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November 2021 | Networks

Together again

Shaun Almond is managing director of HL Partnership

After several false starts, at the end of September, HLP returned to face-to-face conferencing after being virtual over the past two years. 

Even the threat of petrol shortages and a rise in COVID cases failed to dampen the enthusiasm of members to attend. It was thrilling to welcome a full house of delegates for a day’s agenda of industry topics and regulatory insight as well as a turnout of product and service partners in a dedicated area of stands, which would have been the envy of even the biggest expos.

Appropriately, the principal theme of the day was ‘Together Again’ and, whilst I am sure it has been duplicated across the country, the post lockdown euphoria of being able to meet colleagues face to face was very much in evidence.

Among the topics discussed were green mortgages, the mechanics of mortgage pricing, challenges and opportunities in the coming year, technology and how it can support human expertise. There was no surprise that the green agenda was one of the talking points, with the sobering statistics demonstrating how far we, as a nation, have to go to cut emissions. According to one of the presenters domestically 29 million homes cause up to 15% of our total emissions. However, even with the increasing focus on green issues and the government’s plan to reach zero emissions by 2050, research indicates:

56% of the public are still unaware of the dangers of CO2 emission.

75% do not understand the concept of net zero.

90% do not know or understand what an EPC is. 

Overall, the conference was a huge success, not least because it lived up to its billing of bringing everyone together again. Whether you are a member of HLP or not, I hope we can agree that while video conferencing has been a godsend, we are all social animals and we do our best business when we are engaged with customers and colleagues face to face. It is a shame that it has taken a pandemic to make us realise the true value of the relationships we have and those we are yet to forge. 

Even in my position running a leading a pure AR network, I have always tried to be even handed in understanding the DA vs AR debate. Obviously, each regulatory status has its supporters but, in the end, brokers must make a decision based on their own circumstances and inclinations.

To me, much of the debate hinges around the emotive word ‘independence’. An understandable desire to plough one’s own furrow without being beholden to a corporate entity or employer. There is a strong argument that if a decision is taken to start a brokerage, why would you then ‘give up’ your independence to become an appointed representative?  

I do admire firms that decide to go it alone because I know, having had many conversations with DA firms, just how resourceful owners have to be to cope with the day to day issues. Coping with compliance, file checking and reports, maintaining relationships with lenders and other service and product providers, keeping abreast of market and regulatory issues and making sure to stay competitive as technology drives constant reinvestment.  

Let’s also not forget about the annual hunt to source affordable PI, paying the ever increasing annual FSCS levy and keeping up with the latest in CRM platforms. All the while, finding time to source new business and giving existing customers the level of regular attention that they deserve. To me, all the added effort appears as a very high price to pay to be a DA firm, unless there is suitable infrastructure to cope. To be honest, no-one is truly independent as we all work within the rules set by the FCA.

As we have to comply in exactly the same way, being relieved of the administrative burden of compliance, an AR has more time to concentrate on building their businesses and meeting more customer needs.

How about ‘independent’ advice? Every DA and AR firm offers advice from a representative panel of providers, unless driven by a commercial bias to restrict choice, which means that advice and recommendations are considered to be independent, whether from a DA or an AR firm. So, no real differentiation there either and as far as customers are concerned, Bloggs & Co on a letterhead or on an office window looks the same whether it is a DA or an AR firm.

Just to add spice to the debate, the FCA will shortly be announcing its Consumer Duty initiative, which will provide yet another challenge for every regulated firm and principal.