Ben Milsom at Plenti about trust and innovation in consumer lending

Ben Milsom

Co-founder and CCO, Plenti

For our latest white paper on ‘Trust and the future of consumer lending’ we spoke with a number of industry leaders, to get their take on the subject. 

Ben Milsom is the Co-founder and Chier Commercial Officer of Plenti, Australia’s most loved consumer lending.

“Open Banking has the potential to significantly improve customer experience in consumer lending.”

What role does customer trust play in consumer lending, and for the relationship with your consumers in particular?

Trust is everything when it comes to consumer lending. Trust in Plenti, who we are, what we do and what we offer is critical to how much our product is adopted – and that is ultimately a measure of our success. 

We have two main groups of customers: the consumers whom we engage with directly and our partner network, who engage with us on behalf of their customers – the end users of our lending products. Giving them every reason to trust us is a driving force behind our business and is the difference between them using Plenti in the first place, and coming back to use us in the future.

Plenti was founded on the principle that our ambitions for growth would always need to be balanced with the responsibility of only lending to customers who could afford to repay their loans, and of being the custodian of other people’s money. It’s a responsibility we continue to take seriously, and it genuinely informs everything we do.

From our market-leading approach to transparency and around fees and terms, our data protection measures, the important role we play in accelerating Australia’s uptake of renewable energy, and our relentless focus on the customers’ interests, Plenti has continually executed business decisions that reflect our underlying principles of doing the right thing. In turn, this approach continues to generate trust amongst our customers. 

Today’s consumers are more discerning than ever and are highly attuned to the actions of businesses. Not only do they rightly expect a minimum standard of behaviour and service, they have a multitude of alternatives if they don’t believe these are adequately met.

Customers who choose or need to borrow money want to feel assured they are able to source finance at the best available rates, with the simplest and easiest terms to understand. Knowing exactly what they are getting from a lender is fundamentally what drives their trust and informs their decision to choose one lender over another.  

Customers also have a degree of caution around their eligibility and capacity for sourcing finance: our role here is to assure them we have the right assessment processes in place for them to become our customer and service a loan they can afford. 

As a consumer-focused business in a competitive and evolving landscape, Plenti is more committed than ever to ensure the trust of our customers is valued and genuinely earned.

What are the most important pain points in the consumer lending customer journey (ie thinking about applying, using and paying off a loan/line of credit)?

Today’s customers expect convenience, and that means being able to provide a product and service that is easy to access, fast, simple to understand and makes their journey as smooth as possible. This can only be delivered by technology – both in terms of how the provider brings the product to the customer as well as how the customer wants to receive it. Get the technology wrong and there are pain points every step of the way, and it’s a superior technology-enabled service Plenti delivers, which differentiates it from its competitors.

Plenti has streamlined the application, approval and settlement process so these customer friction points are removed.

For example, rate estimates – tailored to each applicant’s own financial circumstances – can be delivered to customers in under a minute, with no impact on their credit score. This is highlighted to customers as it’s typically an important consideration when they’re assessing their loan options.

The application process has been condensed to a process that takes just 15 minutes, with the provision of documents like bank statements and other identifying information exchanged via a secure third-party platform. In practice, this means customers do not need to provide physical or even digital copies of their documents, but simply give approval for these to be provided in a secure cloud-based environment – eliminating what has traditionally been a substantially longer and more convoluted process. 

Approval is under 48 hours (with a number of customers being approved instantly) with customers being informed automatically throughout the process of its status. While this process has become increasingly automated, there remains an option for customers to interact with service agents in the event of any issues: however, experience tells us that it’s the very automation of the entire process that is most appealing to customers today. 

The settlement stage of the process is equally prompt, with customers able to access funds once they are automatically made available in their accounts: typically within 24 hours of their loan application being approved.

Repayment plans are equally simple, transparent and ultimately a condition of the loan approval. These are fulfilled by customers in another automatic process, via direct debit on an agreed-upon schedule determined within the application process.

How do you think Open Banking can help improve the user experience in consumer lending? And what are you most excited about when it comes to Open Banking?

Open Banking has the potential to significantly improve customer experience in consumer lending. We’ve always been an advocate of appropriate sharing of information in the best interests of the customer.  Plenti believes that open banking will improve our efforts to attract customers who might otherwise choose to borrow from their main bank for convenience reasons. We believe that open banking can provide better value to customers by (amongst other things) simplifying loan application experiences, accelerating loan assessment, improving risk-based pricing and improving operational efficiency. 

As part of our commitment to a more transparent banking system, Plenti was the first consumer lender to allow borrowers to view an indicative loan interest rate based on their credit file, without negatively impacting their bureau credit score. The thinking behind this was to help consumers to ‘shop around’ for the best deal and support greater competition in the marketplace.

In terms of credit data, we were also the first lender to share comprehensive credit data with other lenders. We are an active advocate for the comprehensive credit reporting regime to be mandated in Australia, and it has helped to introduce greater competition to loan markets – which of course is in the best interests of the customer.

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