Mortgage Strategy this week celebrates its third year at the top as the leading publication for mortgage intermediaries. Regulation is now less than 50 days away and as we continue to strengthen our position in the mortgage market, breaking exclusive stories, exposing lies and creating important debate, there's no better time to look back over the last 12 months.
Back in September 2003, Bank of Ireland Mortgages tried to resuscitate the ailing first-time buyer market with the release of its joint mortgage. This allowed young buyers to potentially borrow several times their own income with their parent's help. Kevin Morgan, managing director of Hitchin-based EZI UK, called it a “brave and appropriate move in the current climate”.
The following week saw an important step on the road to regulation with the FSA publishing application fee levels for mortgages and general insurance firms. Figures published showed that the FSA had split the proposed £1m-£3m fee band into £0-£1m, £1m-3m and £3m-£25m bands. This was good news for smaller firms as it meant they would have to pay less than the sum originally proposed.
Meanwhile a revolution took place at the start of October as BM Solutions made processing mortgages online easier with the launch of its 'one-minute mortgage', a 100% application process for intermediaries doing business online.
It was all go at MS come October 20 when news editor Ben Stafford left to join the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries as policy officer. However, the team soon had a replacement when Rosemary Gallagher joined as deputy editor from top TV and radio magazine Broadcast.
Prime Minister Tony Blair found himself in hot water the following week, when he dismissed rumours that the government was exploring proposals to apply Capital Gains Tax to house sales. Tax experts were reported as saying that the Treasury was considering applying tax rates of as high as 40% to house sales in an attempt to cut government debt.
MS exclusively reported that the FSA had no plans to change its financial rules covering self-cert mortgages, following revelations that some brokers were encouraging clients to exaggerate their incomes.
Mortgage brokers were warned in November to keep clients' business records for at least six years in anticipation of consumer complaints or civil claims. Speaking at a Preferred Mortgages seminar on regulatory options, Chris Cummings, director of AMI, referred to the self-cert scandal and emphasised the importance of keeping records.
Scandal hit the mortgage market in our November 17 issue, when MS exclusively reported that brokers were concerned that the tainted directors of failed London packager The Mortgage Placement Company were still operating in the market and warned brokers to beware.
Mortgage Express celebrated the following week when it toppled Birmingham Midshires to become the top buy-to-let lender for new business in the first half of 2003.
Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders showed that BMS had been overtaken in gross advances, a field in which BMS had led the way throughout 2002.
Research by Platform, exclusively revealed by MS in December, showed that five out of 10 intermediaries planned to apply for direct authorisation. Nearly 500 intermediaries took part in the study and just one in ten came out in favour of taking the appointed representative route.
MS also revealed that month that Legal & General was applying for principal status and general insurance and protection from January 2005, in light of FSA regulation of mortgages.
Coming up to Christmas, brokers were alarmed to hear that the FSA was putting the onus on them to ensure Key Facts Illustrations fall within the M1% or £1 tolerance limit when they take the document from a sourcing system, meaning brokers would be held to blame even if incorrect data on sourcing systems such as Mortgage Brain or Trigold led to an error in a KFI.
Rob Clifford, managing director of mortgageforce, described it as a complete nightmare for brokers, who would have high legal responsibility with zero control.
As MS saw in the new year there was tension in the remortgage market as brokers were concerned the sector was under threat from lenders' aggressive retention policies. Rather than run the risk of existing customers being switched to another lender at the end of their discounted or fixed deal, lenders were offering competitive rates to hold on to them.
The new year also brought new deals. MS revealed life insurer Prudential had sold Premier Mortgages Services, run by John Malone, to Bankhall Group, which operates mortgage support services company Point One. The deal went through after talks with Skipton Group started to collapse.
The BBC announced in January that it was to broadcast a follow-up investigation looking at changes in the self-cert market in the aftermath of the controversial programme that was aired the previous October. The BBC denied the programme would include content filmed at the Mortgage Expo, where pole-dancers and bunny girls provided the entertainment at some stands.
