Canadian banks and credit unions have always nurtured a close partnership with real estate brokers who refer mortgage clients to their branches. That partnership has worked well, so there was no reason to disrupt the status quo. Ask a banker today if they intend to enter the real estate brokerage business, however, and there will be an awkward pause.

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The new challenge to the traditional bank/real estate partnership is the disruption brought on by the emerging proptech companies. Most of the large Canadian banks have a U.S. presence so they are seeing how this story is playing out in the U.S., which is likely causing concern.

I recently wrote an article comparing well-known proptech Zillow to Realogy, a traditional franchise real estate company. Check out the article here. It’s an eye-opener!

Insightt now predicts that in the next five years, most major banks and credit unions will own their own real estate brokerage company. Here are some of the reasons we think that will happen.

1. Precedent set:

Desjardins Group acquired DuProprio/Purplebricks for $60.5M in July 2020, which was duly noted by their competitors. That acquisition provided an opportunity to assess potential industry fall-out or other issues that might come from a bank acquisition of a real estate company.

Desjardins’ ownership of Purplebricks appears to be a “win-win” in the market and appears to be progressing favourably for all parties. Desjardins continues to show their innovative ways with a recent announcement of a majority ownership in Reno-Assistance, a company that pairs clients with reliable contractors who can execute large-scale residential or commercial renovation projects.

2. A lucrative revenue source up for grabs:

Residential real estate brokerage drives annual revenues in excess of $14.5 billion. This new and material revenue stream can be leveraged to provide customers with cash rebates, mortgage interest rate buy-downs, pay legal closing costs and other value-added solutions that benefit the end consumer.

Referral fees and cash rebates are long-standing and popular practices in the relocation management and affinity group industries. New proptech leaders such as Nobul have already tapped into this lucrative and successful practice.

In addition to this new revenue stream, bank ownership of real estate brokerage companies expands a list of servicing opportunities in the corporate, government and affinity group markets, where banks already play.

3. Access to the real estate data:

Perhaps the best reason for banks to become directly involved in the real estate industry is the access to property data available to real estate brokers. The benefits of this data to Canadian Banks include:

  • Showcasing customer real estate listings on bank websites to keep existing customers engaged and to attract new customer buyers
  • A better understanding of housing market trends and risks
  • The ability to create internal valuation models to help the bank and its customers better understand current market value

4. Canadian banks are already dabbling in real estate:

RBC Ventures is already the front- runner, launching new and exciting solutions that are challenging the status quo within the real estate industry. That includes:

  • Real Estate Search Project: RBC Ventures has partnered with OJO Labs to launch a better way to search for real estate properties. They are now in beta testing in the Greater Toronto Area. By playing a role in the house search, RBC gets early access to customers for mortgage and other concierge services required in the real estate transaction.
  • MoveSnap: RBC acquired MoveSnap, a personal moving concierge that leverages technology to help real estate clients manage address changes, transfer of services and more.
  • Smart Reno: Smart Reno connects consumers to qualified renovation professionals while supporting contractors and trades to grow their businesses.

CIBC announced a partnership with proptech start-up Properly in 2020 and all banks are actively trying to stay ahead of the curve by participating in these communities in some way, shape or form.

While most Realtors see Zillow as the biggest potential real estate industry disruptor, we see a more significant change to the real estate industry potentially coming from Canadian banks acquiring proptech real estate companies or building their own real estate brokerages.

Canadian banks and credit unions guard client relationships closely. The ability to service clients earlier in the real estate transaction, help them with their mortgage and make the remainder of the real estate process seamless are all valid reasons for banks and credit unions to own a real estate brokerage.

As proptechs continue to disrupt the real estate industry, Canadian banks are going to continue supporting these new innovators and they may even to come out of the real estate closet by acquiring one of these proptech real estate companies in the not-so-distant future.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Lots of great comments and dialogue – thank you! What has happened in the past is history and do not underestimate the ability for the banks or credit unions to be successful this time around as data and technology are changing the real estate industry. We are 110% supporters of Realtors as we know how hard they work and the importance of their role in the transaction. Data and Technology are the game changers in the real estate industry. We have seen disruption in unlikely industries like taxi’s with uber and hotels with AirBnB. We don’t expect to see massive disruption like this to happen in Real Estate, but don’t forget that Banks and Credit Unions are really strong in dealing with data and technology. The more that traditional real estate companies invest in technology and data, the less disruption they will face which has been proven in the U.S.

  2. Some of us remember when a real estate brokerage had to have at least 50% ownership by a licensed broker and every branch office was required to be managed by a local broker. A sales rep could own up to 10% of a brokerage. We are losing control of our business

    • We are losing control of our business only because we are weak enough to let it happen. Further more, our general thinking is probably, “every person for themselves”. Our leadership is not strong enough.

  3. What happened to banks who were once in the real estate brokerage business like Montreal Trust. Canada Trust , Prudential and others.

  4. This ain’t new folks. Canada Trust, Royal Trust are just two that some will remember. Prudential and Country Wide are yet other versions of lenders running brokerages. Round and round we go with people recycling what came before.

