Santander’s seductive salsa whilst Shawbrook breaks a heel…

Kevin Duffy

February 2, 2018

Kevin Duffy (pictured) is managing director of Mortgageforce

It was a week of contrasting fortunes for two lenders at polar ends of our sector.

Shawbrook’s recent challenges produced some perhaps inevitable personnel changes, but in a way I admired the way that it actually fronted up to its mea culpa. All too often when lenders mess things up, there is an aftermath of fudge and excuses. For sure, the specialist lender stopped listening to its customers (i.e. us, the broker!) and resultingly its borrowers were no longer being treated as individuals. It won’t be the last lender to miss that step, but it was refreshing to read of its contrition and it will be back, and stronger for it.

Conversely, as we enter the awards and reporting seasons, we had Santander’s results. I have sometimes been accused of being myopic towards this lender, so I will attempt to be balanced in this critique.

It’s a fact. That amongst our own brokers at Mortgageforce, only NatWest can presently rival

los rojos’ for their affections. And this is in spite of the Spanish lender’s more risk-averse approach to criteria around matters such as debt consolidation, multi-property BTL and some self-employed applicants. A cynic might also suggest that their new go-to base rate is a crafty back-door method of retaining more of its existing book and counter-intuitive to the lender’s long-proclaimed values of being fair, personal, and delivering on promises made.

All of that is argumentative and I’d be interested (as no doubt would the ever-listening lender itself be?) in any threads that commence below on this discussion so please feel free to get stuck in.

Yet despite these perceived absences in its criteria card, there is still so much to admire about this lender’s behaviours and results, ones which unlike two of its indigenous rivals here in the UK have not had the benefit of gargantuan taxpayer bailouts to support their offering in recent years. The Spaniards have lived within their means and the ratings agencies love them for it.

Far more intelligent and less-opinionated analysts than I will have scrutinised their results, but three things struck me about Santander this week.

First up, it doesn’t do apologies for becoming ever more digitalised. It’s no secret that it is developing a more digital outlook and I originally saw this as a threat to our sector. But my hunch is that the lender now equally appreciates that intermediation in this country (if not in its overseas markets) is here to stay and collaborating with brokers will serve it better than marginalising them. It’s simply being transparent and honest about its intentions, and ironically so in a month when nouveau-competitors in fintech such as Amazon have entered the dance floor and will doubtless soon be delivering offer letters by drone to our back gardens! Better the devil we know, eh?

Second. It does genuinely covet and prize loyalty. Across its 10 global marketplaces this is patently a core value. Brokers may not give a funky gibbons about whether Argentinian teachers in Cordoba or Mexican millennials in Guadalajara buy three times as many products from Santander than John Smith or Harry Palmer do here in blighty, but the point is surely this; if a broker keeps supporting them, Santander has a DNA and memory stick which means that it values our reciprocation. I know this all too well from having had my heart broken by other lenders when a broker has made an honest mistake. Santander is one of the best lenders around when our stuff gets involuntarily caught in the fan. I can tell you.

Lastly, and as ever when differentiation is critical, we come to their people. We often use metaphors don’t we, to best illustrate a lender’s personality and characteristics. Cars, sporting teams, white goods perhaps. This time I’m going to parallel it with dance -styles, and Santander is most surely……… the salsa.

It’s shiny red features on a formula one car epitomise it perfectly….dashing, fleet of foot, responsive, and bristling with horsepower . It would dance the same but it’s not one for waltzing or the American smooth. It’s got more élan and curves than that. And as we enter the (personal) awards season also, I would hope that the likes of Miguel Sard and Brad Fordham win some plaudits for the way in which they strut their stuff. I cannot think of an executive team at any other mainstream lender that so consistently avails brokers of its strategic thinking and is in essence , so straight-talking. Even if the script is sometimes not what we wanted to hear.

I’ll end the eulogy there before the reader needs to reach for their sick bucket. But suffice to say, the message that I will be giving to our own brokers as they crack on with 2018 after the sober abstinence of their dry Januarys (!!) is this; Santander won’t do every case that you want them too. And for sure, NatWest will continue to challenge them for top honours on affordability related measures especially.

But much of a broker’s occasionally tortured and frenetic life is about selecting a lender in the first place that won’t step on your toes or drop you when in hold. Santander deftly fits that description, and it appears to be forging loyalties that will serve it and the sector well, especially if and when the next downturn might come.

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