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2020 – the year when tech made all the difference

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Rory Joseph is director and Sebastian Murphy is head of mortgage finance at JLM Mortgage Services.

Back in March, a couple of weeks into Lockdown 1, we chatted to each other about the outlook for the mortgage and housing market, and by definition, our business.

It was not a pleasant conversation and, we suspect like many in the market, were left wondering whether the best course of action might not be hari-kari.

Fortunately, we (quite literally) didn’t have the stomach for it and, nine months on, that appears to have been a sound decision on our part.

While the market is starting to settle itself – after an incredibly manic few months – business levels are still high and look likely to be maintained well into 2021.

What appeared to be the end of days back in the spring, now somehow seems like a rather minor blip in a year, which delivered beyond all expectations.

And in an equally perverse way, 2020 looks likely to have been a major game-changer, in a particularly positive way for advisers.

Much like the post-MMR environment, boosted demand for advice, so (we believe) will this year.

The argument which raged in 2019 about the value of advice, and whether advisers are needed or not, seems utterly spent.

As people come out of this year with more complex financial situations, wants and needs, and we have a more complicated mortgage market, the need for advisers seems greater than ever before.

Even beyond the big push it provided in terms of housing transactions, there have been other notable benefits brought about by 2020.

It was the year when WFH was normalised – what employer in the future is going to suggest this doesn’t work, when we discovered the benefits of Zoom and Teams and clients became comfortable with dealing with us remotely, when lenders became much more happy accepting electronic documentation and digital certification, when we saw how important automatic valuations could be, the list goes on.

All of the above spells good news for the intermediary sector, and you won’t be surprised to see just how important ‘good tech’ is in driving this change.

Perhaps if there is one major takeaway from 2020 it’s regarding technology, because let’s be frank here, when it comes to both lenders and providers then the writing is on the wall for those whose technology is not up to scratch.

That’s been proved time and time again over the past nine months.

For example, a recent case of ours finally went to offer. Good news, you might think, but perhaps not as good as you might think when you learn the application has been with that lender for five months.

Now, in mitigation, this is a small building society, which has undoubtedly struggled with having staff out of its office environment, and has not been particularly successful in replicating its operation in a WFH situation.

But, the point still stands. How can we have a situation where some lenders can deliver an offer while you’re still online checking you’ve sent all the documentation across, or within a day or two, and yet others are taking the best part of five months?

Clearly, something has gone off the rails during that time but there are also ways to avoid this.

Like not asking for the same documentation three to four times, and then when having that documentation placed on the system, not going back to the start of the process every single time or reallocating the case to someone else who again asks for the same documentation.

Quality technology and systems makes the life of everyone so much easier in our business, that when you have to deal with those who don’t hit those standards, the experience is so much worse.

It’s why one major mainstream lender with a global IT system capable of working anywhere for any employee, was left scratching its head earlier this year when so many of its peer group who couldn’t match that tech were pulling rates faster than…well you insert your own metaphor here.

For too many lenders, legacy IT issues are not just holding them back, but genuinely killing them off.

We’ve already seen a whole host of digital operators entering the fray, and if their systems can live up their hype, then more will follow and they’ll become increasingly popular.

In the future, when we look back at 2020, we suspect it will offer many ‘warnings from history’ – for lenders it will be get your tech right or face the consequences.


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