Digitally transforming the world’s real estate and valuation market – one country at a time

 |   Ashlea Lynch

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The process of buying a house is never straightforward. Even after an offer has been accepted there are hoops to jump through as the bank, valuer and brokers work through the paperwork. For Carmen Vicelich, CEO at Valocity, there had to be a faster and more efficient way to coordinate between the different parties. However, in creating her business, Valocity Global, she’s not only streamlined the property decisioning process, she’s found herself digitally mapping real estate markets in faraway countries.

Anyone who owns property will tell you buying a house is incredibly stressful. However, while the process of researching properties, attending open homes and making offers is mentally draining, the truth is, sometimes the most stress comes after your offer has been accepted. In most cases, everything hangs on whether the banks will agree to lend on the property and at what value, in time to meet the conditions of purchase. After you sign on the dotted line, a complex process that involves the bank, an independent valuer, mortgage brokers and lawyers needs to be followed. If the valuation doesn’t match the price paid, the process takes too long, or there’s an unforeseen issue, the entire purchase could fall through.

Carmen Vicelich, CEO at New Zealand software business, Valocity Global, saw a better way to coordinate the various parties involved in the purchasing chain and enable them to make faster, more accurate decisions. In 2015 she set out to build a digitised ecosystem, leveraging technology and data to streamline the process.

These days a significant portion of home loan valuations are processed through the Valocity platform, with four of the five largest banks in New Zealand relying on Valocity daily to deliver business critical home loan approvals.

Banks inform and instruct valuers digitally via the Valocity platform, then the valuer undertakes the valuation and uploads the outcome for the lender and broker to assess and complete the process. No more mountains of paperwork, time delays or lost deals. The platform has proven so useful, that after being live for just over five years, it’s now used globally by lenders in Australia, Singapore and India.

The innovative technology has won numerous awards including NZ CIO award for digitally transforming an ecosystem, the Singapore Fintech Festival global top 10, and Fintech Start Up of the year 2019 in India.

Building for scale and data sovereignty

From day zero, building a product that could scale and which could easily be tailored to multiple countries was paramount for Valocity. It needed a technology partner who could offer the expert advice, guidance and technology needed to scale quickly – without breaking the bank. Microsoft’s Azure platform came up trumps, providing greater flexibility and visibility of costs. “It’s also more widely available and other providers just don’t have the breadth and depth of services globally,” Vicelich said.

Valocity’s platform is hosted and run in the cloud on Microsoft Azure, and this works for both Valocity and its customers.

“The service we provide is business critical, which means there is very little room for error. We need it to be accurate and seamless, otherwise our customers (the banks) just can’t progress no matter how innovative the solution.”

“When you are dealing with banks, there are lots of requirements around compliance and how the data is stored, including data sovereignty, so we needed a provider with data centres around the world. We also need to keep different customer data containerised in the cloud environment, and there is really strong security in place, which also helps us adhere to compliance,” said Vicelich.

Microsoft was also involved in the DevOps process, helping Valocity build a more efficient and resilient solution.

“When you’re deploying to multiple countries and building a single code base you want consistency with cloud providers. Utilising DevOps has been a huge advantage where we’ve been able to have our cloud provider involved in the process of building and architecting the code, testing and roll out, in one seamless experience.”

It helped that the two organisations were a perfect cultural fit.

“One of our values has always been “better never stops” and we partnered with Microsoft because we think the two businesses are culturally aligned. Microsoft has this passion and hunger for creating better products and services and it has done this for years. Valocity embodies a lot of those attributes too – we have always built world class and will never stop innovating to create a better outcome for our clients and their customers.”

India – land of property chaos but extreme opportunity

With an established and growing business across Australasia, and with the world in her sights, Carmen started looking for the next major growth opportunity. While the US, Chinese or European markets have been the traditional next step for Kiwi entrepreneurs, Carmen realised the best opportunity actually lay in India.

“Socially and economically India made the most sense. India has a high population of residents who are unbanked – they have no credit score and no bank account because there’s high cash use,” said Vicelich.

Finding a property in India can also be difficult. Many dwellings have no address, or the recorded address is more of a guide as to the location, not the exact place where you can knock on the front door.

“Banks were making risk-based decisions on incredibly primitive data. We saw an opportunity to provide a robust piece of technology that helped add valuable rigour to the valuation process, reducing the overall risk banks were taking on while digitising a manual, cumbersome process.”

Valocity Connect was launched to empower Indian valuers to upload information digitally during the valuation process. In the app, Valuers can geo-tag the location of the dwelling, validating the address for the first time, upload pictures, provide details on the size and geometry of the property as well as the condition of the property all in a time stamped, voice enabled and intuitive App.

“We are not only connecting banks and valuers but simultaneously helping provide the first digital records of the Indian property market. This gives banks the validated data and information they need to make a more informed risk-based assessment of whether they should lend on each property. By giving banks reliable data, they can benchmark, track and manage their risk as their portfolio grows, making data driven decisions.”

Here, too, partnering with Microsoft helped ease the introduction to a vast and potentially bewildering market. There are over 30 different banks in India, not to mention a raft of non-bank and alternate lenders on top of that. So how do you get a foot in the door, let alone convince the lender to start using your services?

“Convincing banks in a foreign country to adopt innovative, new technology can be challenging. Our partnership with Microsoft helped us convert because all the banks are already using Microsoft cloud services. There was familiarity in the product and the brand, and there was also a local Microsoft team who could help facilitate the introduction,” Vicelich explains.

COVID-19 lockdown and beyond

Valocity has also been updating its platform for the Australasian market too. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, New Zealand’s lockdown measures were some of the most stringent in the world. However, both in New Zealand and Australia, people still need valuations to support refinancing and home lending at a time when it mattered the most.

To deliver both health and safety as well as business continuity, Valocity had to pivot quickly and get creative.

“We innovated the Valocity Connect App to create functionality within the system that allowed home owners to seamlessly download the APP and share photos with the valuer through an intuitive template. The valuers’ assessment was backed up by high-res imagery that was time stamped and geotagged, and information that was authenticated via the customers’ digital signature. When correlated with existing data, the valuers were able to make informed decisions about the property’s value completing a remote valuation inspection and allowing the bank to continue lending throughout the crisis.”

As the world comes out of lockdown and looks to the future, the sky is the limit for Valocity as it eyes expansion into even more markets.

“If we can operate successfully through lockdown, and in India, then we believe we can go anywhere, in any language and any location,” said Vicelich. “The best is yet to come and the future is ours to create!”

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