  5. Royal Trust / Canada Trust had offices for years and 20 agents per office prospered just from the estate work

  6. Where are all of the government regulators who want an arm’s length in every step of real-estate transactions? Ya gotta wonder……

  7. Good Luck on this one! Greed with the banks have no bounds. This has all been tried before by the banks. Someone in banking thinks they will receive a bonus from coming up with this idea.
    The people in the branch maybe visible but have you tried talking with anyone at Your branch? After waiting for 40 minutes (not uncommon), I finally was put through to
    Colombia. I have also been to the Philippines.
    Several years ago my client almost lost a deal because we could not reach anyone at her bank, to sign off on her financing and that was during the week.
    I cannot say that uneducated agents and the public will not think it a good idea.

  8. I’m with you Ron & Drago. Real Estate is not 9 to 5 and how much more money do banks need to get “on our backs!” They should not have access to our MLS system which we built over time. We give too much away for free. That’s all we need are more “arm chair quarterbacks” in our business making tons of money and as the ordinary Realtor hustles & hustles to make an honest living! The changes to be made should be having the realtor under contact right from the get go. We do a lot of work prior to ever getting a pay check. And sometimes after all the work is done there are unforeseen circumstances, not the fault of the Realtor where we do not get paid, as realtors are the last person paid after mortgage people and lawyers receive their monies. In every business except ours, you are paid up front before “any” work is done ie retainer fees, product delivered or installed. How many times, in the past did you show Buyers homes and the Buyers went with a different realtor until Buyer Agency was put in place? These are the issues that need to be addressed. Plus, don’t get me started on part time realtors! Do one job and do it well. These rules should be addressed.

    • Buyer agency isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on because it’s not always binding. This is not at all what I had in mind when I presented my original drafts of buyer agency to my board and superintendent of real estate back in 1992.

  9. About 11 years ago I sold my Brokerage to the Credit Union. Let’s just say it didn’t work well for them . And I doubt it will work well for the Banks now. Banks are about 9 to 5 here’s the box to put your money in or payback to the bank. Realestate Brokerage is about the people in it, from your service provided to the agent to the marketing strategies and policies, management recruiting and extra rewards for those that help make the Brokerage successful.

    • If memory serves me, there was an attempt in the 90s to engage in this sort of operation and rapidly it was decided not to be a worthwhile venture being too client time-demanding, due to what we often refer to as 9-5 jobs as you allude to. Mtg bkrs often make themselves available late into evenings and weekends and sometimes at the drop of a hat so to speak to accommodate the providing of customer client needs. Oddly enough doing business with banks who don’t respond quickly to their own existing clients.

      Typically even for non-mortgage needs that quick turnaround timeline availability just never seems to merge in the world of banking. I often had clients tell me they had to wait as much as three WEEKS to get a mortgage approval appointment. Each time the would-be buyer was perhaps missing an opportunity to buy their next property. I advised they might want to speak to a mtg Bkr: done like dinner. No waiting for callbacks that never came.

      And that was back in the days of what we might call an ordinary market but when a mtg consult is needed, more than a 24-hour response time can impede the offer flow. And all money-related business should be done even before houses are viewed as possible purchases.

      In today’s scramble market it’s doubtful if the banking systems could be adjusted quickly enough to adapt. I loved it back in the day when we had a personal relationship with our banker, even in some cases for twenty years at just one branch, and we could pick up the phone and things got taken care of ASAP. I had such a bank Mgr who ultimately was transferred after more than twenty years to a head office position in foreign currency exchange.

      Less than two years later he committed suicide. Soon after apparently all the major banks closed their foreign currency depts allegedly finding such depts not profitable, and provide services as a fiduciary, such services through a multi-bank shared services third party exchange contract. Many bank clients don’t even know about the third party intervention. It’s meant to be seamless.

      But making the mortgage business a seamless process doesn’t seem to register. Unless of course banks turned all mortgage business over to several mtg bkrs as a third party contract so as to be workable in an expeditious fashion in the typical long hours brokers put in.

      Mostly the banking world systems are carved in stone? and to a large degree do not have rubber band on the spot flexibility. My best guess is it won’t work and is most likely an exercise in futility. Time better spent taking care of existing banking processes.

      Carolyne L 🍁

    • I don’t know if it matters about my level of care to my clients. I truly appreciate their business and that which I receive by way of referrals from other Agents. I take my laptop and cell phone with me wherever I travel for one reason only. “CUSTOMER SERVICE”. You won’t get this from any bank. I think you need the right professional when you’re spending probably $300,000+ on a purchase.

  10. This mean more monopoly for banks that they can control and screw people that wouldn’t have choice but go with them They are making killing with penalty if you want to pay your mortgage earlier or if you sell and you have remaining couple of years with them shame of our government that they allow manipulation of poor population where majority is not well informed.

    • I agree with most of what you say Drago. I don’t believe that the banks will be able to make a go of this, and when the need money to stay afloat we are going to pay to rescue them.

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