As the UK’s market leading equity release advisory service, established back in 1998, Key Retirement has grown exponentially in the last 15 years and has become a multi-award winning equity release service provider.
Under the wider KR Group umbrella, more2life Limited, a specialist lender of equity release, has also established itself as the 3rd largest provider of lifetime mortgages in the same sector within the last 3 years.
Through diversification and establishing itself as the ‘go to place’ for the over 55’s seeking to safeguard and maximise income from property and retirement assets the Group continues to go from strength to strength, with Technology playing a vital role.
Part of that growth has come as a result of the private equity firm Phoenix Equity Partners buying the majority stake in the Group back in 2013. This saw the business look inwards at the company’s strategic growth moving forward, specifically its underlying technologies.
“Working closely with Phoenix and the Executive Board it forced us to look at how we incorporate the right strategic roadmap and growth pattern to support the goals and aspirations of the organisation,” says Darren Halliwell, CTO of KR Group.
“How do we make the bigger step change and allow room for growth and scale?”
Following the acquisition, the Group set about achieving key strategic targets with regards to growing not only as a business, but growing the equity release market itself.
The company’s key priority is providing equity release products and services to the over 55 market, but as with any industry it is a fluid market that drives the business.
“The key question we had to ask our self was with a dramatically growing market and an aging demographic, how do we as a business remain at the head of the pack both as a broker and a lender? At the time we didn’t feel we could do that with the then existing technology,” says Halliwell.
To respond to this changing market and changing demand, the first step for the Group involved the creation of a new infrastructure, CRM solution, new origination and lending platforms and a new website capable of handling the volume of traffic and personalisation of the company’s interaction with the customer and or broker.
These represented the “building blocks” that Halliwell refers to in which the business could then continue to grow and scale. Through an investment of around £5 million in technology stacks, this allowed the Group to do so without increasing operational costs, being much more efficient and productive in its processing and ultimately in a better position to deal with customer behaviour.
“Three or four years ago the majority of our organisational interaction with the over 55 customer base was purely over the telephone. Right now, we are at a point where around 85 percent of it is through online web enquiries,” says Halliwell.
Challenges and success
For an organisation to undergo such a large scale transformative process there will be undoubtedly challenges along the way. With KR Group, a significant challenge was the speed of delivery and whether it could be achieved while staying ahead in terms of customer expectations and demands.
While still learning and maturing, the transformation is not without its successes and it’s of no surprise that it is the engagement with the customer that drives that.
“Getting the organisation to a point where it was capable of understanding its customer better, having a true single customer view, one version of the truth in terms of data and data analytics has been a key success for us,” Halliwell says.
The company can then use this as a means of personalising its interactions and ultimately better serving its customers overall.
“Further, with the investment in a digital transformation programme, we have made numerous productivity and operational efficiency savings leading to reduced sales completion times, all of which delights the customer.”, he adds.
Technology and innovation is significantly disrupting industries and sectors all around the world and the financial industry is no different. For Halliwell as CTO, technology sits right at the heart of the business and the transformation.
“Without those initial foundations to allow us to achieve further integration and automation of systems and accepting that without our third-party customers, providers or lenders, we would not reach our potential or deliver an even better customer experience,” he says.
“It would be a very heavy manual based approach and it would be a much more cost prohibitive operation.”
“However, thanks to that hard work and endeavour by a lot of dedicated and talented individuals within the business we are now even better positioned to deliver even more exciting innovation that will keep us at the forefront of all we do.”
Partnerships are key to the success of the business. KR Group went through a due diligence process soon after the acquisition and changed the way the company seeks out partners to work with. The company looks for partners who not only provide the business with service solutions, but also whether the particular company could be a long-term partner.
“We look for someone who could get in and understand how our business operates and ultimately provide better solutions alongside us,” says Halliwell.
Through partnerships, Halliwell has an open dialogue with them to better understand where, from a technology perspective, the market is heading.
