Business FunctionsEntrepreneurship

“The pandemic has just reaffirmed and accelerated our plans”

In conversation with Manish Shah, MD & CEO, Godrej Housing Finance

Godrej Group has banked upon the housing finance lending business and has launched the business amidst the pandemic. Digital has to be one of the core pillars needed for operational success. How have digital strategies helped in gaining mindshare and market share in the last few months? What are your plans to take this digital journey of Godrej housing Finance ahead? Any new products launched?

With all the disadvantages of the pandemic, the ray of light has been the accelerated bridging of the gap between consumers adopting digital technologies and organizations offering digital services. To be able to offer products & services with simple & accessible technology, suitable for all demographics, is now more base-line expectation, irrespective of the industry you are operating in.

As a new entrant in the mortgage industry, which has predominantly been paper-heavy and traditional so far, Godrej Housing Finance was already on a path to reimagine this and build services using a digital-first approach. The pandemic has just reaffirmed and accelerated our plans given that it is fairly clear that this is the only acceptable path going forward.

We have institutionalized customer discussions through video platforms, enabled paperless sanctions, and introduced zero-touch, presence-less loan disbursals which have garnered a lot of positive affirmation from our customers recently and made us their preferred choice.

While we have been operating in a closed ecosystem so far, we are now looking forward to taking our digital offerings to other developers and consumers with a razor-sharp focus on customer experience.

In addition, to complete digital delivery, we are focused on enabling homeownership through customer-centric product innovations. One such offering is our ‘Design your EMI’ plan where customers can customize their repayment plans to suit their needs and circumstances. This is in addition to Loan Against Property, which we will be launching soon.

How has GHF ensured seamless customer integration in these pandemic times, also has customer behavior changed, are there any customer concerns you have seen. If yes, how is Godrej Housing Finance addressing those concerns?

Increasingly there is more and more evidence that the brands which keep customers’ needs at the centre are the ones that thrive in the long run. At GHF, we obsess about customer experience and our teams are wired to quickly adapt to customer needs.

The mortgage industry has always been associated with relationship managers having meetings with customers, assessing their needs, and completing the paperwork for the loan.

With the onset of the pandemic, this became increasingly difficult, so we had to pivot, and we did. But not at the cost of customer experience. We seamlessly integrated the loan journey video discussions, paper-less sanctions, and loan disbursals using electronic signatures.

With every loan disbursal, we sought customer feedback as an earnest effort to continuously improve and align ourselves to customers’ needs.

As we understand, most customer concerns are around:

  • Quick turn-around time; customers want to know quickly and firmly what is that we can offer, which helps them take home-buying decisions.
  • Keeping customers informed through the journey.
  • Efficient, first-time-right processing with minimal back and forth.

With our digital offerings, the turn-around times have come down to just under 7 days for 80% of our customers, with real-time status updates & detailed information sent proactively at every stage.

In addition, the teams are trained to have efficient interactions with customers to get all information at once.

India is a country where a permanent house is seen as a sign of financial stability but at the same time, the chances of defaults are up due to the resultant economic despondency growing out of the pandemic. How are you planning to find that sweet spot to attract customers and when they are primarily at home? How has the customer journey evolved?

Uncertainty in recent times has made customers prioritize health and plan their finance better.  While the aspiration to own a home has always been there, the realization of how important it is has gained prominence during the pandemic.

Traditionally, the lender-borrower relationship has been predominantly one-sided where lenders dictate the terms of the loan which are mostly inflexible and do not give the customers the choice to customize their repayment plans suiting their circumstances and life-stage. Increasingly we have seen that our customers operate on low FOIR (Fixed Obligation to Income Ratio) which means they are careful of not maxing out their leverage and the optimism to invest in their homes is cautious.

We believe this gives us an opportunity in giving the power of choice to the customer. We are now offering ‘Design your EMI’ plans; customers can start small and as things ease up gradually increase their EMI payments. On the other hand, for customers where fixed expenses have gone down due to work from home, they can start big, reduce their liability and regularise their repayments when things go back to normal.

We are keenly focused on adding value to our customers by enabling homeownership. With design your EMI and a much simplified, completely digital journey, we are well poised to draw on our strengths and carve a niche for ourselves.

In terms of employees, how are seeing the tussle between thrive skills and digital skills playing out? How is your company setting up employees for more success? Are there specific training programmes?

Enabling employees with digital skills and platforms helps on 2 major fronts – productivity enhancement and talent acquisition. Circumstantially, there is a third big advantage – the safety of our employees as much as our customers.

For our employees, each leg of the customer acquisition is digitized starting from lead funnel management, the loan application process, and even loan disbursals. This has naturally given us more granular information, which is then specifically used to address issues hampering the overall efficiency and productivity of our team. Having nuanced information about our processes & systems, tightly coupled with customer feedback, helps us do specific interventions for improvements and thus enabling our employees to thrive at the workplace.

Our employees can complete a loan process remotely which means that they need not be present in the city of the customer. This helps in giving work flexibility and opens us up to a larger talent pool from smaller and different cities than we currently operate in.

We treat employees as internal customers and all platforms are designed with a high focus on UX and UI which makes the platforms easy to adopt.

What are some of the trends that you expect post the pandemic and what we can expect from Godrej Housing Finance in the coming months? Need inputs

Some of the trends which we expect to continue to post the pandemic as well are:

  • Customers looking for larger homes given that work from home is likely to stay even if a hybrid way of working is adopted by the companies
  • The expectation of more efficient and digital delivery mechanisms. When the pandemic settles down, customers would not want to go back to doing things the way they were. E.g. if one can sign a loan agreement digitally, there is no reason to switch to manually signing in 20 different places
  • Overall, greater financial prudence is likely to be a lasting trait developed during this period

At GHF, we are focused to continuously evaluate and capitalize on the changing needs of the customer. We want to deliver products and features which further the cause of enabling homeownership, seamlessly and digitally.

About Manish Shah: Manish is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Godrej Housing Finance (GHF). He has spent over 22 years in retail financial services, in diverse businesses such as secured and unsecured lending, credit cards, wealth management and life insurance with Citi India, CitiMortgage US, AEGON and Bank of Baroda. He has held leadership roles in organisations from MNCs, Public Sector Enterprises to co-founding a robo-advisory start-up that was later acquired by Newscorp, making it one of India’s earliest fintech exits to a large global organisation. These stints saw him setting up large distribution networks across the country, strategic business development, institutional fund-raising, building analytics and risk management frameworks, often from the ground up.
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