Major property group to enter mortgage market

An ASX-listed real estate group with international operations has revealed its plans to compete in the Australian home loan market.

REA Group, the parent company of online property listings site realestate.com.au, has hired mortgage industry figure Andrew Russell to lead the group’s push into the financial services space.

Mr Russell was responsible for launching Virgin Home Loans in Australia and more recently was general manager of third-party and product distribution at Mortgage Choice.

As executive director of the newly launched REA Financial Services, Mr Russell will work on the opportunity that REA Group sees in the Australian mortgage market, particularly around how the group can leverage realestate.com.au.

“A big part of looking at housing is finding out how much you can borrow,” Mr Russell told Mortgage Business.

“There is a lot of work being done in the background and I’m looking at ways we can build capability to increase our presence in the mortgage leads space."

REA Group has an existing lead referral relationship with mortgage broking group AFG.

“What is very exciting for me is leveraging off the work that has already been done and exploring opportunities to work out what will be the best for REA Group and best for our consumers. And then bringing it to market quickly,” Mr Russell said.

Mortgage brokers will be a “cornerstone” of REA Group’s home loan strategy, he added.

“The broker market is growing at a good speed and now represents around 50 per cent of home loans. Consumers have put their hands up and said that they do want choice when it comes to accessing home loans so we expect brokers will be a cornerstone of our strategy.”

In addition to residential mortgages, REA Group is eyeing lending opportunities in the commercial space.

“With REA Group active in the commercial property space, there are finance opportunities there as well,” Mr Russell said. “We’re already meeting with potential partners who are innovative and strategically aligned to what we’re trying to achieve.

“It is still early days but we will look at opportunities to get into product distribution.”

Mr Russell believes the REA brand is strong and resonates a lot with consumers, which he sees as integral for group as it looks to launch a range of branded mortgage products.

"The consumer research that the business has undertaken to date suggests that the people who use our sites are looking for direction and assistance in this space.

"We’re intending to offer best in class products to our consumers.

“It is a really exciting time as we explore our options and look closely at how people research and access finance now and how this might change in the future,” he said.

One of the most powerful aspects of REA Group’s venture into financial services is the potential to leverage its data insights, Mr Russell said, so long as they are used in a way that respects personal privacy and maintains consumer trust.

“The house is the epicentre of the finance transaction and as a national business, REA Group has a good understanding of what is going on in the market,” he said.

“Using that as an advantage will be useful in terms of being able to serve consumers with products that will meet their needs.

“That to me is very exciting and leveraging off the wealth of experience in the digital space will be ground-breaking.

“That to me was a big hook when coming to REA Group,” Mr Russell said.

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