Access to information
As the private mortgage insurer that tags itself 'The Homeownership Company,' Genworth Financial Canada has been ramping up its programs in the past year to help potential buyers understand exactly what it takes to purchase a home and manage a mortgage.
"I think there's quite a bit of room for Canadians to become more aware of the homebuying process," says the company's president, Peter Vukanovich. "We've got a quiz on our website where we've been asking questions about buying a home and we can tabulate responses, and it clearly indicates that the Canadian first-time buyer would benefit from more education. The scores are not what you might expect them to be."
To help educate Canadians, Genworth launched a site for first-time buyers called Homeownership.ca in September 2008 after the government introduced new rules that eliminated zero-down mortgages and 40-year amortizations. The site has been expanding ever since and includes quizzes, rent versus buy calculators and other tools to help first-timers navigate the buying process. Last November, a video series was added to the site to explain the benefits of mortgage insurance and break down the housing market in Canada.
Following the positive feedback from Homeownership.ca, Genworth launched YourMortgagePlan.ca last September as part of the "Genworth Edge" suite of tools for mortgage professionals. The site includes budget planners, a financial check-up tool and mortgage payment calculators to help brokers counsel their clients to make informed mortgage decisions. There is also the Genworth Development Centre, which offers training courses on topics like appraisals, credit reports and networking skills.
"We've got a whole raft of information we've been trying to get out to people - our first line of communication is through the lender and the broker, so these online tools are aimed at providing more information that can be delivered through our partners and help consumers," says Vukanovich, adding the web components are a complement to many of the other resources Genworth provides for the mortgage industry.
"We have the online stuff and then we put on thousands of presentations a year so people in the industry know what's going on and have the latest market information," he says.
Another initiative that has proven successful for Genworth is its Homeownership Assistance Program, which the company expanded last year in the middle of the financial crisis, adding an online component where homeowners can assess their financial situation and then work with the lender and mortgage broker to find ways to manage mortgage payments in tough times. Examples of solutions include a longer amortization period or a line of credit.
"We've had a huge response to the Homeownership Assistance Program - we helped more than 4,600 families last year, a six-fold increase from 2008," says Vukanovich. "We also find the lenders have really embraced this as a program to help consumers creatively get through their financial difficulties."
For 2010, Vukanovich says Genworth Financial Canada is looking for opportunities to expand and build its offerings, such as its Homebuyer Privileges program, an online discount program for Genworth insured homeowners, who receive discounts for things like appliances and moving services.
He adds Genworth is also re-evaluating its product line and, in particular, looking for ways to streamline products and make them easier for Canadians to understand.