What this startup CMO is doing to support home loan market disruption

Australian startup, Athena, aims to disrupt Australia’s $1.7 trillion home loan mortgages market. We chat with the challenger brand's inaugural chief marketing officer

Chief marketing officer of startup home loan disruptor, Athena, Natalie Dinsdale, loves working on challenger brands.

In particular, she loves brands that base disruption on true consumer insights, rather than pasting over pre-established ideas, or as Dinsdale puts it, "putting lipstick on a piggybank".

Dinsdale, who has been at Athena since March 2018, has worked with many disruptors, including UBank, Virgin, and BankWest, and is excited to be steering Athena from inception to its eventual launch this year.

“I get very excited about challenger brands, it’s a bigger personal challenge entering a very noisy market and creating a strong point of difference by being bold and brave and with a strong point of view,” Dinsdale told CMO.

Athena aims to disrupt Australia’s $1.7 trillion mortgage market when it officially launches later this quarter, and is built to be a different kind of home lender and a genuine alternative to the big banks. Founded by two ex-bankers, Nathan Walsh and Michael Starkey, Athena uses Australia’s a native cloud digital mortgage platform to deliver better rates through a unique funding structure, bypassing the banks altogether to connect borrowers to superfund-backed loans.

“Athena has an appetite to do something different,” Dinsdale said. “I’ve  been in a lot of places that say they want to do something different and shake things up. But when it comes down to it they get nervous and scared and default to the norm.

“If you want to want to be a challenger brand, you should go against the grain. If people are nervous, you are on the right track. You can’t be safe as a challenger brand. This is what I love about Athena. It would be hard to do this without the founders having serious appetite for change.”

In particular, Dinsdale welcomed the opportunity to build the brand on true consumer insights, from the ground up.

“The opportunity to grow a brand from scratch is so exciting, as is basing a brand on true customer insights, and nothing pre-established. Some issues with establish brands can be lipstick on a piggybank, meaning they are marketing one thing but the promise doesn’t filter to every customer touchpoint," she continued. 

“So here at Athena, we did a lot of customer research and went through a thorough process to ensure our brand platform is unique, different, has customer truth, and a strong point of view. Our voice is very direct and bold. Athena is our game changing goddess of good stuff.

“A lot of brands go straight to sale and execution without having that brand platform that should govern every customer touchpoint first."

Building the brand inside and out

While brand values can just be considered to be for marketing by some, Dinsdale said the startup has been through a huge process to interpret its brand, culture and values and what this means for behaviours internally.

"We have our values all over the offices; we live and breathe them, even down to legal documents," she said.

It also informed the creative pitch selection process, which saw Athena bring on The Royals. "We needed a partner who is just as passionate as we are about doing things differently. We’re so excited to have appointed The Royals to help us win over Australians," Dinsdale said.

These customer insights won’t stop at launch. With many products and rates yet to be announced, the metrics will continue for Athena well into the future, she said. Throughout 2019, a number of product launches are planned, with a big marketing presence scheduled throughout the year.

"We’ll do our hygiene passes for understanding brand salience, awareness and so on, but what's very important to us is customer advocacy,” Dinsdale said. “We will be publishing all our customer views, good and bad, tracking NPS, to be 100 per cent transparent. It really annoys me when brands don’t even answer customers on some channels.

"Consumers have the power now, and they will let you know what they do and don’t like. When it comes to customer experience, we want to know what we can do better and how to turn it around, all of it. Mistakes will happen, and we will be transparent about them."

According to Dinsdale, there hasn't been a big disruption in the home loan industry since Aussie Home Loans and John Symonds. Athena is not a bank and will be solely focused on the home loan space.

"The industry is ripe for disruption and we are very excited we are best placed to realise this opportunity,” she said. 

Of course, home loans involve regulation, and Dinsdale saw compliance as vital, as is the ongoing dissatisfaction with the big banks recently brought to the fore by the Royal Commission.

"In light of the Royal Commission, and how misleading banks have been, we want to make sure transparency is one of our core values, be completely upfront with customers, ensuring they are not overstretching, and focusing on building buffers into their home loans," she added. "We see different ways to go about communicating from marketing and brand sense, but of course we will always be compliant.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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