For over 40 years, Together has been committed to providing no-nonsense lending in even the most complicated of situations.
The company works with homebuyers, investors, landlords, and small businesses, and partners with a network of intermediaries, including brokers, accountants and solicitors, to secure the finance people need to buy a new home or start a new venture.
Historically, Together relied on manual processes, which were cumbersome and time-intensive. For a business that is focused on common-sense lending, the human touch in making intelligent business decisions is essential. However, it soon became apparent that the use of technology was an integral part in supporting people in making and implementing those decisions in the most efficient and effective way.
As the company began to experience rapid growth, this became even more essential, and so Together turned to Mastek to embark on a digital transformation journey.
Simon Carter, IT Director at Together, says, “The business had ambitious growth plans, but we recognised they couldn’t be achieved if we continued to work in the same way. We were very limited in our digital engagement with our intermediaries and our customers. To transform the business, we had to transform the technology.”
A journey of transformation
Because Together lends mostly through brokers, its transformation journey initially focused on them. Mastek helped the company replace obscure, complex product interfaces with a unified broker portal that is easier to use, much more systematic and clear about what brokers and customers can expect from Together, and about how the lender’s products work.
“We’ve removed paper-dependent steps out of processes, and automated manual ones. Our own research has shown 95% broker satisfaction with the new portal, and the business has reduced the underwriting turnaround by 30%. Meanwhile the business can instantly respond to regulatory changes. Ultimately, we have been able to grow the business in line with expectations, without changing the heart of the business,” says Simon Carter.
Improvements to the broker portal have also continued. For example, a recent addition of decision-in-principle functionality uses sophisticated underwriting logic to give potential customers immediate pre-approval for a specific loan amount. This gives them more information and confidence when choosing a lender to apply to.
Realising business growth
Together’s programme of smart change has played a big part in its ability to grow the value of its loan book by 150% in just three years, two years ahead of target.
Speed and ease of service have made Together increasingly attractive to brokers and their customers. New channels, such as mortgage clubs, have opened up to the lender. And Together’s many new internal efficiencies have allowed the company to take this growth in stride.
“Importantly, the partnership has provided us with the ability to scale up or down as business requirements change. We almost doubled our head count in the last four years, and trebled the size of the loan book, so this flexibility has been essential in supporting our rapid growth. Market conditions can also change, so it’s important to have the security of knowing the technology can support the business in that scenario too,” comments Simon Carter.
He adds, “the reality is that unless we had transformed, we may not be in business today. We recognised we needed to keep pace with the changing market, but the growth we’ve witnessed since our digital transformation shows we’re more than competing.”
In the four years since starting to work with Together on the broker portal, the original 14-strong Mastek team has grown to more than 100, working on more than 125 Agile development projects and IT-enabled business enhancements.
Steve Thomason, Head of Business Systems at Together, explains, “We don’t buy our core IT products off the shelf; we’ve always pursued bespoke development of our systems of differentiation. It’s a strategy that works for us, giving us the control and flexibility to respond to broker and customer needs without ever waiting on a software provider.”
Before bringing Mastek on board, developments were managed in-house with ad-hoc use of contractors; but as the company’s ambitions grew and the pace of change accelerated, there was an unwelcome increase in delivery delays. These are now a thing of the past, with readily scalable Mastek resource and effective Agile development processes in place.
Planning for transformation
Every Together development project starts with an idea — a response to a broker need, for example — that is examined until all of the expected benefits and costs are clearly understood. Ideas that pass muster become projects (large or small) and the priority and delivery of projects is continually assessed and re-assessed. Even as the current crop of projects progresses, Together is planning ahead, usually by six to twelve months.
Collaborating for success
Besides looking outwards to its products and services, Together looks inwards for continual improvement in delivery. To this end, Mastek and Together are in daily contact. Not just to track and measure progress, but to assess ways of working, the mix of onshore and offshore resource, the performance of individuals, the support that they need, who to hire and when: everything that impacts on the success of the collaborative approach embraced by both companies.
‘Innovation’ can’t really be ordered on demand, but Together wants to be actively open to new ideas, and is looking to Mastek to bring them to the table.
“When we toured the Mastek Centre of Excellence in India and saw some of the things they were doing for other customers, it was an eye-opener,” says Thomason. “Today we have a joint innovation forum and meet regularly to discuss ideas.”
One of the novel approaches being tried is a hackathon, in which a number of small Mastek teams compete to come up with innovative solutions to a given Together challenge. Since most of the teams aren’t working on the Together account, it’s a productive — and fun — way for the Together/Mastek partnership to come up with fruitful new ideas to explore.