Brokers rate their aggregators, here's how they stack up

Brokers have made it clear which aggregators they favour: the ones that are innovating, constantly communicating and backing them up

About the board, aggregators fared well in this year’s survey of brokers, gaining positive reviews in a number of surprising areas. The majority of brokers say they’re happy with their fee/commission split, they find their aggregator’s professional development days useful, and they aren’t concerned about any hidden costs.

This was a far cry from MPA’s March 2018 Brokers on Banks survey, when brokers didn’t hold back their complaints or low grades. In this survey of brokers on aggregators, their comments were refreshingly different, with several praising their aggregator’s service and leadership teams.

We either had a really cheerful bunch of brokers filling out this year’s survey, or brokers are becoming more dependent on, and less disgruntled by, the one thing that remains constant in their lives: their aggregator.

During this time of immense flux, it’s understandable why the majority of brokers say they don’t plan to switch aggregators. But it’s not just a sign of the times or how much work it is. The aggregators on this list are working hard to maintain their brokers’ loyalty and business, and show here how they’ve earned it.

Aggregator leaders are constantly talking about how they’re improving their CRM and IT platforms, what new education and training modules they’re launching, and how they’re backing their brokers’ diversification strategies. It’s not just talk. The best aggregators are the ones that are constantly innovating.

The top aggregators in this report show that their strength lies not in just one field but across the gamut. They know that a successful brokerage relies just as much on a robust compliance and communication system as it does on marketing support and a quality lending panel. They’re becoming a more important partner to their brokers, catering to their growing needs in an evolving market.

It’s worth acknowledging the optimistic tone of this report because, with further commission changes likely to come, brokers and aggregators might not be in such an agreeable mood next year. That said, if all these aggregators keep up the good work, we’re going to see the competition heat up.

In our Final Results section, you’ll find details on what made the top five aggregators stand out, and following that there’s an interview with the managing director of 2018’s Aggregator of the Year.

This year’s survey saw a good cross-section of participation across states, ages, years in the industry and settlement volume. We greatly appreciate you taking the time to rate your own aggregator and share your experiences.


BROKERS'S TOP PRIORITIES

Most brokers are satisfied with their respective aggregators, but if they were to leave, some said vertical integration would be one of the reasons

As the regulatory environment becomes tougher on brokers, aggregators have the opportunity to assert their importance within the channel. Not only are brokers counting on them to stand up for the work they do and the value they provide, but brokers are also going to become more reliant on the back-end support and tools aggregators offer.

As commissions become harder to earn – and are potentially reduced – brokers will expect aggregators to keep pace and deliver even better services to earn the split they receive.

Our survey shows that brokers rank accurate and on-time commission payments just slightly ahead of a quality lending panel. While commission payment is understandably the most important service an aggregator can offer, it’s not the top reason why a broker would abandon ship. That is instead attributed to poor IT and CRM support.

It seems brokers have higher expectations of their aggregators’ IT and CRM support, likely due to the increase in compliance and regulatory demands.

As industry changes continue, brokers are going to become more reliant on the backend support and tools aggregators provide

IT and CRM support moved up a spot to third place, ahead of compliance support, on the list of brokers’ top wants.

Surprisingly, lead generation ranked at the very bottom of the list. However, this could have to do with the fact that 65% of the survey respondents have been in the industry for more than five years and are likely to have established referral networks already.

That said, brokers don’t look ready to leave their aggregators any time soon. Three quarters of respondents said it was extremely unlikely they would change aggregators in the next 12 months, up slightly from last year’s results.

Just 10% of brokers said they were ‘likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ to leave their aggregator, which is the same as last year. The top four reasons they would leave include poor IT and CRM support, poor accuracy and timeliness of commission payments, and poor BDM support.

When asked to elaborate on other reasons they might consider leaving their aggregator, brokers made some interesting comments in light of recent conversations surrounding vertical integration and conflicts of interest.

“Bank ownership and lack of support of brokers in face of royal commission,” a South Australian broker responded.

“Conflict of interest due to ownership structure,” a Victorian broker wrote.

Vertical integration in the broker channel has garnered some negative attention from the Productivity Commission and royal commission and will likely continue to be monitored, if not tweaked, in the future.

“The channelling of products offered to consumers through the vertical integration of brokers and other distribution channels can mean these consumers are not given the choice of products that are better for them,” the Productivity Commission wrote in its report into competition in the financial services sector.

As industry changes continue, one of the most important things an aggregator can do is communicate with its brokers, something Finsure is clearly excelling at.

No matter whether it’s top boss John Kolenda, who directly reaches out to brokers, or another member of the team, Finsure is quick to help and bolster its brokers’ businesses in any way it can.

“All Finsure brokers have access to our support services, which are aimed at taking their business to the next level,” says managing director Kolenda. “They can access anyone across the entire team, including marketing, commissions, administration and compliance.”

