"Being able to certify the lead is hugely important, not only because it ensures the consumer is genuinely interested in the product, but also from a legal point of view"
FR: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to join Contact State?
I was working for equity release broker Responsible Life where I was in charge of lead buying and looking after our lead generation partners.
Within ER, it is very important to understand where leads are coming from because there is an inherent level of vulnerability there, and ER providers, brokers and intermediaries need to be holding themselves to account. When you are buying leads, you have to put a lot of trust in your lead generation partners, and this didn’t sit well with me, as there was no way of really knowing that they were holding themselves to the standards we expected. I wanted to try and build a more robust compliance model and had seen an article by Alain Desmier - in Financial Reporter actually - so reached out to see if Contact State could help. We worked together, and as I started to understand more about what Alain was doing to clean up the industry, I realised it was something I wanted to be a part of, so when the opportunity came up to head up the mortgage and lending side of the business, I took it.
FR: So, what is the problem with lead generation at the moment?
Lead generation is a huge industry, and when it is done right, is hugely beneficial for the sellers, the buyers, and the end customer. However, while there are loads of great lead generation companies out there, there are plenty that don’t care how they get the lead, and care even less who they sell it to - they’re just trying to make a quick buck - and this results in huge problems, both ethically, and legally.
For example, where a lead has been obtained legitimately, they expect to be contacted because they have a genuine interest in the product or service and have willingly shared their details. But when those who have been hoodwinked into sharing their details are contacted, they are immediately thinking ‘who are you and why have you called me?’ and in that situation, the broker is fighting a losing battle.
Furthermore, the consumer will assume that it is all one company they are dealing with, from when they first filled out a form to when they get that call, but it could be many stages down the line until they hit a broker - or multiple brokers, as many sell the lead more than once - who can actually help. And if that journey has been bad - or completely unwelcome - and the consumer is being bombarded with calls they don’t want, it is the brokers making those calls that are seen as the problem.
FR: How is Contact State trying to help solve these issues?
Brokers need to buy leads, and they are trying to do it right, plus, of course, it is not in their interest to buy duff ones, but they have no oversight of the customer journey, so no way of knowing if the leads are legitimate.
Contact State enables lead buyers to understand the customer journey before they arrive in the broker’s system to be contacted. This gives that extra level of oversight required and helps to form a more trusting relationship between lead buyer and lead seller.
We provide Data Certificates for each consumer journey; these act as a record of data provenance, store metadata and contextual information about the journey, and give confidence and assurance that the consumer was sold to in a compliant way.
Being able to certify the lead is hugely important, not only because it ensures the consumer is genuinely interested in the product, but also from a legal point of view; the FCA is focusing on lead generation practices at the moment, and fines are becoming increasingly common, for buyers as well as sellers. By certifying the good leads, it is safer for the customers, more profitable for the lead buyer, and better for the industry as a whole, because the fraudulent players are forced to clean up or clean out.
FR: What is your role at Contact State, and what will you bring to the business?
My role is to focus on the mortgage and equity release sectors, which are underserviced in terms of the lead generation side of things. I want to help brokers and intermediaries in the mortgage and equity release market get full oversight of the customer journey. Within Contact State, this means introducing more and more businesses to our certification model, but for the industry as a whole it is also about encouraging more trust between lead buyers and lead sellers.
For example, sellers often get paid per lead, which means they have no real interest in what happens afterwards. You could argue then that a better option might be a commission split, as then there is motivation to sell better quality leads, but what if the seller doesn’t trust the broker to make that sale? I want to facilitate better relationships between lead sellers and buyers so it is more like a partnership - everyone has the same goal, and if there is more transparency and trust, everyone will benefit.
FR: What is Contact State’s ultimate goal?
Currently, when Contact State certifies a lead, it is the buyer that gets the Data Certificate. Our ultimate goal is for the customer to get one too. That means that not only will the buyer know exactly how their potential customer has reached them, but the customers themselves will know exactly what data they have shared, and with whom so they will know who will contact them. They will also, therefore, have all the information they need to opt out if they want to. Certification for both customer and buyer will create a truly transparent system, where brokers get more profitable leads, and customers benefit from being put in touch with someone that can actually help them meet their needs.
We also hope to roll the Contact State model into other countries and into other industries - it is not just the UK financial services sector that needs data certification. Anywhere customers share their data, there is the risk that it could be used fraudulently. Two of the biggest problem areas at the moment are the Higher Education sector and home improvements - people share their data for university applications, or to add an extension and then find their details have been sold on multiple times to all sorts of industries, completely unrelated to their initial enquiry, causing huge amounts of frustration and anger aimed towards the eventual buyer of that lead. We want to get to a point where instead of consumers thinking ‘why are you calling me’? they are thinking ‘I am glad you called’.