how mortgages typically make people feel. I think it’s quite an ominous process. When someone says they’ve bought a house and you ask how it went, everybody says: ‘really bad’, ‘stressful’ and ‘anxious’. We want to end that awful experience. So, when we talk about creating a better experience, we don’t just mean UI and UX, right? We want people to feel better about finding and applying for a mortgage.

So, how do you do that?

We give customers absolute flexibility when it comes to finding mortgage deals and getting immediate feedback on the best options for them. That was effectively our MVP. We’re adding more and more data sources to enrich the data we collect so that we can give the customer back the most accurate and empowering information.

We make sure customers understand what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what they’ll get out of it. And, crucially, we don’t remove human beings from the process. We’re often labelled as a robo-adviser, and we don’t particularly like the term because humans are essential to delivering a better mortgage experience.

Richard Hayes

Before I dig deeper, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

I fell into financial services, really. I left school at 16, did a variety of things and then ended up with a job in FS – and I was hooked. That was in 2006/07, which was an exciting time because a lot of businesses were going digital. At 21, I set up my own online car finance business – but this was in 2008 amid the credit crunch. It taught me a lot about business very early on and very quickly. It was a good learning experience.

I decided to move into mortgages because I was always passionate about property. Even when I didn’t have a mortgage, I was constantly checking rates. Now that I’m working in the sector, I’m still doing the same. I’m a mortgage and tech geek!

When I started a mortgage brokerage, I was shocked by how complex it all was. I started selling mortgages in a more traditional way and I was left completely dissatisfied by the experience my customers were getting. It was rubbish. We knew there had to be a better way, so we asked how we could use some of the things we learned to evolve the proposition.

Mojo boasts that they offer free and impartial advice. How do you manage to do that?

The answer to both is tech. Algorithmic advice is agnostic because it isn’t subject to any of the biases that can influence human advisers, whether they realise it or not. Our algorithm only knows how to recommend the best product for the customer. For example, it doesn’t have relationships with lenders, positive or otherwise, that might sway it towards recommending them. It’s impartial. We’re able to offer free advice because our tech makes us so efficient. It frees up our human advisers from a lot of administration so that they can focus on what they do best – which is giving great, expert mortgage advice. It means they have the time to help more people.

Richard Hayes

Which, in your opinion, is the most impactful technology that helped bring about those changes to the mortgage industry?

In most cases evolution in a sector picks up pace when certain technologies advance to a state where there are clear and obvious use cases. More advanced API’s, chatbots and frameworks supporting more intuitive UI’s are just a few that have allowed Mojo to make a big leap forward.

To get technical, Mojo has a React front end. It’s a component-driven technology that allows us to spin up multiple journeys very quickly – creating different question flows and so forth. This has been key to us evolving our partnership proposition. But from a mortgage perspective, it’s been more about a mindset and less about innovation. We’re going to have to fundamentally change the way people go about finding and applying for a mortgage and getting advice.

How will mortgage journeys look in five years?

In terms of what’s exciting for us, our partnership program is really innovative. Nothing exists at the moment that allows you to learn, compare, get advice, get a recommendation and apply all in one place. We think that’s the next leap forward: end-to-end, unbroken mortgage experiences.

We already know that so many people start their search for mortgages online. I think that’s eight or nine million people a month searching for mortgage-related keywords. But I think there’s just so many broken journeys out there. There’s no end-to-end journey yet, but I think we’re very close to delivering something that resembles that. That’s real innovation. That’s how I see the future. The ability for a customer to get advice in 5 minutes – it’s a literal KPI we’re focused on right now: how do we shorten the fact-find process to 5 minutes – and we’re pretty close. It’s not going to be for 100% of customers but for those that are happy to consent to Open Banking and a soft search, we’ll be able to match them with the right mortgage in 5 minutes.

What were the biggest challenges that Mojo had to go through?

In terms of partnerships, our APIs are very sophisticated so there has been technical challenges. They haven’t kept us awake at night; they’ve been exciting challenges that we’ve loved solving.

The biggest challenge for us as a business and for me personally has been around raising money. Not because our proposition doesn’t merit raising venture capital, it’s just a really hard process. So even with tons of mortgage and technical experience, as a founder, I didn’t have a load of experience raising capital. My previous 10 years of being self employed had been entirely self-sufficient, so it’s been a new challenge for me. Clearly, the challenge that we’re on now in terms of the mortgage experience we want to create, I was always going to have to raise external capital to achieve it, and it’s been the hardest thing to date – and probably will continue for the foreseeable future if I’m completely honest.

Mojo Mortgages

What are the next steps?

From a user perspective, it’s 100% the 5-minutes mortgage application. There’s an individual squad in the team solely focussed on that right now. As I say, it’s going to be achieved via Open Banking, credit bureau data and working with really great businesses who can provide the data needed to create a better mortgage experience.

We’re close to announcing some pretty big partners. We’re doing some really cool work with some fantastic fintech’s that we’re excited to announce. Unfortunately I can't say who they are just now, but we’ll share more soon. We talked to specialist lenders as well and they say they don't use technology that much because their cases are not one-size-fits-all and you have to look case-by-case.

What is your opinion on that?

It’s such a big purchase that human advisers will remain an essential part of the experience, indefinitely. But there’s a way of doing it quicker and better. A perfect example is this: reviewing how quickly someone spends their money. If a customer is paid on the fifth of the month and you want to know how soon they spend 95% of that income, you don’t need to ask them – data can tell you that. That tells you so much about the customer’s affordability. Another one: Open Banking scrutinising and categorising 12 months’ banking transactions can give you unbelievable insights into whether a customer is a good fit for a specific lenders product.

Then you can create a model that can start to predict, based upon historic data, who’s likely to default and who’s likely to be able to afford a specific lending product. We’ve seen this in other areas. I mean, Royal London has a life insurance product for customers with diabetes which does exactly that. It’s a machine-learning based proposition that asks 20-30 questions about the customer before making a decision and offering a premium. Let’s use Big Data and start making what I think, evidently, will be more informed and accurate decisions.

Any final thoughts?

We’re an entirely customer-centric business. This allows us to be a product-centric business as well. We try not to be too strongly led by the immediate commercial outcome. Clearly, we have to be a good business – we can’t sit here losing money, but we have to make decisions with the customer at heart. Being a product-centric business allows us to do that, to really analyse ‘is this going to make the experience better for the customer?’.

I think that’s really important.

Richard Hayes

To experience Mojo Mortgages for yourself check them out at www.mojomortgages.com

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Pictures by Judit Toth