Doug Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of myhomemove has been steering further investment to help grow the ABSs conveyancing market share over the next five years – currently listed as 3%. However, as he explains to Emma Waddingham, success to date isn’t simply being the first ABS off the block or private equity funding, but investment in people and the systems they use to carry out its commitment to customer service.
Q: Has the vision for myhomemove exceeded the initial expectations and has the business plan changed in the last five years?
A: The company received private equity funding from Smedvig in 2005, before the recession. Despite initially envisaging an exit plan of 3-5 years, post- recession it reset its expectations and committed to further growth and investment. It paid off. By 2012 the market share of myhomemove had grown to 3% of the national conveyancing market and we are firmly aiming to capture 10% of the market in the next four years – more than exceeding expectations!
Q: What have you had to do differently (in terms of competitors) to achieve this?
A: Investment has been a key area; particularly in technology and people – the latter to support the delivery of a personal service. Our processes are as automated and efficient as we can make them but the delivery is still achieved through skilled people to ensure we put the client at the heart of what we do. This is absolutely central to the success of myhomemove – this focus on service demands that conveyancers’ systems are as efficient as possible to help us deliver. But it’s not about production lines; we have personal processes, combined with the most effective and developed technology to assist our professionals.
Q: How has being an ABS helped the organisation, above any other model?
A: We were the first ABS to launch in the UK, making use of external investment behind the business to be well placed to enter the market. But our success tomorrow is about investment today. There has to be a mindset – even in new ABSs which have attracted finance – to invest today, to become the winners of tomorrow. External investment into a law firm enables them to invest in the future but sometimes the structure of an ABS model is what’s needed to make the most of that funding. In terms of myhomemove, we’re well placed to further our success through the ABS model – along with the commitment of our private equity (PE) funding source. While some PE houses may have walked away at the first sight of trouble, Smedvig continued to grow its investment in 2010 – a bad time for the market. It will increase investment suitably if needed to reach our growth targets and has no plans to exit. This puts us in a strong position, to have a proven track record, brand, funding and expertise thanks to the model.
Q: Have we seen any real innovation in terms of ABSs to date?
A: No, but it’s early days. We will see innovation increase as the number of ABSs grows. It’s not a question of ‘if’ we’ll see innovation but when.
Q: How has myhomemove gained 3% of the overall market share (currently one in 20 transactions). What do you put this down to?
A: Two factors; firstly, technology. We have internally developed an award-winning system, eWay, for case management, tracking and client-facing processes. These market-leading, specific innovations have been the core of our success and we continue to roll out a version of eWay to introducers and panel management – available also to panel members. This ensures a consistent and in-house approach to all cases. We have a team of internal developers which we are increasing by 30% in 2013 to increase the capability to invest and develop our systems as we sit fit for the market.
Secondly, our people. We deal with people on a daily basis, either with those introducing new business or with those moving house. It’s a stressful time of life and while technology enables the efficiency and communication, it’s people that deliver and empathise with the client to ensure a high calibre of service. When looking to employ staff we look at a number of elements to ensure they will fit in – there are plenty of legally qualified people out there but they have to share our clear values about focusing on the client and customer service. British businesses traditionally underestimate mindset when employing staff. As a company you need to engage with your employees and create a culture within the company – a ‘this is how we do things around here’ approach that everyone subscribes to. It’s essential to invest in how you get people to feel a part of what the brand is doing. We don’t see this investment – time or financial – as a cost. People put too much focus on investment and capital opportunities when discussing and even planning ABS’s. You’ve got to have a strong, committed team of people working with you and that means you’ve got to train everyone – continuously – as the vision and objectives develop. It’s not enough for those funding and directing to know where the company is going or for marketing to know the brand values.
Q: What holds your competitors back?
A: Probably a lack of recognition of the need to invest so significantly into technology and people – as well as the culture. There is a difference of opinion about what is meant by investment but for clarity I mean cost and time. There’s no doubt that our investments have put us ahead of our competitors so significantly.
Q: Looking at the conveyancing market itself, what would Sep Rep do to the sector, for lawyers and for clients?
A: From the client’s perspective it potentially costs more and slows down the process – it’s hard to see the benefit for the client. However, it could mitigate mortgage fraud and I understand that lenders would see this as a positive step. Lawyers, meanwhile, depend upon pricing and panels. The panel situation (especially the fall out after HSBC) has really highlighted the fact that lenders panels will get smaller and fewer law firms will end up on them. Panel issues follow a trend of natural consolidation as the top 100 conveyancing firms hold 26% of the market share. Smaller firms cannot viably service the panels and the larger ones will get larger and possibly even merge further.
Q: Is the future of the conveyancing market now a fully commoditised one?
A: I don’t think it’s fully commoditised – there are still opportunities to differentiate, although it requires an enabler, such as a funder. Myhomemove will continue to differentiate the proposition to market and compete on a number of bases. We’re not going towards a commoditised service based on price but have a clear view going forward – on our own terms, not perceptions of the market. The client ultimately comes first.