Elevator Pitch: Athena Home Loans

Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we’re talking with Nathan Walsh, co-founder and CEO at Athena Home Loans.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea

Athena Home Loans is on a mission to save Australians a whole lot of money, by helping them pay off their home loan faster. Our goal is to give customers a great home loan, then help them get rid of it. Athena is powered by an innovative digital platform – avoiding the big bank costs of branches, bankers & overheads – so we can pass savings on to customers via lower interest rates.

We are already seeing the power of Athena to change lives. The family with 3 young kids, saving $40,000, now able to plan a trip away with the boys. The divorced single mum, able to pay off her home loan 19 months earlier and save $130,000. Its powerful stuff.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

Our recipe is super simple: focus on a hugely important problem, and attract a passionate, wickedly talented team to solve it. One of the biggest problems for Aussie families is that they are overpaying $10 billion every year on their home loans because of the lack of competition.

The facts are pretty scary. Australian household debt is at record levels – among the highest in the world. Aussies are a decade slower in paying off their home loan than a generation ago. To solve this, Athena has been on a two-year journey to build a very different home lender on very different foundations, single-mindedly focused on homeowners and their needs. We are proudly not a bank, and never will be. We are reinventing the model from the ground up – eliminating costs, complexity, jargon & small print – to build Australia’s most loved home lender.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

The Royal Commission shone a bright spotlight on a badly broken system. The trust gap between borrowers and lenders is stark – only 25% of borrowers think their existing lender cares about their financial wellbeing. Only 21% think their lender acts in their interests. The ‘rate bait’ pricing of existing lenders is a particular frustration – luring borrowers with honeymoon rates, then stinging them with fees and rate hikes.

Athena has listened to customer demand for a great rate that stays great. Our pricing promise is that we will never charge existing customers more than new customers on a like-for-like loan. It’s an Australian first, and only fair.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your business?

Life is busy – and that creates customer inertia when managing a home loan. Only 5% of borrowers refinance each year, although the majority could save thousands. Over half don’t know their current rate – and the banks are counting on it. Historically a switch has just been too hard – the pain & complexity of the traditional paper-based processes of legacy lenders has been a big deterrent for borrowers to refinance and save.

Athena has made the refinance process refreshingly simple. Borrowers can apply online via our intuitive mobile-friendly experience, and chat with a real Australian home loan expert 7-days a week.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

I love apps that support collaboration and the flow of ideas. Slack for the team at Athena. Twitter for the world.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

Tough to answer, as we have been blessed with incredibly generous advice & council on the Athena journey. One thing we keep coming back to is the letters that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sends to shareholders. When we think about the kind of company we want to create, it’s a great place to start.

How to build a culture that always retains its ‘day-1’ magic. That obsesses over customers. That creates for the long term. That fights the complacency & complexity that plague legacy ‘day-2’ players. Bezos’s ‘Day-1’ philosophy has been hugely influential for the Athena team.

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