Hi Michael, could you start us off with an introduction to yourself and Trussle?
I’m Michael Loberman – I’m the Head of Product at Trussle, which is an online mortgage broker that’s disrupting the mortgage market. I’ve worked in product for about 10 years. I actually started my career in management consulting at Accenture and moved into financial services working for Barclays, then moved into product, working for Tesco, Sainsburys, and a small startup, before joining Trussle, where I’m one of three ‘product managers’ within the company.
How different does the product roadmap look now compared to when first started?
I’d say massively different. The business itself has changed so much in the last 12 months; we onboarded a new CTO towards the end of last year, new Product Managers, and designers, as well as new senior leaders within sales, operations, and compliance, and every one of those new hires has influenced change in some way or another.
We’ve spent the last few months taking the time to try and get a bit clearer on some of the things that were a bit more nebulous — for example, how we’re going to start using open banking within the mortgage space, in a time where certain lenders have their reservations about open banking for purposes of income verification, mortgage affordability etc. We’re focusing now on how we can bring about that change through our influence in the market, and our relationships with lenders, to try and help things move along faster.
Do you ever find that certain lenders are reticent to being involved in a digitalised brokerage process?
Generally, I would say no. We work with over 90 lenders, and have access to around 12,000+ different mortgage deals — pretty much all lenders work with brokers, and if they don’t, they normally have a form of sub-brand who work with brokers. Approximately 70% of mortgages in the UK go through a broker , and given how lenders are so key to our business, the opportunities are there for brokers to work even closer with, and partner with, lenders — that’s really core to our strategy. We’re helping lenders lower their cost of service, and lower the cost of acquiring new customers, which is a real win-win for all of us.
Mortgage rates are fairly competitive at the moment, so it’s not always a case of ‘lowest rate wins’ – sometimes it’s about personalising a product to a particular customer profile and other times, a customer might need a quick or instant decision. There are a lot of factors in play that may make a mortgage more attractive to a customer, and I think, again, online brokers are best positioned to really lead the charge on those fronts.
Congratulations on the pretty substantial funding round in January; are there plans to take Trussle overseas?
I would say, ‘never say never.’ But we’re not thinking about that right now. There’s so much still to do in the UK market to fix what is a slow and ultimately outdated process. There’s also the consideration that every country has a different mortgage / brokerage process to get our heads around. At the moment we are fully focused on transforming the UK market.
How is your team structured?
The three of us each look after one distinct area of our ‘product’. My role has changed a lot since I’ve been here; I came in to look at the beginning of our ‘funnel’, so to speak, and spent the first 10 months trying to improve our onboarding journey — that includes customer information collection, regarding their needs, their income and outgoings, any owned properties etc. More recently, I’ve been looking at the operational side — considering how our products can help our mortgage advisors and case managers to do their jobs and better support our customers in a more efficient, effective manner.
As for my two colleagues, one of them focuses on the acquisition side and the other is looking deeper into our relationships with lenders, which involves a lot of what I said before — figuring out how to facilitate speedy decisions, personalised product etc. for customers.
As a growing scale-up, how do you go about maintaining positive employee culture?
By being realistic in terms of your ability to sustain culture through massive growth, and making sure that as you grow, you’re cognisant about what people think about the culture, if it’s changing and how it’s changing. Have in place the kind of processes and initiatives to capture and keep the bits that are important, and evolve the parts that need to be evolved. Culture will change, and you need to have an open mind to that change, as it becomes appropriate and applicable. We have a Culture Committee at Trussle, that’s staffed on a volunteer basis, and they ensure we’re maintaining our values, and we all continue to treat each other as we’d want to be treated.
Really all you can do is hold yourself accountable and hold the company accountable for the values that you hold dear as a company. Don’t water them down, but equally don’t try and cling onto something that’s unrealistic.
Going from retail giants such as Tesco, to the startup world, must’ve been a big leap; which pace and setup of working do you prefer?
Looking back, I think a smaller company suits me better, because I like to poke my nose into lots of different things. I enjoy being involved in lots of different areas across the business, and you get much more of an opportunity to do that at a smaller company than you do at a larger one. Even when I was at Tesco, I worked in the online grocery home shopping division, which felt a lot like a small company within a giant, in terms of the culture and the fact we worked fairly autonomously.
I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to start going smaller in terms of size of the companies I work for. I’ve just enjoyed more about working at those types of places, the pace at which things move, and the ability to make more of a difference as an individual. So I think, although it wasn’t pre planned, I feel like it was the right move for me to make.
What are the highlights of your startup journey so far?
If this question was being asked in a few months I’d have more confidence in some of the numbers, but I heard today about the new journey that we’ve launched, which seems to be having a really positive effect on customers. I don’t want to shout about it yet, because I’m not sure I’ve fully had a chance to digest and believe the numbers, but fingers crossed.
Highlights-wise, I knew nothing about mortgages before I joined Trussle, and being able to become involved on so many different levels, as we shift from an operations-focused company to something far more product-centric, has been amazing. Everyone in the team is essential to how we develop, and I am confident in saying our team is in a brilliant position to keep up with the far more mature growth curve we’re now working to.