The Mortgage Strategy Broker Focus column aims to amplify the voices of intermediaries up and down the country.
Profiling a different mortgage broker every week, the column will ask a mix of light-hearted and professional questions about the individual, their firm and their take on the mortgage market.
This week it is the turn of LEA Financial Services founder Les Whitfield.
Tell me about your firm in three sentences.
LEA Financial Services is a directly authorised whole-of-market mortgage and general insurance intermediary which started in April 2008 in the depths of the recession.
The services we provide are driven by our clients’ professed needs so, in addition to regulated and buy-to-let mortgages and protection, we advise on and arrange development finance, commercial & asset finance loans, mortgages on holiday homes in the UK and overseas and holiday lets.
We are members of the FSB, Chambers of Commerce, NACFB and AoBP and the Trading Standards Buy With Confidence scheme.
What is your headcount?
Currently, we are three – all family members. My wife, Eileen, looks after general administration and HR and Andrew, one of my five sons, looks after our IT and websites.
I am the sole advisor in the firm but we are taking on an insurance advisor at the end of June and also have a mortgage advisor in training.
Where are you based?
We work from our home in Plymouth. There are advantages and disadvantages to this; we are accessible to our clients outside normal working hours and it does not take long to get to work. Loss of personal time is the trade-off. Our clients are all over the UK.
What led you to become a mortgage broker?
I am in my third career and have been advising for 19 years. After spending 15 years in the Middle East where my job involved helping local personnel to develop their abilities, I found that I gained huge pleasure helping people. On return to the UK, helping people with their finances seemed a natural move.
What are the best parts of your job?
Helping someone achieve their objectives has to be right up there. Sometimes this means talking to someone months or even years before they are ready to apply for a loan so that they can be set on the right path.
I get a real buzz out of the pleasure my clients get when everything falls into place for them.
Another really great feeling is when we get referrals; some of my clients are sixth generation referrals.
What are your plans for your firm’s future?
We are looking to expand but finding the right personnel is difficult. We have fairly exacting standards and not everyone seems to be capable of meeting them. As a result, we have to train in-house.
We are not doing enough protection business so we are starting a dedicated insurance advisor by the end of the month and will be promoting cyber protection insurance. We have recently added new asset finance lenders to our panel and are starting to promote that offering, as well.
What annoys you about the mortgage market?
The length of time one often has to hold the phone whilst waiting for a lender to answer, and don’t get me started on solicitors! Before I can make a recommendation to a client, I have to be satisfied that we can satisfy the lender’s criteria.
Frequently, the lender’s intermediary portal does not make all that lender’s criteria available and therefore there is a risk that a case might not fit. Calling the lender is then the only option and, if “your call is important to us”, why don’t they answer their phones?
And what is the best thing about it?
It is certainly not boring. With changes in regulations and taxations, with new lenders coming into the market filling all sorts of niches, there are more and more opportunities to help our clients to find the right deals.
What one thing would improve brokers’ working lives the most?
Getting rid of ‘free legals’ and giving clients or the advisers the opportunity to appoint a solicitor with the fee paid by the lender.
If this option was adopted, I am sure solicitors would offer a more attractive price point for this type of business.
Most legal firms that are appointed by lenders seem to be incapable of handling the volumes of business in a time-sensitive way and are not set up to deal with intermediaries. If we appoint the solicitors, we get a better response from them and cases are processed more smoothly.
What is the best day you’ve ever had, and why?
I have had many but most of these are personal such as achieving a personal best in a marathon or watching my sons win a football tournament, seeing them become martial artists and graduating from university.
I also gained significant satisfaction when someone I had worked with felt he was ready to start his own business.
Which person, alive or dead, would you most like to have a drink with?
Dennis Wheatley, Wilbur Smith or Bernard Cornwell for their skill at weaving fiction into historical events or Jacob Rees-Mogg for his withering wit
Which teams do you support, and why?
Not really into the round ball game, preferring Rugby Union. Plymouth Argyle recently escaped from the lowest tier and Exeter just failed at the last gasp. I would like them to succeed.
Finally, what do you most like to read in Mortgage Strategy?
There isn’t one single thing. Market Watch and the Opinion columns are usually a good read as are the view columns. If I have missed any updates about lenders, Mortgage Strategy usually allows me to catch up.
If you would like your firm to be featured in Broker Focus, please email Mortgage Strategy deputy editor Sam Barker at email@example.com or call 02079704425.