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News & opinion

2 DEC 2019

Rethinking: The role of the banker

How brokers of the future will have to adapt if technological innovations and greater data accessibility change their profession. Piers Brunner FRICS, CEO for Greater China at Knight Frank, tells us more.

The digital age has brought with it drastic and fundamental change to the global economy, with technology such as blockchain reshaping entire sectors, and ushering in sweeping reformulation of process and strategy. But while the highly competitive real-estate brokerage business has certainly not been completely immune to such impact, it has been comparatively slow to evolve.

Data was once considered industry gold to brokers. Those who could accumulate and provide the best intelligence gained the greatest advantage in the market. In Asia, where tenants and owners had limited choices, regional cultural challenges saw a profound lack of transparency from brokers, for their own benefit. Many of them believed that information, as the key source of value, was best kept close to one's chest. That's despite the fact that such practices would sap significant time and energy from brokerage leaders who wanted to change this culture and use data more broadly.

Instead, what happened was that the teams that got the most of this intelligence suddenly became the highest performers. But this phenomenon faded as industry regulation improved and data accessibility increased. As brokerage houses began to adopt internal cultures of information sharing, data became available externally, followed closely by the appearance of data aggregators. The role of broker had evolved organically to include analysis.

What does this mean to the client, given that they themselves can now access the same information? The answer is "not much", as the real value lies in the personal connection between broker and client. It's a relationship that produces tailored analysis and insights, based on a comprehensive understanding of client needs.

There is real value in a personal connection between broker and client. It’s a relationship that produces tailored analysis and insights

Close relationship

For this, the broker must possess an intimate knowledge of the client, one that goes beyond the basics of headcount and size and location requirements to encompass vision, values, business lines, product and services, growth strategies, organisational structure, and so on. All too often I have seen companies relocate to inappropriate buildings based on "strong brokerage", only to have to repeat the process soon after. With close contact and deep understanding, such incidents can be avoided. Brokers can instead tailor multifaceted solutions for clients, and focus on specific business outcomes.

With brokers repositioning themselves as advisers rather than the mere middlemen of the past, the future of the brokerage lies in strong, dependable advisory services provided by high-calibre real estate professionals. The broker skill set will have to expand to include broad professional knowledge, with extensive training on specific technical matters, and the ability to rally teams of experts, be they colleagues or third parties. This is already happening, to a degree. The most successful brokers are those who have adopted this approach, and they are now reaping the rewards.

Another key battleground of the future will be mobility. Indeed, the contest is already raging, with fast, accurate response to customer requests being a new commodity. There is a list of applications currently in various stages of development that will attempt to streamline processes and boost precision. Over time, some of them will prove their value and proceed to widespread adoption, while others will languish into obsolescence. In both cases, managers must play an active role in mitigating any complications this causes.

With the real estate sector continuing to evolve and new technologies changing the market landscape, the brokers of the future will need to be highly responsive and mobile advisers trusted by clients to deliver superior results every time. They will require a client-centric approach, matched with superior business acumen, strong analytical skills, broad technical knowledge, and an appreciation of seamless team operations and culture.

This article originally appeared in Modus Asia edition Q4 2019, under the headline: Rethinking: The role of the broker