The dawn of digital – how equity release is taking the next step
Mark Gregory (pictured) is chief executive of the Equity Release Supermarket
In a world of increasing digitisation, consumers are seeing greater online innovation across various service sectors to help them make the right decisions through important life phases. Equity release is no exception, with recent digital innovation increasing the information and choice available to them.
The equity release market has grown significantly in recent years, reflecting an increasing consumer confidence in the sector.
Our homes are likely to the biggest and most successful investments we ever make and at the same time, people often don’t save enough through traditional savings, pensions and investment vehicles to provide comfortable, worry-free retirements.
A significant number of people simply don’t have enough money to see them through their retirement years, let alone pay for ‘big ticket’ items, once in a lifetime luxuries or fund long-term care.
These are just some of the factors that are driving growth in the equity release market as more people realise that their home is a potential investment to be leveraged for their benefit.
At Equity Release Supermarket, we have seen the product landscape take significant evolutionary strides over the past few years. Through new digital technologies, we are leading the charge in realising the once vague possibilities of hybrid products, those that merge investment and pension vehicles with lifetime mortgages, allowing equity in a home to now be used to support a sustainable retirement income.
The information age is a great opportunity for lenders and brokers alike to develop their digital offering and provide the content and tools to allow customers to research and explore equity release plans as part of their decision-making process. There is still room for improvement and I would urge the later life lending industry to embrace technology for the benefit of all.
A lack of openess and transparency is holding back our industry and allows a host of myths and misconceptions about equity release to continue simply because consumers are at times unable to find a balanced view.
I’m very proud of the way we’ve adopted technology for the benefit of our customers through blending it with outstanding financial advice. We’re a very progressive and future facing company and over the coming months we’ll be launching a number of new initiatives that I believe have the power to change the future of the equity release market. To maximise the opportunity, we need the full support of lenders and in some instances they need to develop their technology to keep pace.
Moreover, I believe that our industry needs to be more progressive and offer more options in a broader range of circumstances. it makes sense that each different type of customer should be able to select and apply for an equally bespoke equity release plan, all online, in the comfort of their own home.
That being said, a key concern for many customers is online safety. The security of our customer’s data is of upmost importance to us and we go to great lengths to ensure that this is the case.
We use secure user log-ins and offer offline support and we don’t share data. Even in the digital age, we believe it’s important to be able to speak to someone at any point through the process, so we make that as easy as possible. Being there for your customer at the end of the phone or face-to-face gives them more confidence when using our web services.
If someone has taken the time and put trust in us by sharing their personal details, we have a duty of care to ensure the safety and security of that information and respect their wishes in how it is used.
The equity release market has changed beyond recognition in the last 10 years and I’m very proud to be a leader in such a progressive and innovative industry.
I can honestly say that whatever the customers situation, we can find a plan that meets their individual needs and often our customers are amazed that we’ve been able to help them – which is testament to the product innovation that the lenders have brought to market.
As an equity release adviser myself, I understand the customer’s needs and they have always been at the heart of everything we do.
Technology has made the whole equity release process much quicker and streamlined but as a whole of market broker, we rely on our partners and their technology to be able to offer our customers the best possible service. It now takes between four to six weeks from first application to a customer receiving their funds but I believe that we can reduce this even further and I’m currently working with solicitors on our panel with the goal being to develop connectivity that could reduce this timeframe to less than four weeks.
My focus now is to work with the industry and partners to ‘connect the dots’ across all the services involved in the equity release process so that we are able to continually push forward with the quality of experience, advice and service we offer our customers.
We are working on a really fantastic project which will see us reach the next level in terms of support and accessibility to those making those key decisions around equity release, and I am excited to be part of the continued evolution.