The OnLadder loan took just under two years to develop. We interviewed dozens of first-time homebuyers to understand what a great deposit loan product would look like to them, but we’ve also had over a hundred meetings with other stakeholders in the homebuying process. You can’t deliver a stellar product to first-time buyers without understanding the ecosystem you want to operate in.
Some of those stakeholders were mortgage lenders. To provide the OnLadder loan to first-time buyers to boost their deposit and shorten their path to homeownership, we would need a mortgage lender to sign off on the OnLadder loan as a source of deposit. While that is a very black-and-white reason for partnering with a first charge mortgage lender, there are more nuanced reasons as well.
The OnLadder loan is not independent of their traditional mortgage, it is a complimentary product. Getting a better understanding of how the two products work together would be key to our and mortgage lender’s mutual success. Only by understanding how mortgage lenders think and how their processes work could we design a product with minimal friction to achieve the scale necessary to solve the first-time buyer problem. Something that no other product has done to this point.
However, in order to understand the lenders, we needed to talk to them! Getting in front of them wasn’t the easiest task. We started this venture in the middle of the first lockdown, eliminating in-person meetings as an option. Compounding these problems, Sam and I are not from the UK and had minimal connections of our own. Our chances of meeting with, and understanding, mortgage lenders hinged entirely on professionals at building societies and high street banks checking their LinkedIn inboxes, and their willingness to take time out of their days to meet with us.
Despite the barriers we faced, our response rate was off the charts. We were able to get multiple meetings with high-ranking officials within these organisations. All of them willing to chat for hours regarding our product and the broader problem of homeownership for first time buyers.
What struck us the most was mortgage lender’s passion for the customer. All of our discussions were centred around the homebuyer. To lenders it’s not just about giving first-time buyers the ability to get onto the housing ladder faster, but keeping them on the ladder. Offering a mortgage to homebuyers that isn’t suitable for them, or has a chance of causing the consumer harm years down the road, isn’t in their DNA.
As millennials who had spent our university and early professional days dealing with the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis, Sam and I revelled in this strict adherence to customer fairness.
As time went on, these meetings gave us confidence that we were onto something, but also provided us with insights to improve the product. With each passing meeting there were less and less critiques from mortgage lenders. The product improvement started to become evident to all involved, and Sam and I started to notice that the topic of conversation was shifting from the product itself, to the lenders’ individual situations and whether they had the bandwidth to partner at the time. We took this as a sign that we had a great product on our hands and have been driving this venture forward step by step ever since.
Our theory all along has been that if we can design a product that brokers can sell and that can hurdle lender’s affordability assessments (see our article on affordability assessments here), OnLadder can bring the kind of scale that is required to change the game for first time buyers. Change the feeling of hopelessness to one of hope, and give first-time buyers the ability to start building their financial futures.