150% growth in 3 years: Together's transformation story
Common-sense transformation for a common-sense lender
When a company more than doubles its earnings in three years, it's doing something right.
One of the things specialist lender Together has been doing right is transforming its business. Not by changing its successful approach to no-nonsense, common-sense lending, but by radically simplifying the whole experience of doing business with the company.
For four years (and counting), Mastek has been Together's key IT partner for this transformation, helping the company drive its successful growth.
Mastek adds value to our business. They are a key IT partner, now and in the longer term."
Simon Carter, IT Director, Together
Together offers retail and commercial customers in the UK short-term finance, secured loans, and personal, commercial and buy-to-let mortgages.
Founded more than 40 years ago, the company traded under a number of different brands owned by Jerrold Holdings Limited, before rebranding as Together in September 2015.
Step by step, smart change has led to big results
Because Together lends mostly through brokers, its transformation journey has initially focused on them.
Mastek has helped the company replace obscure, complex product interfaces with a unified broker portal that is much easier to use, much more systematic and clear about what brokers and customers can expect from Together, and about how the lender's products work.
Simon Carter (IT Director) on the Agile portal project
Over the course of four years, a growing torrent of developments — big and small, complex and simple — has given Together a striking facelift without changing the heart of the business.
Improvements to the broker portal have also continued. For example, a recent addition of decision-in-principle functionality uses sophisticated underwriting logic to give potential customers immediate pre-approval for a specific loan amount. This gives them more information and confidence when choosing a lender to apply to.
With Mastek as our transformation partner we've taken paper-dependent steps out of processes, and automated manual ones. We've dramatically cut the time it takes to make underwriting decisions and to respond to regulatory changes. Ultimately, these and other advances have freed us to grow our business in line with expectations."
Steve Thomason, Head of Business Systems, Together
Together's programme of smart change has played a big part in its ability to more than double the value of its loan book in just three years, two years ahead of target.
Speed and ease of service have made Together increasingly attractive to brokers and their customers. New channels, such as mortgage clubs, have opened up to the lender. And Together's many new internal efficiencies have allowed the company to take this growth in stride.
100+ people, 125+ projects, 100% Agile
In the four years since starting to work with Together on the broker portal, the original 14-strong Mastek team has grown to more than 100, working on more than 125 Agile development projects and IT-enabled business enhancements.
Steve Thomason, Head of Business Systems at Together, explains what is keeping them all so busy:
"We don't buy our core IT products off the shelf; we've always pursued bespoke development of our systems of differentiation. It's a strategy that works for us, giving us the control and flexibility to respond to broker and customer needs without ever waiting on a software provider."
Before bringing Mastek on board, developments were managed in-house with ad-hoc use of contractors; but as the company's ambitions grew and the pace of change accelerated, there was an unwelcome increase in delivery delays. These are now a thing of the past, with readily scalable Mastek resource and effective Agile development processes in place.
A match well made
The success of Together's strategy depends on:
- Continual planning and measurement to ensure the right return on investment in IT development.
- Very close collaboration with Mastek as the delivery partner.
- A good balance of agility and control in planning, development, delivery and support.
Every Together development project starts with an idea - a response to a broker need, for example - that is examined until all of the expected benefits and costs are clearly understood. Ideas that pass muster become projects (large or small) and the priority and delivery of projects is continually assessed and re-assessed.
Even as the current crop of projects progresses, Together is planning ahead, usually by six to twelve months.
Besides looking outwards to its products and services, Together looks inwards for continual improvement in delivery.
To this end, Mastek and Together are in daily contact. Not just to track and measure progress, but to assess ways of working, the mix of onshore and offshore resource, the performance of individuals, the support that they need, who to hire and when: everything that impacts on the success of the collaborative approach embraced by both companies.
Mastek is a good match for us: in company size and flexibility, in their specialist expertise, their responsive service and their professional attitude and behaviour. We challenge them and they challenge us, which strengthens the partnership and delivers results."
Steve Thomason, Head of Business Systems, Together
'Innovation' can't really be ordered on demand, but Together wants to be actively open to new ideas, and is looking to Mastek to bring them to the table.
"When we toured the Mastek Centre of Excellence in India and saw some of the things they were doing for other customers, it was an eye-opener," says Thomason."Today we have a joint innovation forum and meet regularly to discuss ideas."
One of the novel approaches being tried is a hackathon, in which a number of small Mastek teams compete to come up with innovative solutions to a given Together challenge. Since most of the teams aren't working on the Together account, it's a productive - and fun - way for the Together/Mastek partnership to come up with fruitful new ideas to explore.