Finsure’s brokers are each assigned a dedicated BDM who will stay with them during their entire career and be their first point of contact. The aggregator also holds quarterly PD days for its network nationwide.


GETTING PAID

Brokers are generally satisfied with their aggregator’s fee/commission split, but a few said they were seeing more costs filter down to them due to increased compliance demands

Aggregators will be delighted to see that the majority of brokers are satisfied with their fee/commission split and aren’t overly concerned about hidden costs. The results were nearly identical last year.

AFG took gold for accurate and timely commission payments. Mark Hewitt, AFG’s general manager, broker and residential, explained that the aggregator makes weekly upfront commission payments. “We are very aware that as custodians of our brokers’ income, these are non-negotiables. Regular cash flow is vital to small business,” he says.

As a result of [PLAN's] relentless focus on diversification ... asset finance volumes jumped by 37% from $188.5m to $258.9m

Among the 6% who said hidden fees were a problem at their aggregator, some complained about an uplift in fees as a result of increased compliance costs.

One Victorian franchisee said it was not so much hidden costs that were the problem but excessive costs. “Upfront and trail [are] based on a monthly rolling settlement average. Bad month and commissions get halved,” he said.

While most brokers are on a commission-split model (63% of total), or a flat-fee model (30%), and only a very small percentage are on a transaction fee (7%), that is not the case when it comes to the brokers making the most money. Brokers who are making $60m or more are more likely to be on a fl at-fee commission model.

Remuneration structures have been the talk of the town at aggregator professional development days, broker networking events and the Combined Industry Forum. Some lenders have already begun making tweaks to commission.

ANZ announced it would be increasing its upfront commission to 62.5 basis points from 57.5, and levelling the playing field so that brokers settling more than $100m don’t receive any more than that base amount.

Bankwest has made changes to trail, reintroducing Year 1 trail but reducing trail in Year 3, Year 5 and onwards.

With brokers potentially facing a decrease in commissions, having a strong diversifi cation strategy will become increasingly important.

PLAN Australia took top prize in the ‘additional income streams’ category. As a result of the aggregator’s relentless focus on diversification, its brokers’ commercial volumes increased by 0.6% from $1.48bn to $1.49bn in the 2017 calendar year, while asset finance volumes jumped by 37% from $188.5m to $258.9m.

“For members seeking new and ongoing business opportunities, we also work with them to find strong and reliable referral partners, such as accountants or financial planners, who can help generate quality leads,” said PLAN CEO Anja Pannek.


GROWING YOUR BUSINESS

The aggregators that are expanding their education and training offerings and diversifying their lending panels are the ones winning brokers

Most aggregators are putting greater emphasis on education and training as the regulatory and compliance environments respond to heightened scrutiny.

Liberty Network Services won in the ‘training and education’ category this year. It provides significant training opportunities to its brokers, including webinars, state forums, local small group sessions and national conferences.

It also received the top grade for ‘marketing support’, likely because of its scheme to contribute dollar-for-dollar support to brokers for local marketing, such as local cinema advertisements or digital geo-targeting. It’s these bright ideas that are keeping this small aggregator ahead of the curve.

With its 24-month broker academy to train new entrants and its annual business planning and sales coaching initiatives, Finsure claimed a close second place in the ‘training and education’ category.

With many aggregators offering perks and support of this type, it makes sense that most brokers are hesitant to switch aggregators.

For those who have considered it, it’s also not an easy process. Several obstacles have held them back, chief among them data migration and IT issues.

Some other concerns include transferring lender accreditations, with CBA specifically mentioned, losing personal relationships, and a delay in earnings.

While most brokers didn’t rank lead generation as a particularly high priority, when asked what service their aggregator could improve upon, many said leads.

One broker suggested lead generation for commercial loans, while others welcomed lead generation relevant to geographic areas or specifically geared to newer brokers.

Brokers are also looking for a quality lending panel. Finsure won in this category as well, and this follows the recent announcement that the aggregator will be partnering with peer-to-peer lender RateSetter to offer its 1,400 brokers access to personal loans and green loan products.

When asked which lenders they would like to see added to their aggregator’s panel, many brokers said credit unions, building societies and mutual banks, such as CUA, Bank of Australia, Newcastle Permanent and People’s Choice Credit Union.

When asked which lenders they would like to see added to their aggregator’s panel, many brokers said credit unions

The most popular choice of non-major bank was HSBC, followed by ME. Better Mortgage Management also emerged as another popular alternative.

One broker said they’d like to see “more consumer loan providers” on their aggregator’s panel “to ensure we offer a one-stop shop for a client’s lending needs”.

Another wanted “more credit unions for their great offers that give customers more choice”.