A great example of this is with one of Key Retirement’s leading vendor partnerships, AlfaPeople UK Limited. Phil Rawlinson MD of AlfaPeople shared his experience from the vendor perspective:
“Having seen first-hand Key Retirement’s use of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and associated technologies, I say with confidence it is an exemplar of how projects should be designed and delivered, having witnessed huge variance in quality during my previous roles at Microsoft and typically getting involved when projects were on a downturn. These issues were largely down to a lack of governance on both sides, no eye on value generation for the customer and delivery team members that have a default answer of ‘yes’ now what was the question – not challenging the customer, every step of the way.
Working with Darren’s team, together we have created a value based solution that covers every aspect of Key Retirement’s business, that is perceived as mission critical and ensures the ultimate customer experience, whilst reducing costs through intelligent business processes’’
In the financial service industry, data and the handling of data is integral to the success of a company. In the equity release sector, which is an emotional and often delicate decision making process for customers, this is an extremely prescient issue.
Key Retirement has an ISO 27001 Certification, which is the international standard that describes best practice for an information security management system (ISMS). This certification acts as an important stamp in which the company can demonstrate its security credentials.
This commitment to a secure approach to handling data has been integrated along every step of the way through the design and development of the company’s architecture, minimising the risks associated with data handling and storage.
Furthermore, Halliwell adds “Demonstrating through such a recognised certification programme as ISO also brings other benefits such as confidence to our network of referring partners (Key Partnerships) and any potential funder of our more 2 life division. It demonstrates we mean business and this can be the edge or a critical factor when these organisations are looking to choose their partner to place either funds under management or safety and protection of their customers data.”
As a multi award winning company across the UK, Key Retirement can boast being the market leader in the equity release sector and this is through the way it interacts with the customer.
“The customer and their needs is absolutely number one to us in terms of everything we do. From the initial engagement of the enquiry right through to the monies released stage we ensure the customer either that be in the B2B or B2C space is at the forefront of everything that happens,” says Halliwell.
Unlike other financial services, equity release can often be an emotional purchase. This is recognised by Key Retirement.
“It’s about putting an arm around the customer and being mindful of their requirements and needs. It’s not a pushy service, the customer almost guides us through the process and not the other way around,” he says.
Halliwell believes that for the company to continue to offer market leading services and serve the customer base better, it must continue to allow the customer to be the driving force behind everything it does.
“Winning awards and receiving great customer feedback demonstrates that throughout this process and over the last 15 years, we must be doing something right,” says Halliwell.
The company works with the customer base to continuously improve its services. This includes a customer care questionnaire that allows it to look at what works, what doesn’t and extrapolate the key information in order to improve. It has also recently surpassed the 10,000 mark in positive ratings from Trust Pilot with an average rating of 9.8 out of 10, the highest in its sector both for score and volume of respondents. In 2016 the Group accepted its 50th award in the industry for customer excellence, all of which have been achieved in a large part in the technology investments mentioned previously.
No signs of slowing down
Looking to the future, where does the Group go from here?
“It’s very much about remaining number one, maintaining our position as a market leader and continuing to innovate and grow that market, both for Key Retirement and more2life” says Halliwell.
A key example of the way in which the Group has innovated the market has been through More2life. More2life, a company which manufactures lifetime mortgage products in the market and sells them to the wider broker community, worked with Key Retirement and a number of other leading brokerages to integrate the first online KFI and application broker portal to accelerate that process.
But looking at the customer interaction, Halliwell recognises the changing market, and tomorrow’s demands will be very different from today’s. As smartphone and tablet technology develops, the way in which both the B2C over 55 market and B2B broker market expects to interact with the company changes with it.
“Even in the last few years customer behaviour in the demographic has changed and becoming more adaptive to that is crucial. The next stages will see continued innovation in customer engagement channels both for the broker and the lender along with an eye on continued process improvement aimed at driving even better customer experiences,” says Halliwell.
“As any industry changes the demands change too. You’ve got to move with the times and make sure you are giving customers what they need and I think we have made great steps forward in responding to changes in customer (B2B and B2C) behaviour and will continue to do so.”
“It is an exciting and challenging time for KR Group and the sector as a whole and I am proud to be working for an organisation that views technology as a true enabler for positive change both in terms of that technology and how we also strive to improve people’s lives.