‘Long COVID’ in the mortgage market

Conor Murphy

November 26, 2020

Conor Murphy (pictured) is chief executive of Smartr365

COVID-19 has affected all industries in various ways, from virtual meetings over Zoom to moving the office to the kitchen table; there isn’t a corner of our working lives which has remained unscathed.

We are now coming to terms with the fact that the effects of the pandemic aren’t going to be short-lived.

In fact, some are predicting that our work lives, spending patterns and home purchase demands might never return to how they were before.

This has been compounded by the medical discovery that COVID manifests itself in two forms: there is the first, more common strand and then there is ‘long COVID’, which seems to grip it’s victims tighter and for a lot longer, often requiring months of treatment and bed rest in order to recover.

If the UK mortgage market were able to contract a virus, it would appear to have all the symptoms of ‘long COVID’.

Shift in attitude

There was lots of coverage reporting the change in home buying demand when the first lockdown kicked in, with many predicting the shift in attitude was a permanent fixture.

There was to be a mass exodus from London to the Lakes, houses were going to be bigger and gardens were essential.

However, that’s not necessarily what we have seen.

Yes, house prices are rising and there is certainly a demand for larger and often more expensive homes, but London is still London, and its allure is unlikely to change.

What has changed, however, are our ways of working and expectations around customer service and business interactions in general.

In March, there was understanding from clients as brokers if brokers struggled to meet short deadlines or retrieve sensitive data instantly as they settled into remote work. However, that leniency has now shifted.

We are in our ninth month since the first lockdown and clients expect the same level of service they received pre-March. Brokers need to either step up to meet demand or risk being pushed aside as they fail to meet expectations. It’s plain that the only way to keep up with changing demands is by having the right tech.

The most obvious example is meetings. The return to full lockdown in November has been a high point for video conferencing, however looking forward to 2021 and beyond, we expect there to be a ‘hybrid’ of face to face meetings paired with increased video conferencing.

Companies and individuals have saved significant time and money by attending meetings and conferences virtually, and many have enjoyed the convenience.

Clients now expect this way of working be seamlessly integrated into their mortgage application with little leeway for anything less.

Companies who are still using conference lines and telephone calls are missing opportunities to build positive client relationships and are likely losing business in the process.

Harnessing change

The move to homeworking happened quickly because it needed to, and people got by fine – because they needed to. However, while we celebrate our successes, it is important to note that there are lessons to be learnt from moving forward.

We have seen reports across all industries of drops in productivity and frustrations creeping in from both employers and employees as a result of continued remote work.

Tasks such as managing teams, onboarding new starters and team building are made increasingly difficult for businesses which suddenly find themselves separated and without a cohesive tech platform joining them together.

It is important that businesses don’t bury their head in the sand and try to fumble through the next few months as some have since March.

There are certain businesses thriving through the crisis and this won’t go unnoticed by both potential clients and existing employees.

Future success

Above all, when we get through the immediate struggles of the crisis and emerge out the other side, there will be lasting changes caused by the pandemic which businesses must be ready for.

Clients want the ability for secure and instant document transfers, employees will expect flexible working opportunities and neither party will expect to travel to every client meeting. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak.

In order to maintain both client and employee retention both now and in months to come, you have to be prepared.

Therefore, it is important that brokers focus on how to create genuine productivity and success in our altered working environment, which is here to stay.

Already having a sophisticated tech platform in place put some businesses ahead in March, but the rest of the industry has now caught up.

Controversially, some mortgage businesses might find that since the pandemic has forced them to adopt tech and the eliminate of previous disjointed, manual processes, they find their business runs smoother than before.

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