Trust is our common raw material
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“As a sector, we have a significant trust challenge, which we ourselves have created. As a sector, we have not been good enough at explaining and showing our roles in Danish society and even now, 10 years after the financial crisis, the financial sector has not managed to restore the confidence of customers. This also applies to Totalkredit.”
The words are crystal clear from Totalkredit’s CEO Camilla Holm, when we enquire into the topic of trust in the financial sector.
Camilla Holm won’t comment on cases that concern competitors, but states that the outside world’s confidence in the overall financial sector is often influenced by the actions of individual actors. And she speaks from experience. According to Camilla Holm, in 2016, Totalkredit itself contributed to breaking trust in the sector, as the company increased contribution rates and was subsequently heavily criticised by customers and the rest of the world.
“Unfortunately, every incident contributes to a gradual loss of the customers’ trust, which is the raw material that we all live off. As a sector, we stand and fall together. Therefore, it is also a joint task in the sector to do something about this problem. And for me, I see only one place where we can look and find the solution: within.”
As far as Totalkredit is concerned, this means that they have put this aim at the centre of the business.
“Totalkredit was brought into this world to provide secure, low-cost loans to the entire country at any time. We must – even if a new crisis was to strike – contribute to as many as possible having the opportunity to own their own home. Including outside of the major cities. We have to show our customers every single day that we live up to this responsibility. If we do that, then I believe that we can regain trust. But it’s going to be a long haul,” Camilla Holm says.
“The Danish mortgage system probably offers the world’s best housing financing. If we look at the overall repayments and interest, it is exceptionally cheap to borrow money to finance property in Denmark compared with other countries. The mortgage sector must as a whole ensure cheap housing financing and contribute to a stable housing market – across the entire country.
Danes must be able to trust that we contribute to this. Right now, with our loyalty programme KundeKroner, Totalkredit offers the market’s lowest contribution payment on main products. So far in 2018, we have increased loans in 94 of the country’s 98 municipalities. So, we are trying to do our part to deliver what we were put on this earth to do.”
According to Camilla Holm, when trust must be regained, the huge effort lies in better equipping customer advisers to be able to answer customers’ questions.
“They are our ambassadors towards customers, and figuratively speaking, they will be hit by a flurry of questions, when we betray customers’ confidence. And proximity and personal relations are key reasons as to why Totalkredit is in a period of both growth and improved reputation,” Camilla Holm says.
“There has been a lot of discussion about digitalisation and consolidation in the financial sector for many years and yet, we have to recognise that we are far from being in a place, where all financial transactions can be done digitally without personal contact. Solutions have been made, where you can rearrange your mortgage by yourself, but these are hardly ever used. After all, we are talking about major decisions and large sums of money, and in our experience, customers need to be able to discuss their decision with their adviser. We need to find a balance. How do you become personal, local and attentive in a fully self-service universe? It is an important dilemma that no one has solved yet. We ourselves work with developing the future production and advisory solutions at Totalkredit. Here, we work with a term that we call ‘co-service’. This refers to customers’ need to be able to interact between digital solutions and personal contact. Together with 55 financial institutions and three data centres, we are building a future-proof foundation for mortgage financing. The solution can provide the customer with the opportunity for self-service in the long run, but right now, we experience that customers are not ready to take the full digital step, when it comes to housing financing. Totalkredit needs to be where customers are – physically as well as across digital platforms – now and in the future.”
If we don’t watch out, we will run out of the raw material that we all live off – trust.
CEO of Totalkredit, Camilla Holm
When the conversation turns to consolidation in the sector, Camilla Holm is convinced that there are two opposing forces at play. On the one hand, there is a need for large-scale operations and cost reduction, and on the other hand, there is strength connected with proximity, local knowledge and personal relationships.
“Through co-operation with 55 local financial institutions, we have a much more locally-based business model than our competitors. Financial institutions are, of course, different, but all 55 fundamentally believe that personal knowledge and service are important for good customer contact and a high level of trust from customers. With 750 branches, we are the mortgage institution with the most physical branches. In areas where we see our largest competitors closing branches down, financial institutions in Totalkredit open up new branches. And it works. We are increasing our lending by 10 billion per quarter, and we are gaining market shares.”
She even highlights an example from Sparekassen Bredebro, which is one of the financial institutions in Totalkredit. One of Totalkredit’s main competitors recently closed down its branch on Rømø. The day after, there was a queue of customers in front of Sparekassen Bredebro who wanted to switch their banking business over to them.
Camilla Holm also believes that there is another important factor at play, namely the difference between how customers perceive financial companies on the one hand, and the individual adviser on the other.
“When Totalkredit increased contribution rates in 2016, customers were angry with us – not their advisers. Totalkredit was – fairly so – the villain. Grethe at Sparekassen Bredebro was alright. It was also Grethe who picked up the phone and talked matters through with her customers. I also spoke to customers, but it was largely Grethe, and the other 5,000 customer advisers, who took on the difficult task of having a dialogue with customers.”
In Camilla Holm’s opinion, the fact that customers can put a face to their adviser, who is often the same over many years, is a factor that differentiates the local players from the big nationwide players.
“When I visit Mogens, who is CEO of Borbjerg Sparekasse, he takes me for a drive around Borbjerg, which is located just outside of Holstebro, and tells me about all the houses in the town. He knows exactly which mortgage institutions finance them, and we are talking about 100 newly built houses within two-three years. He organised crowdfunding to establish the local SPAR supermarket, and Mogens also financed Borbjerg Arena, where Borbjerg Sparekasse is, of course, the main sponsor.
It may seem like a time warp, but each individual financial institution is of great importance to the local community and here, Totalkredit contributes to the competitive power of financial institutions by offering competitive loans for housing financing, which otherwise may not be an option in the town. That is how we at Totalkredit are winning back customer confidence.”
Totalkredit was established in 1990 in a unique collaboration between a range of regional and local financial institutions with the aim of ensuring cheap mortgages across the entire country at any time.
60 banks, savings banks and co-operative banks, that otherwise were and are competitors, joined forces to ensure their customers access to mortgages from their local adviser, who they meet and are usually comfortable with.
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