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Surpassing expectations: Fintech Athena sees $250 million in home loan applications within three days of launch

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Athena

Athena co-founders Michael Starkey and Nathan Walsh. Source: Supplied.

Home-loan fintech Athena has finally launched, and according to co-founder Nathan Walsh, it’s racked up $250 million in applications within the first three days.

The platform launched on February 25, offering refinancing for home loans.

Loans for purchasing a home will be available before the end of the year, Walsh tells StartupSmart, but already the startup has seen applications totalling a quarter of a billion dollars, with an average loan size of $400,000.

Founded in June 2017 by Walsh and co-founder Michael Starkey, Athena raised $45 million in funding before it had a product on the market.

This included a $25 million Series B round in November last year, led by Square Peg Capital and also including Hostplus and Airtree Ventures.

Just six months earlier, Athena had secured $15 million from Macquarie Bank, Apex Capital, Rice Warner and Square Peg.

“We’re backed by some of the smartest money in town,” Walsh says.

Athena also has debt funding from Homeloans subsidiary Resimac.

The startup is targeting $1 billion in loans in its first year, and Walsh says the early interest shows “there’s a lot of demand”.

It also “certainly validates all the customer engagement we’ve had”, he adds.

Although the founders had high expectations as to how the market would react to the product, “they’ve been very much surpassed”, Walsh says.

“This has been a real positive surprise in terms of the scale of that reaction.”

And the digital focus of the startup means it’s had no trouble keeping up with the demand.

“That’s really part of the beauty of a really scalable, digital business,” Walsh says.

A timely launch

Athena’s launch wasn’t strictly scheduled to follow from the royal commission report, but it’s “clearly very timely in the context of the trust gap that’s emerged”, Walsh admits.

“It’s a great time to be a new alternative,” he says.

Athena has been in the works for two years, and early-2019 has been the target for launch, even before it came clear the royal commission would be released in February.

“We’ve been talking with customers right through our journey, and the idea that people are looking for a change is not new,” Walsh says.

“The royal commission has just shone a bright spotlight on those circumstances.”

According to data from ABS, it takes Australian households 10 years longer to pay off their mortgage now than a generation ago.

People were already unsatisfied, Walsh says, the royal commission just means the call for change from the community has grown louder.

“To some extent, the awareness has come to the fore,” he says.

“That’s translated into a lot of borrowers thinking through whether it’s time to make the switch.”

Opportunity to make a difference

Before it launched, Athena already had a friends-and-family trial underway, and a waiting list of prospective customers. However, Walsh says the majority of the applications were not “warmed up” beforehand.

Awareness has largely come from a marketing drive across digital channels, social media, Google and other marketing channels.

“People are very digitally aware these days,” Walsh says.

“A broad set of channels presents opportunities to engage with customers,” he adds.

He also notes Athena offers competitive rates. While it’s designed to make customers’ lives simpler, it’s also just a good economical option, Walsh says.

His advice to other startups is to address a real issue in a particular market.

“Make sure you’re solving a really important customer problem, and have a big opportunity to make a difference,” he says.

“The opportunity to save money for Australians in mortgages is bigger than any other fintech opportunity,” he adds.

Walsh also advises startups to surround themselves with great people, both in terms of a talented team to execute on the solution, and in terms of connecting with the ecosystem.

He notes the value of the broader ecosystem, and the generosity of other founders and investors.

“There are so many opportunities to share and learn,” he says.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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