FINAL RESULTS

The top aggregators showed strengths across a number of categories, proving that success comes from supporting every facet of a broker’s business


5th: CONNECTIVE

Overall score: 4.0009

MPA: Connective has consistently done well in the IT and CRM support category. Why is this so important to brokers?
Mark Haron, director:
The right technology is vital to business success today and will become increasingly important in the future. Customers expect to be able to communicate through whatever devices and apps they want, to access fast, accurate and personalised service every time.

Only a purpose-built IT platform and CRM that constantly evolves in step with the needs of brokers will meet their ever-growing and changing demands. Brokers are not IT experts, so it’s imperative that we provide them with the right technology and support services that make it easy and cost-effective for them to stay on top.

 

4th: PLAN AUSTRALIA

Overall score: 4.109

MPA: PLAN took first place in the 'additional income streams' category. What do you think accounts for that, and how is PLAN helping brokers diversify?
Anja Pannek, CEO:
PLAN Australia understands the value that can come from positioning yourself as a ‘one-stop shop’. We actively support and encourage members to expand into arenas such as commercial and asset finance to grow their businesses, providing training and access to lenders to facilitate this. We assist brokers in fulfilling the commercial and asset finance needs of their customer base. This includes providing access, training and support to brokers who need to work with the commercial and asset finance lenders on our panel. We partner with our members.


3rd: AFG

Overall score: 4.111

MPA: Why have brokers ranked AFG first for accurate and on-time commission payments?
Mark Hewitt, general manager, broker and residential:
AFG is extremely pleased to win the gold medal in this category. We believe brokers regard the safe and timely payment of their commission as the most important factor when selecting an aggregator. We are very aware that, as custodians of our brokers’ income, these are non-negotiables. Regular cash flow is vital to small business, which is why we make weekly upfront commission payments. Brokers also tell us our ability to split and pass on commission at multiple levels is a key factor in choosing AFG.


2nd: LIBERTY NETWORK SERVICES

Overall score: 4.241

MPA: LNS won the gold medal in lead generation. What’s the trick to providing good leads to your brokers?
Brendan O’Donnell, managing director:
LNS embraces an agile methodology for all of its marketing efforts, which means we’re constantly testing the work we do to ensure we are getting results. This allows us to have a better understanding of where the leads come from, and as a result we continuously deliver on leads each and every day. All advisers receive leads, and where we have local geographies that are lower in lead flow, we initiate targeted local area digital marketing to help increase digital leads for that area. It works well! We also provide a comprehensive marketing program that touches multiple mediums, so advisers have the best opportunity to get good leads and grow their businesses.


1st: FINSURE

This year’s top-performing aggregator was not about to settle for second again. Managing director John Kolenda explains how Finsure emerged ahead of the pack to capture gold

Since we established Finsure in 2011, we have always tried to keep evolving to meet the demands of an ever-changing market to provide more value for our brokers. We have worked hard to add value across all areas and believe Finsure offers an unrivalled service proposition to brokers. All Finsure brokers can get all their business needs met under one roof. Our members really appreciate this and will hopefully continue to rate our proposition favourably across all categories.

MPA: Finsure came in second last year. What made the difference this year?
John Kolenda
: This year we invested heavily in technology to provide brokers with additional cutting-edge solutions to identify new customers as well as retain existing customers. Finsure utilises its own online proprietary CRM/broker platform, which automatically communicates with all associated parties about the customer’s property purchase.

Other key initiatives developed over the past year include the introduction of our Broker Academy to assist new-to-industry brokers; dedicated credit coaching for existing members to improve loan structuring; and the introduction of our digital marketing strategy to offer brokers website-building capabilities and education on optimising digital assets.

MPA: How is Finsure planning to help brokers deal with the increasingly complex and challenging regulatory and lending market?
JK:
There are many macro risks that will always pose significant threats – house price changes, legislative changes and funding markets which impact lender credit appetite. All have the potential to significantly impact a broker’s business. The current lending landscape is the most complex I have experienced in more than 25 years. The spotlight on banks from the royal commission is also making home finance more difficult, particularly through tighter controls on customer living expenses. Finsure has placed a large amount of resources into education and training programs to keep brokers abreast of these changes so they are able to continue to provide clients with the highest standards of service and expertise. We are also investing significantly in digital capabilities to help our brokers improve customer experiences and engagement.

MPA: Lead generation was identified as needing improvement by aggregators. How is Finsure working on that?
JK:
Our marketing team is heavily invested in generating leads across multiple brands and consumer offerings. A dedicated team of call centre professionals prequalify all raw leads over the phone. All enquiries to our multi-branded leads model are prequalified, and key information is sent via email with a recording of the conversation, allowing brokers to prepare in advance to assist their customers. Our marketing team also offers content for brokers’ social media feeds, a website development service, a public relations service for individual brokers, and free audits of a broker’s website to enhance lead generation and brand positioning. They will also sit down with a broker to map out their entire marketing strategy. And all strategy consultations are completely free!