The following week, BMS announced that from April 1 it would stop selling mortgages through its retail network despite receiving £2bn of applications in December and completing £1.32bn of loans. BMS had decided to focus directly on the intermediary B2B market.
The CML fired off a hard-hitting response to the BBC's The Money Programme in February, defending the self-cert market and saying the reporter should have made his findings available to the MCCB.
In a letter to reporter Michael Robinson, CML director-general Michael Coogan said he was surprised and disappointed that the BBC had not released its evidence to the independent regulator. He did not believe that there was widespread abuse that required further FSA action.
And the self-cert saga continued the following week when the FSA made it clear that lenders will have the responsibility of ensuring self-cert borrowers are able to repay their loans under its rules on responsible lending. The regulator concluded that regardless of how the client reached the lender, it would be up to the lender to ensure affordability.
MS explored the changing tastes of consumers in February with a cover story about how rate instability and regulation could affect the relative popularity of mortgage products. Most brokers were in agreement that tracker and discount products would remain the most popular deals for consumers, revealing that consumers are often driven by cost rather than guarantee, so will forego the assurance of a fixed rate deal and opt instead for a discount or variable product.
There were rumblings about conflicts of interest the following week as it emerged AMI chairman Charles Gooding was planning to launch a network with NACFB chief executive Keith Heron. The move was seen by some as a a clear conflict.
Gooding had been rallying support for his proposed network placing heavy emphasis on Heron's role as a non- GuestInvest introduced the deal at the end of March and started it at west London boutique hotel Guesthouse West.
Under the deal investors could buy a room, stay in it for up to 52 nights a year for £10 a night and let it out for the rest of the time. “The interest shown in the first hotel was phenomenal. These types of hotel schemes could be everywhere in the future,” said Endre Johansen, spokesman of GuestInvest.
In the May 17 issue we warned that tied brokers who wanted to leave life assurers such as Legal & General and join a mortgage network could find themselves liable to huge indemnity commission debts. This applied to tied agents who had been paid four years' indemnity commissions for a policy upfront, meaning they were liable for that debt until the four years were up. Brokers were warned to put aside money received upfront in case their circumstances changed.
And Network Data advised networks to take responsibility for the accuracy of KFIs from sourcing systems in the May 24 edition. The company warned that if responsibility was not taken, it could force appointed representatives to go direct to lenders meaning principal firms would be unable to keep track of all the applications and transactions its members were processing, adversely affecting compliance procedures.
Rival networks claimed Network Data were exaggerating the situation. Sesame reported that it was working on a direct to lender platform to deal with the problem in conjunction with Trigold and Mortgage Brain.
Research undertaken by Platform showed that six in 10 packagers had applied for direct authorisation with the FSA, we exclusively revealed on May 31. Platform claimed its results showed how committed packagers were to clearing up any possible ambiguity over their status post-Mortgage Day. Many lenders were planning to use compliance teams or set up audits to check that pure packagers, who will remain non-regulated, are not giving any form of advice.
BM Solutions warned that lenders were taking a big risk dealing with non-regulated packagers and reiterated that it wouldn't deal with firms outside of FSA regulation.
Then, in one of our biggest stories of the year, we focussed on the plight of a 41-year-old mother of three who was forced to live in her car after her £1m house was repossessed by Mortgages PLC despite her attempts to clear the debt.
Samantha Von Daniken claimed she was defrauded by her former partner and alleged he remortgaged her onto an MPLC self-certification deal from Future Mortgages. MS' campaign ended happily two months later when the businesswoman won her house back and secured a bridging loan from Bristol & West Investments.
Abbey for Intermediaries introduced a fast-track service for loans up to £500,000 and below 60% LTV, we revealed in the June 14 issue. The move was part of a flexible lending policy enabling brokers to clearly see how much Abbey will lend based on affordability. Employed borrowers with clean credit records had to submit no documentation up to 60% LTV and just a payslip over that amount.
