MAIN IMAGE: Mark Coetzee, COO of Private Property, Marius Marais, FNB Mortgage Cluster Head and Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.
Amid ongoing talks between FNB and role players in the property industry, property portal Private Property has announced they will remove the listings of all their clients from the bank’s app with immediate effect.
The property portal’s announcement follows one week after First National Bank (FNB) ignited a storm in the property industry with a new feature on their banking app that gives their customers the option to privately list and sell their homes to other customers on the FNB website.
Private Property had a long-standing agreement with FNB in terms of which, amongst other things, all properties listed on the portal were accessible on the FNB Banking App. There are currently more than 3 million consumers using the FNB app. Previously the app had only estate agent listings where customers could easily click and contact the estate agent directly. This arrangement has been in place since 2016 and was very beneficial to Private Property clients.
The FNB initiative establishes the bank’s app as an alternative portal to Private Property and a perceived competitor to real estate agents.
According to the portal’s latest statement Private Property and its respective clients objected in no uncertain terms to having their listings displayed on the FNB app in future because of this new feature on the banking app.
Private Property says it has decided to terminate the current data feed on the FNB app with immediate effect and that they advised FNB accordingly. The bank has agreed to remove the existing Private Property listings from the FNB app. Mark Coetzee, COO of Private Property says “It’s our responsibility to protect the industry we serve and this swift action to remove the listings from the FNB Banking App is a strong signal of our loyalty to the real estate industry.”
On social media irate estate agents threatened to close their bank accounts and cease referrals to FNB for home loan finance. In a stream of emails to Property Professional many agents explained that they felt the bank’s action was ‘a slap in the face’ after benefitting for many years from their support and that they feared this option will make it even more difficult for them to secure sales in an already tough economic environment. A minority said the emotional reaction was unnecessary as FNB was merely following international trends in giving clients more digital options and that agents needed to evolve and adapt to the changing times.
From FNB’s side Marius Marais, FNB Mortgage Cluster Head said FNB values the contribution from estate agents and mortgage originators, but that they follow a multi-channel approach at the bank and the private listing opportunity is in response to a worldwide trend where there are customers who desire to do things themselves on digital platforms. FNB has reiterated its commitment to continue engaging with industry players to meet the needs of customers through a multi-channel approach which improves the buying and selling process.
Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, said she found the bank’s move more perplexing than threatening to the real estate industry.
“There are mountains of MBA textbooks that delve at length into the pitfalls of any business – no matter how big or small – trying to be everything to everybody. You can’t possibly offer everything that everyone wants all the time; instead you build phenomenal skills around your core business and then if you’re doing it right, you go out and conquer the market,” said Geffen. She says she’s confident their clients understand by using their agents “they’re paying for expertise that you simply won’t find inside an app on your smartphone, no matter what bells and whistles it may offer.”
Her sentiments were echoed by many. One of them is Lynn McKay who suggested that banks should rather focus on things like combating money laundering, focus on good client service like having short queues etc “instead of trying to take on more and more and taking money away from real estate agents, who, I might add, work very very hard for their money”.
Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty and Yael’s father, wrote a letter to industry role players asking for a meeting to discuss the matter saying it was high time that the property industry took their listings back from property portals and created their own portal.
Many agents also felt that the EAAB should investigate the matter to determine whether FNB’s option for private listing and selling of property on its website shouldn’t be regulated by them. Commenting on that matter, the EAAB’s spokesperson Bongani Mlangeni says the regulator is fully aware of the importance of the matter to the sector and that the EAAB intends to engage fully with the bank “as soon as possible so as better to understand and appreciate the full ramifications to the sector implicit in the launch of the FNB app. Once the EAAB has been armed with this knowledge it will be in a far better position to respond to, and deal effectively with, the issue,” ends Mlangeni.
Lee Mhlongo, CEO of FNB Home Finance says that digitalization is a global trend necessitating that various industries adjust their way of doing business but added that they still view real estate agents as key partners.
Private Property’s Coetzee says he is confident that “talks with FNB will continue”.
“We have an excellent business relationship with FNB that has spanned many years and we will continue to engage with them positively. I applaud the speedy reaction of Mr Marius Marais in engaging with industry and ourselves to address concerns,” Coetzee concludes.
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Related reading: Leaders call for agents to remain calm over FNB app