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How Data and Personalisation Helped Athena Build Its Brand and Reputation

The financial services industry has traditionally been dominated by big players with long legacies and established reputations. So when mortgage lending startup Athena wanted to make a name for itself, the business used data to take a wrecking ball to the way things have always been done. 

By Esse Spadavecchia, Chief Experience Officer, Athena

Three years ago, Athena was four people with a background in banking and a shared understanding: life’s too short for a long home loan. We knew the problem we wanted to solve was how do we actually honour people’s time and make the process of getting a loan as seamless, intuitive and simple as possible.

Lending services can be hard to break into as the industry has some well-established players and earning trust is paramount. 

Our starting point was gaining deeper insights into what people disliked about working with traditional banks. We made finding solutions to those pain points our strategy for how we can provide value to customers and reinforce trust in our products and services. We knew people felt trapped in their mortgages, they felt they received no benefits for loyalty, that surprise rate increases stung hard, and that the application process is an absolute slog.

We want to help Aussies have a better lending experience, and customer insights supported by data are absolutely critical to delivering services that achieve this goal. It helps us keep our finger on the pulse of what people are looking for and how we can earn their trust.  

Personalisation is another crucial component of trust. Our customer surveys show that those who have had the best experiences with us are the ones who feel understood and that their time was being honoured. 

Using Salesforce to master these two things — data-driven insights and personalisation — was absolutely key, and the results speak for themselves. One year after launching, we grew to more than 4,000 customers, with $7 billion worth of applications. We have an NPS of 69, compared to an average of -40 for mortgage lenders, and the team has earned an extremely high Trustpilot rating.

The more we understand what keeps our customers up at night, the more we can reinforce and lean into our mission to continue building trust with customers.

Creating a single source of truth

We like to have a mix of methods for gaining customer insights, including quantitative surveys such as net promoter scores and through Trustpilot, or monthly qualitative interviews and mystery shopping experiences. And we gather these insights for everything from new service propositions right through to research and usability testing. 

We’ve been able to run fast test-and-learn cycles to optimise our processes just by seeing where our customers are running into problems and at what stage of the application process.

Managing these efforts through Salesforce is really powerful because we can access a broad range of analytics and everything is in one place, it’s in real-time and the workflows aren’t rigid. 

Net promoter score tracking is integrated with Salesforce and we pull in any data on customer sentiment as well, so we have one view of how customers are feeling. This is really valuable for our operations and service teams because they don’t need to use multiple systems to pull in this information, and it’s automated, allowing them to focus on adding value in other ways.

Always-on optimisation

We’re looking to optimise and streamline how we use Salesforce even more. Putting in place automation will free up our service teams to spend more time on providing an optimal customer experience. 

Collecting all this data into one place means when a customer calls, we can have an informed, personal conversation with them because we have a single source of truth on that customer that all of our departments have access to. 

We understand that in order to create an optimal customer experience, we have to optimise that employee experience as well. Setting employees up for success with good technology and good processes is key. You can have the best people in, but if you’ve not got the processes in place or it’s all smoke and mirrors and sticky tape, you’re making their job harder. 

Our dashboard views are built around this premise. When a customer gets in contact, we have the most relevant information available and our team can rely on data insights — and the processes behind it — to make quick decisions about how to help.

Honesty as a policy

In the eyes of the public, mortgage lending can be shrouded in mystery and, honestly, quite scary and intimidating for a lot of people. It’s even harder when you’re the new kid on the block and no one has heard of you. Why would someone leave their trusted lender for an unknown fintech?

We want to use data to pull back the curtain and give our customers a very transparent view of how the process works, so that ultimately we can support them. We made a decision at the business to be open and transparent about everything.

When we have those really deep insights on a customer, we can make sure any guidance or advice is relevant to their experience. An example of this is we found people were having a negative experience during the application process because they would reach the end, only to be told they didn’t meet X, Y or Z criteria.

So now, we’ve stripped that back, made our criteria and our calculations viewable during the application process, and that’s really helped improve trust in that we’re upfront about things and we won’t waste people’s time. 

We also found that customers had little oversight of what happened from the point of submitting an application through to settlement. Through Salesforce, we were able to create automated emails that get sent out at each stage of the process, keeping people updated about what information they need to provide and when, evaluation dates, when they need to sign the loan contract — all really important milestones. 

Our core mission is to help people pay down their home loans faster. Keeping that at the heart of everything we do helps us set really clear objectives and identify what we need to know to stay true to that goal.

Learn more from Esse and other financial services leaders by watching sessions from our Salesforce Live for Financial Services event here.

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