Our comprehensive regulation coverage continued as the FSA came in for criticism from the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries on June 21. AMI was unhappy that the FSA had admitted it would take non-regulated practices by firms into account when assessing them post-Mortgage Day and claimed the practice could have far-reaching consequences for intermediaries. The FSA denied the admission was a sign of regulatory creep but said it would include activities like buy-to-let and second charge mortgages within its overall evaluation of firms after October 31.
In the June 28 issue, we exclusively told you that BM Solutions had hiked the arrangement fee on its self-certification mortgages in an attempt to temporarily limit its market share. The specialist lender replaced its flat arrangement fee of £399 with a fee of 1% of the total loan. BM Solutions claimed the move was a short-term measure to get business back to where it wants it and to slow down its lending in the self-cert sector. Platform was to follow suit weeks later and The Mortgage Business closed its doors to new business.
AMI revealed the names of the six newly elected members of its board at the beginning of July. AMI's members voted in Rob Clifford, managing director of mortgageforce; Paul Fielding, principal of Cambria Financial; Simon Conn, joint partner at Conti Financial Services and Bill Warren, compliance director of Complete Mortgage & Loan Services. Re-elected were Ray Boulger, senior technical adviser at Charcol, and Stephen Atkins, group compliance director of Freedom Finance.
Mortgages PLC and mortgageforce were forced to rebrand their joint business venture after its initial name ran into trademark difficulties. The JV had been tentatively named Spring Mortgages & Loans but was later altered to Wow! Mortgages & Loans, we revealed on July 12.
AMI appointed John Gummer as its new chairman, as reported in our July 19 edition. Gummer was already the chairman of AMI's sister trade body, the Association of IFAs as well as being Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal. AMI revealed that the decision was made not to appoint anyone from a network or a directly authorised firm as chairman and intermediaries welcomed the impartial appointment. The fact that Gummer was now chairman of both AIFA and AMI led to speculation of a possible merger.
Mortgage Intelligence launched a club for brokers specialising in buy-to-let and commercial mortgages who didn't wish to become FSA-regulated at the end of July. The MI Commercial and Buy-to-let Club will open for business from October 31 and plans to offer exclusives from a range of lenders. Users of the club will have access to dedicated broker desks that will be in daily contact with individuals within lenders.
In our August 2 issue, Britannia and Graduate Network jointly launched a mortgage offering graduates and young professionals the chance to purchase a property at a multiple of up to 12 x their individual salary. The mortgage, Share to Buy, enabled up to four 20-somethings to club together to buy a property at a multiple of 3 x each of their salaries in London and means each individual earns equity rather than pouring money down the rental drain.
Brighton-based AMC Network became the first casualty of the crowded mortgage network market when it closed in August only months after its launch. The network placed the 30 appointed representatives it had recruited with other networks.
GMAC-RFC emerged as a potential surprise bidder for Bradford & Bingley's non-core business, including Charcol, we exclusively revealed on August 16. B&B was believed to have received six serious bids, three of which were thought to be competing to acquire the entire portfolio for around £80m. It was also confirmed that B&B was to scrap The Marketplace brand.
The management team of Paymentshield successfully completed a buyout of founder shareholders Richard Riding and Patricia Cottrell, we told you ahead of the chasing mortgage press. The MBO was supported by Bank of Scotland Corporate who provided an integrated debt and equity package together with private equity raised by the management team.
Chelsea Mortgage Management is planning to expand its mortgage operation to Dubai after successfully building its business in Hong Kong, MS exclusively revealed a fortnight ago.
The broker is three months away from opening offices in Dubai and are currently investigating the regulation involved. Chelsea entered the overseas market 18 months ago when it realised the UK market would start to cool.
And just last week we unveiled the results of the first-ever bad service awards, the brainchild of Andrew Forsey, managing director of Andrew Forsey Financial Services.
Nationwide scooped the unwanted title of worst service to brokers, but, confusingly, its subsidiary UCB Home Loans was voted as giving the best service.
