Ask and you shall get?
Rob Clifford is chief executive of Stonebridge
I’m a supporter of the ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get,’ approach especially when it comes to business, and this is as relevant in the adviser market as anywhere else.
Perhaps more so, given the nature of the relationship our market has with lenders in particular, and (as much as some might not like it) the reliance we have on each other.
To that end, and with 2021 just a month old, we asked a number of our AR firms (representative of many hundreds of mortgage advisers) to tell us what was on their wishlists for the year ahead, specifically in terms of the way they work with lenders, the service they get, their access to key personnel, and overall, their ability to get work completed.
A pressing concern in an environment where the stamp duty holiday gives us a clear milestone, and where the risk of not getting cases completed by that date, may mean many transactions are aborted and perhaps a barrage of consumer dissatisfaction. A result that no-one will wish to see.
For the most part, the feedback we received could have been true in any given year, however it’s also clear that the pandemic has undoubtedly influenced the way advisers work with lenders, and this is likely to deliver ongoing change, most notably in terms of the ways in which we interact and communicate.
We’ve been able to group the valuable feedback into a number of areas.
Number one, certainty. As ever, having certainty of fact and timings was deemed a pre-requisite but too often not delivered.
There was an acknowledgement that lenders have had a lot to cope with due to the pandemic – servicing centres closed, staff working remotely, etc., but it was still felt that service/decision certainty could be better delivered, especially as lenders have had the best part of a year to invent and refine new service propositions.
Advisers talked about receiving a guaranteed turn-around time to look at documentation and for lenders to have those timings published.
This would allow advisers to better manage client expectations and would also reduce the number of questions and queries lenders receive, which would then allow them to get on with the work in hand rather than spend time fielding those.
Secondly, and something that follows on from certainty, is lender access. Most deemed this to mean access to underwriters, but also a more general communication point around answering calls and emails.
Access to decision-makers was deemed highly important, and while some lenders were said to have got this right throughout the pandemic, others were felt to have been more difficult to work with.
Which leads us to consistency. Advisers talked about very variable underwriting consistency – not just between lenders but within lenders.
It was felt that it often depends on which underwriter you speak to and that results between underwriters differ significantly, which clearly doesn’t help in terms of efficient case placement.
Again, it was acknowledged that with underwriting teams not working in the same office, consistency was more difficult to achieve, however the criteria are the same for all, so why would the results differ so frequently?
Up next, and again focusing on consistency, was the role of BDMs about which we received very mixed feedback. Advisers acknowledge that each BDM is different, but it was suggested that the gulf between good and bad has grown significantly over the last 12 months.
We were told that persistent changes to criteria have not helped BDMs, or the adviser, in this regard.
How BDMs interact and their knowledge levels was deemed vital. We heard from advisers who have BDMs from certain lenders joining regular weekly meetings within a company in order to update the advisers.
This was highlighted as a real positive, especially given the rate of pricing/product/criteria changes, however it was only a minority of lender BDMs doing this when wider buy-in would be welcomed. BDMs might wish to take this as an open invitation to engage more with firms in this way.
More generally, there was a concern about the split between direct and intermediary business, for those lenders who are active in the direct space.
It was pointed out that this is often cyclical, but it was felt that some lenders seem quick to exploit a gap and write a direct case, especially when an adviser gets a decline, or they are unable to secure a certain maximum loan amount.
Advisers talked about losing a number of cases in these scenarios, plus there was major disquiet about the lengths some lenders will go to in the name of retention, seemingly pushing the adviser out of the equation, and offering the borrower mortgage options beyond the reach of advisers.
This was judged to be an unfair treatment of both adviser and client, thereby removing the protection and benefit of impartial advice.
Overall, as you might anticipate, there was plenty of enthusiastic feedback given by this sample of mortgage advisers, and we know that lenders will respond in a positive way.
Given that around 75% of all mortgage business is originated by the intermediary channel, we also know most lenders are genuinely grateful for the great work done by the intermediary channel.
What we often hear advisers say is that all they require is a fair crack of the whip especially in terms of competing with lenders’ retention processes.
Lenders who are able to offer this, will undoubtedly feel the benefit of greater intermediary engagement and the business volumes that will follow.