Abba Newbery, the online mortgage broker’s CMO says “I genuinely believe in our mission to set people free from the hell of mortgages.”
That’s quite the job of work, so we caught up with Newbery to ask what a typical day looks like in the offices of this startup defining a new fintech category.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Habito – the UK’s free online mortgage broker. It’s my responsibility to make Habito the most famous mortgage broker in the country in 2019.
I run a team who work across our advertising, PR, partnerships, CRM, SEO and some product functions to get the message out there that using Habito can save homeowners thousands of pounds on their mortgage every year.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I sit within our senior leadership team and report directly into our CEO and founder, Daniel Hegarty. All of us at Habito work from a converted warehouse in the Aldgate area of London but we’ve grown from seven people to over 130 in just three years so we’ve moved offices within the building a few times!
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Stakeholder management. As a general rule, internal and external stakeholders will always have an opinion on marketing (!) – much more than other business functions like legal, operations or finance. My role is to get everyone in the company on board with our brand plans so that we’re all pulling in the same direction, but sometimes opinions aren’t unanimous. At the same time, we also have ambitious growth targets to meet. So being able to manage stakeholders and listen to feedback but not at the expense of taking action is a key skill any CMO needs.
The second would be quick decision-making with a ruthless focus. We have to demonstrate to our investors that we can scale our customer growth as efficiently as possible when it comes to marketing spend. We don’t have the manpower to do everything presented to us – so we need to keep focused. But when big opportunities present themselves, like a sponsorship or national media partnership, we need to be nimble enough to be able to react to them and make the decision to press ‘GO’. Then we throw everything we have at it to make it the biggest win we can.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I cycle in from my home in Peckham and go straight into a catch up with the Habito marketing team to hear about our numbers from the day before, where we are projected to get to on that day and for the team to flag anything that may impact other teams across the company – from compliance, to operations to product development.
I’ll then have deep-dives with individual VPs in marketing on developments in their areas, for example in partnerships, performance marketing or PR. We’ll take an hour to review their upcoming plans and priorities for the week in depth.
If I have time, at lunch I’ll pop to the local pool and do a quick swim training before wolfing down a plate of the free hot food we get as one of the perks of working here.
In the afternoon, I’ll have more back to back meetings. It could be with our product and design teams to talk about new features, functions and products Habito are developing and timelines for release. Or with our operations team to talk about how marketing activity is expected to impact customer volumes, to make sure that we’re ready for any web traffic peaks. Or with our CEO to plan for Q2-Q3 campaigns.
For the last hour or two in the office, I’ll be meeting with our agencies to approve our latest media buying strategy or ad copy, for example.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
Habito’s mission is to fundamentally change the entire mortgage broking industry by making it clear, simple and jargon-free. So our marketing has to do the same. Our ‘Hell or Habito’ campaign was unlike anything that had been seen in financial services before. It consisted of a loud, bold and humorous creative with unique illustrations by Californian-based skate illustrator Jimbo Phillips and outrageous animation for the TVC and online films. Having the freedom to be as creatively brave as we dare with our ads is something I love.
Nothing sucks about working at Habito! That said, hyper-growth businesses are not for everyone. It can be all-consuming at times, and you have to take big decisions every day where there is often not a clear cut answer. The customer numbers and satisfaction scores are the heartbeat of the business, discussed every day and displayed in every room – so any hiccups are pretty public.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
The biggest challenge for us is that any national brand-awareness across the mortgage broking category is extremely low to non-existent. When consumers want a mortgage, most go to their high-street bank or use a traditional broker they’ve known for years. But both these options mean that they aren’t comparing the whole market (which has over 90 lenders and 20,000 products) so are likely to be paying thousands more than they need to.
So we have the job of creating a category (online mortgage broker) and improving brand awareness by x10. The most important metric for demonstrating that is improving unprompted brand awareness. We want Habito to be named as the first choice by consumers considering getting or switching their mortgage.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
My mobile. I don’t have much time in a day to read emails or Slack and a direct call is a much quicker way to communicate. It’s low tech but still the most effective tool.
How did you end up at Habito, and where might you go from here?
Daniel, Habito’s founder, is a friend of a friend. I popped in for a coffee and a chat about marketing strategy and haven’t left since. I genuinely believe in our mission to set people free from the hell of mortgages. I think there’s probably no bigger mission in financial services given mortgages are so costly and the stakes are so high for consumers if they get it wrong. I plan to stay here until that is done and I can look back and feel genuinely proud of the financial difference we have made in people’s lives.
Which digital experiences have you enjoyed recently?
There is so much innovation across finance – Alexa and voice-based banking feel like the latest emergent game changer. GDPR which firmly put consumer privacy into the spotlight this year feels like it will have long-reaching positive consequences. Personally, I am loving my new Starling and HSBC banking apps – it’s good to see real innovation from the old and the new. I am also a sports app addict- my swim pro gets at least an hour of my week – with training updates, split times and personal bests – whilst 8Fit has me puffing and sweating for 15 mins of high-intensity workouts – all from the comfort of my phone.
Do you have any advice for people who fancy getting into fintech?
People who want to turn an industry on its head usually don’t come from within that industry. At Habito we’re not ex-finance bods with MBAs but consumers who’ve experienced firsthand the confusing and unempowering status quo of financial services and want to do something about it. If you’ve not worked in finance or tech it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have the experience necessary for a job here – you might be exactly who we’re looking for.