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Cover feature: What is the future for lender BDMs?

BDMs are the vital link between brokers and lenders but, in an era of call centres and online communication, what place do they have in today’s mortgage industry?

Technology has revolutionised everything, from the way we interact with our friends to how we consume music and television.

Closer to home, technology has had an impact on financial services in a slightly different way. We all know of banking apps and price comparison websites but many mortgage lenders too are trying to communicate in a more digital manner with brokers.

However, there are arguments that the old-fashioned method of meeting face-to-face remains the best way to do business, and that the move towards online is a form of cost cutting by stealth.

Business development managers have seen their role change in the past few years, so what does the future hold for this crucial link between advisers and banks?

Travelling salesman

“We do more miles than anyone else,” says Precise Mortgages director of sales Roger Morris, late on a Sunday evening as he prepares for another busy week out on the road.

“I deliver up to nine workshops each week, sometimes three a day, presenting to anything from four to 100 brokers at a time. I will drive up to 450 miles to see a business that is prepared to give me just a few hours of its time.”

Morris is famously dedicated to his job, but the whole of Precise Mortgages’ team has been built to go out of the office, press the flesh and create a personal relationship with the adviser community.

“We think it’s essential,” he adds. “We travel the length and breadth of the country, from Land’s End to Gravesend and Lowestoft to Carlisle, holding workshops and speaking to brokers face-to-face. Brokers shouldn’t be trav­elling three or four hours to see us; it should be the other way around.”

But not every lender sees it this way. Many have reduced their support teams in both number and capability in recent years. Visits by BDMs have become less frequent and they are in danger of losing their reputation as the industry’s ‘fixers’ – coming through for brokers when they need help most.

TenetLime managing director Gemma Harle believes BDMs have a major role to play in the mortgage market but many have lost their power in recent years. “Sadly, BDMs do not appear to be as valued by certain lender head offices as they used to be,” she says.

“There has been a reduction in their authority and influence.

“But brokers still regard them as a vital point of contact – be it face-to-face, or over the telephone – and feel that building a good rapport with them can only be of benefit to their relationship with a lender.”

Many factors determine the quality of a BDM team and Harle singles out Coventry Building Society as worthy of praise. As a rule of thumb, the smaller and specialist lenders tend to have the best reputation among brokers, she says.

“The differences can be very pronounced, with BDMs at the largest lenders sometimes seen as a small cog in a big machine,” says Harle.

“BDMs at smaller lenders are generally much better placed to convey the needs of brokers, resolve any pertinent issues and navigate their way around their company effectively.”

Brave new world

How lenders choose to deploy their BDMs is a bone of contention for many. While lenders such as Precise have prioritised face-to-face relationships, others have invested heavily in technology.

NatWest has looked to lead the market with its broker instant messaging service – LiveTalk. Its digital teams handle an average of 17,000 chats a month. Even so, director of sales Mark Bullard believes that different brokers have different demands and a blended approach is needed.

“There is a big desire for BDM accessibility,” he says. “For some broker firms that means a regular face-to-face meeting whereas others want an experienced person at the end of a phone who can give them expert information quickly.”

Harle says web-based assistance is becoming the norm across the market and she points to the speed of reply as an advantage over traditional communication channels. But there are concerns that lenders are using technology as a way to replace experienced BDMs with cheaper, centralised staff.

“Web-based live chat is only as good as the system that supports it. It can take a while to unearth an answer that a BDM may be able to provide off the cuff,” she argues.

Bullard agrees that experience and continuity among staff are both hugely important.

“One of the things we have found is that brokers appreciate having an individual from a lender whom they know well, who is experienced and knowledgeable, who can be contacted and who will still be around in a year’s time,” he says.

Changing roles

In the past, BDMs were tasked with simply drumming up business for a lender; today they play more of an instructive role. With regulations and criteria altering frequently, there are many changes to relay to brokers.

“Handling change calmly is our secret weapon,” says Morris.

“A BDM’s role is all about education. By educating brokers, we help make the difference between sealing a deal and missing out.”

Bullard adds: “The role of a good BDM can best be described as consultative.

“With lenders having different criteria and approaches to market areas, a BDM has to be on their toes at all times, proactively supporting their panel of brokers. Whether it’s dealing with new regulation, examining a new sector of the market or simply helping a broker to understand the criteria for certain products, their job is to listen and provide guidance to make it as easy as possible for their brokers to make an informed decision.

“It’s definitely not about seeking out rates now­adays. The sourcing systems can provide brokers with that hard data.”

Brokers always hope their views are being heard but how much feedback goes directly into product development and strategy? Bullard says this is a crucial part of business at NatWest. For example, the creation of a special sales team for brokers in London was a direct result of broker feedback.

“We have very open lines of communications with our BDMs and they are constantly feeding in ideas they have received from their brokers or have thought up themselves as solutions to issues that their brokers face,” he says.

Morris also says broker feedback plays a huge role in product creation and criteria changes.

“We take a huge number of calls from brokers every day,” he says. “The information we receive about the issues they are facing is fed back to the products team on a weekly basis. This helps us to develop criteria and products that meet the needs of our customers.

“Our team is, in essence, reporters reporting live about the housing market in their area.”

But Harle says product teams at many lenders concentrate simply on undercutting the competition on price alone, which causes frustration in the broker community.

“This can vary noticeably from lender to lender,” she says.

“BDMs facilitate contact with their respective product development teams but a lot of product design nowadays seems to be price led – focused on what their competitors are doing rather than on meeting the needs of brokers and their customers.”

Old fashioned

What will the BDM of the future look like?

“The human version of Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ intelligent personal assistant would be absolutely perfect,” jokes Harle.

“Brokers don’t want a BDM to just run through their respective criteria. Instead, they need them to facilitate the writing of business across the board.

“BDMs who are fully conversant with how a network, mortgage club or directly authorised firm works, and have good links to their key account manager, make for the best.”

Morris adds: “Brokers still really appreciate lenders visiting them. They are loyal to lenders that respect the work they do and the time they invest in sealing a deal for a customer, which means repeat business for those that make the effort to support them.”

Some argue that meeting face-to-face is old fashioned, and that technology has overtaken the BDM for good. Others maintain that the old ways are still the best.

Either way, the fundamental needs of brokers remain the same and technology should be used to boost choice, rather than mask cuts elsewhere.

Brokers require the quick provision of support, and for that support to be given by someone with enough knowledge and responsibility to deal with the problem in hand – regardless of the method of communication.

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