Yes, of course. I’m Maria and for the last three years I’ve enjoyed a fairly broad portfolio career. I’ve been running my consultancy firm, Digital Cat Consultancy, where my clients tend to be mortgage lenders or technology firms who are looking to design new broker, customer and user experiences and implement digital solutions to improve their business processes.
I’m a Non-Executive Director at United Trust Bank and a board adviser to Coadjute, Plotify, Coreco, and FinTech North. I also chair the Home Buying & Selling Technology Group which is a collaboration across government, trade body and industry to improve the homebuying process.
My background in the mortgage industry started in 2006 when I joined HBoS working in intermediary service before moving to distribution where I headed up intermediary key accounts for Bank of Scotland and Intelligent Finance then for all the Lloyds Banking Group mortgage brands.
Since then, I’ve had director roles in the building society and mutual sector before having the absolute joy of setting up Digital Mortgages for Atom bank. I was part of the team who designed and built the bank from scratch, so I got to design the UK’s first digital mortgage!
As you say, you’re the chair of the Home Buying and Selling Group's technology working group - what does this involve, and can you give any insights on the group's findings?
The Home Buying and Selling Group was set up almost five years ago in response to a government call for evidence to reform the homebuying process. It’s a voluntary group of representatives from government, trade associations, and all parts of the home buying industry - we have firms ranging from PropTech start-ups and data providers right through to the biggest estate agents, conveyancers, and software firms.
The technology group was set up last July after the industry had conducted a soft trial of the Buyer and Seller Property Information (BASPI), one of the initiatives which came from the Home Buying and Selling Group.
The BASPI was designed to collect property data upfront, at the point of listing a property, and then enable that data to be shared with the rest of the parties in the transaction. I was asked to get a group of volunteers together to make the BASPI digital, but this quickly became a call to digitise all of the upfront information and to design a framework and set of data and technology standards that would create trust, transparency, interoperability, and confidence in the process.
The group have been simply amazing. They’ve created a common data dictionary, a set of JSON schemas, and an API standard that everyone in the industry can use to collect, share, and provenance digital property data and to prove that it works, they connected their own platforms either peer to peer or via the Coadjute network to share data in a test transaction.
We’re just at the point of being ready to start beta testing where we will implement the new process for real customers on live transactions
Some have been frustrated by the lack of progress with the HBSG - is this fair?
There’s no denying that the process of buying and selling a house and the vast range of parties involved in a transaction has made it challenging to deliver meaningful change. There are lots of good reasons why the process hasn’t really changed much in over 100 years.
The HBSG has delivered lots of progress across leasehold reform, property logbooks, cladding, customer education, etc, and each working group is focused on a key initiative which impacts the industry such as upfront information or sustainability.
From my perspective, the work on upfront information and from the technology group has been immense. They’ve delivered an entire property data trust framework with data and technology standards and delivered two proof of concepts in just over a year, and we’ve done so much work with the government and other data custodians to lobby for better open access to digital, trustable, and shareable property data.
You are an advisory board member at Coadjute - which, along with PEXA, is probably the most high-profile digital property disrupter in the UK right now. Are platforms like Coadjute and PEXA the future for mortgages and conveyancing?
I very much believe they are and their potential across the whole of financial and property services is hugely exciting. As an industry we’ve grown up with siloed technology, disjointed customer and user journeys, and a huge lack of collaboration especially when designing new systems and processes.
Having new solutions which are built on modern, digital, and connected platforms will give us the ability to speed up the digitisation of the industry and to properly resolve some of the biggest pain points that we and our customers face.
Coadjute is just another level. Their use of distributed ledger technology to stand up a whole market infrastructure is something we’re used to seeing in central governments or with global solutions such as the SWIFT payment network. I don’t know if we’ve fully appreciated just how disruptive this is going to be. It’s an honour to be involved in making it happen.
It appears that digital mortgages haven’t taken off in a really big way - why do you think that is?
I’ve been fortunate with my consultancy work that I get to see some of the real progress being made by mortgage lenders and intermediaries. There’s been a wave of digital adoption across solutions such as biometric identity, electronic signatures, machine learning powered affordability, AI enabled chatbots, retention drive by behavioural analytics, etc - all of which are great to see.
The idiosyncratic nature of our industry does mean that we have a huge range of firm size, capability, resources, and appetite to making change, though. We've never had an industry-wide common and standardised framework to anything we do (until now) and given the disparate way the industry works, it does feel like we need something mandatory for everyone to coalesce around the same goal and delivery dates.
Where do you see the market being 10 years from now?
For the first time since I joined the industry, it feels like we’re on the precipice of something very special. As soon as we can crack the data and technology adoption, we’ll free ourselves up to start creating new products, services, and ways of working.
The home of the future is well on its way so buying, selling, and financing our houses is going to look and feel very different. I’d love to see the market ready to embrace the new technology that’s coming and using it to design truly customer-led experiences.
When you’re not working, what do you do to relax?
I don’t know if I’d call it relaxing, but I’ve been a season ticket holder at Newcastle United for over 20 years and have supported the men and women’s team through thick and lots of thin! My family are all huge music and travel fans, too, so lots of gigs, exploring, and learning to speak Spanish.