Ryan Bembridge reflects on five years in the mortgage market
Ryan Bembridge joined Mortgage Introducer as a reporter in 2014, before rising to senior reporter in 2015 and news editor in 2018
This is my last day working at Mortgage Introducer after more than five years, as I’m travelling to Toronto in Canada for a change of scene. Given that I’ve been in the market for a decent chunk of my life, I’ve decided to write a piece reflecting on those years.
My memories of the first year are punctuated with having to learn about the mortgage market almost from scratch. You see, I studied journalism and had a stint at the Daily Express before joining. It wasn’t like I came from a financial background and the only hook to get me interested in the market was how the global financial crisis came to be.
I remember being told I was “wet behind the ears” an irritating amount, but I owe a lot to people who were happy to explain complicated concepts from scratch; the likes of Ray Boulger from John Charcol as well as others who were always happy to pick up the phone and be patient with someone who lacked knowledge but wanted to rectify that.
In my first year at Mortgage Introducer I also learnt to be careful how much I tell my colleagues, as I made the mistake of revealing that some people had likened me to James Franco – mockery ensued to the point of tedium. For the record, I think I look more like David Farrier, the New Zealand journalist who starts in the Netflix TV series Dark Tourist.
As it turns out my first year in mortgages was one of the most significant ever in terms of the market, as the Mortgage Market Review launched on 26th April 2014. This significantly tightened up affordability stress testing and turned the market into a largely advised one. My memory of that time was of an initial fear of change before the rules came in, then complaints regarding teething issues – like mortgage applications taking ages to go through – before an acceptance that we were moving in the right direction.
As we moved into 2015, much of the focus shifted to the general election happening on the 7th May 2015 between David Cameron’s Conservative Party and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. I remember the widespread cynicism about Miliband and finding it all quite mystifying. While the media seemed strangely obsessed with that time he ate a bacon sandwich in a weird way, in the mortgage market there appeared to be something of an outcry about a potential ‘mansion tax’ on homes over £2m. I thought at the time that people with homes over that amount can probably afford to pay more tax, especially given how house prices were rising. Cameron won, but given what followed I think history tells us that was the wrong choice.
In 2016 Brexit was on everyone’s lips. Before the vote I remember attending a debate on the subject between former British Chamber of Commerce director general John Longworth and Lord William Hague, and I couldn’t see any strong arguments to leave. I was probably one of the complacent ones in the London bubble as I have to admit I was left shocked after we voted leave. Since then, the only arguments I seem to hear from leave voters is ‘we should leave because we voted to leave’ rather than any practical reasons why. I’ll go on no longer, but I think you can see how I feel about this.
On a more positive note personally, 2016 signalled a time I started get nominated for some awards for my writing, as by this time I had some knowledge under my belt and was able to come up with some good news stories. One that sticks in my mind was a piece about the government’s continual refusal to make the Housing Minister role a cabinet one, where I got a response from Number 10. I continued to get nominated for most awards shortlists in 2017 but still won nothing – as it turns out I’d become less James Franco and more Leonardo DiCaprio.
In 2018 and 2019 many of the big talking points in mortgages revolved around the Mortgages Market Study, one aspect of which indicates that the FCA wants to loosen some execution-only restrictions. There’s definitely been a negative response from much of our industry, but I think the FCA is well-meaning in its approach, which seems to be about empowering customers. What I would say is it’s a direction the regulator should be cautious about, as it would be a shame to return to something like risky pre-credit crunch practices.
Aside from the serious stuff, there have clearly been some surreal occasions that will stay in the memory for a long time.
One yearly highlight in the calendar has been Alan Cleary’s poker night in his garden, and I’m still proud I finished second in 2017. Another was a 15-course meal courtesy of Paymentshield, the likes of which I never expected to have. Other notable press outings were Star Wars Secret Cinema with Santander and a trip to the Royal Albert Hall with RBS to see the BBC Proms, with Gustav Holst’s The Planets.
When I look back on this time in my life, while there’s been challenges, at least I got to see some bright lights and sounds!
So that’s it – so long, and thanks for all the lunches.