Rob Barnard is sales director at Pepper Homeloans
I’m very fortunate having worked with some fantastic people over the years and I know that having just joined Pepper Homeloans, I’m yet again working with a team of great individuals.
And the intermediary mortgage market is also full of wonderful people. In fact, people skills sit at the very heart of what a broker is all about. If you can’t connect with your clients at a human level before you start talking about mortgages, then you’ve made the wrong career choice!
I’m therefore a bit intrigued when I read about the latest developments in the provision of ‘robo advice’. To date, most of the advances have been made in the savings and investment arenas, but the techno-geeks are also starting to make inroads into the mortgage market.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti technology. Quite the opposite. It has a pivotal role to play in making information more accessible, speeding-up the transfer of data between lawyers, surveyors, lenders and brokers and reducing wasted time, effort and cost from the administrative tasks involved in moving a mortgage from application through to completion.
But just because technology can be developed to the point where a machine can replace a person, doesn’t mean that’s necessarily a desirable outcome in every instance.
I think it’s a bit like driverless cars. Yes, the technology can do it but do drivers want it? There are times when the idea of reading the paper and drinking coffee rather than being stuck behind a steering wheel seem appealing but, on reflection, I’d prefer to remain in control of my car thanks.
When it comes to mortgages, I think many consumers may also be reluctant to deal purely with a machine rather than a man or woman. Mortgages remain a low frequency, high value purchase and when it comes to the crunch, most borrowers want the reassurance that only expert advisers can provide. Borrowers can do their research online and approach a broker armed with all the information they need, but in most instances it still requires a knowledgeable broker to make sense of it all.
I do accept that there will be some who are happy to transact without any human intervention and that’s fine. For a confident consumer who is, say, remortgaging and has very straightforward circumstances, then why not? But as brokers know only too well, there are aspects to most mortgage cases that makes them not quite ‘standard’.
So what does all this mean for ‘robo-advice’?
I believe that the use of technology in the mortgage market still has a lot of scope for further development. The use of intelligent systems can help brokers and lenders focus on what’s really important rather than becoming bogged-down with routine administrative tasks. Video links between borrowers, brokers and lenders are also good news but, at the end of the day, I can’t see an electronic face permanently replacing a human one.
The provision of mortgage advice will, for some time to come, be dependant on people. Our own research at Pepper confirms that brokers value highly the support provided by good BDMs and consumers likewise value the advice and expertise provided by good brokers.
I’m a people person. Yes, I use my computer, tablet and phone on a regular basis to buy anything from light bulbs to lawnmowers on eBay or Amazon, but some things in life are just too important to become push-button purchases.
And mortgages are one of them. I’ll be opting for the personal option for some time to come.