Just what the next 12 months will bring remains to be seen. Mortgage regulation heralds the dawn of a new era. For some it will be an era of opportunity. For others it will mark the beginning of the end. One thing is certain though. Mortgage Strategy will continue to deliver all the latest news and views as and when it happens. v executive director and the business it would attract through NACFB members.
Pure Packagers welcomed Kensington Mortgages' plan in March to introduce a code of conduct for unregulated and regulated packagers, though some packagers were adamant that the code should not impose FSA rules. Kensington had developed a 'robust' code of conduct which both regulated and pure packagers would have to sign after October 31 if they wanted to continue doing business with it.
In the next issue, it was reported that the Royal Bank of Scotland had removed the maximum limit of £1,875 on its procuration fees to brokers which some experts thought could influence advice. One source told MS that the decision to remove the cap could be a strategic manoeuvre by RBS to attract larger loans.
Our March 15 issue reported on responses to Professor David Miles' final report on the long-term fixed rate mortgage market. Feelings were mixed with some pundits warning that his recommendation to lenders to make all mortgages available to all borrowers could lead to less competitive rates.
Again in March, MS was reporting that the Mortgage Code Compliance Board was concerned about the low level of applications from brokers for FSA authorisation, despite the incentive of a discount for early online applications.
And we exclusively revealed in our April 5 issue that Mortgages PLC was to launch a 50-50 joint venture with national franchise brokerage Mortgageforce, to offer sub-prime mortgages and loan products direct to the consumer.
In the April 12 issue, the debate raged on about Charles Gooding's position as chairman of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries. The trade body announced the timetable for its elections and stated that Gooding would not be eligible for re-election if his proposed network, First4Brokers, was not up and running in time. A poll on the MS website of 2,543 individuals revealed that 77% believed Gooding could not remain impartial in his position.
An MS exclusive the following week revealed Bankhall's acquisition of Norwich Union's mortgage club. The move came in the wake of purchases of Premier Mortgage Service from Prudential and a strategic alliance with Paymentshield, and put Bankhall in a prime position in the run-up to regulation as the dominant force in the mortgage adviser support arena. NU's Your Move was also thought to be up for sale as part of a strategy to focus on core business.
It was unveiled by MS in the April 26 issue that The Mortgage Intermediary Alliance Scotland was to launch, bolstering the profile and representation of intermediaries working north of the border.
Adventi, the IT support company, offered an exclusive service to MIAS providing members with a free regulatory IT health check. As part of the proposition a deal was signed with Opus, the mortgage administration company, to distribute its products.
The CML was considering whether packagers should be regulated in our May 3 edition. Though no internal discussions had taken place, the suggestion had emerged that packagers should be classified as 'arrangers' to end ambiguity over their role. John Rice, managing director for the Regulatory Alliance of Mortgage Packagers, welcomed the news saying the fact that packagers weren't already regulated was “incongruous”.
An innovative buy-to-let hotel scheme whereby investors buy a hotel room and let it out to guests was to expand to include a 300-room hotel, we exclusively revealed on May 10.
Online services will be key in the new era
Michael Bolton, director of mortgages, BM Solutions
The pace of change in our industry is so frenetic that 12 months is the equivalent to four years in most other industries. Unsurprisingly then there are a lot of highs and some lows to pick from when looking back. In July 2003 Bank of England base rate hit a 48-year low and stayed there for four months.
Predictably, this drove an amazing amount of remortgaging activity and prompted many sub-prime customers in particular to move away from expensive lenders. This was a big step forward for the sub-prime market and meant that more customers were getting better deals from specialist lenders with a reputable mainstream background.
Secondly, over the past 12 months AMI has done a sterling job in preparing mortgage intermediaries for regulation. If some mortgage brokers fall outside the regulatory environment come October , it won't be due to lack of effort from AMI. In contrast, the Association for Direct Mortgage Authorisation has been relatively quiet.
Around February time, The Money Programme broadcast a second programme on self-certification. This re-ignited the industry debate around advice, but on a positive note provided the opportunity to talk about the importance of this part of the market. The announcement that home reversion is to be regulated was welcomed by the entire industry. Better late than never.
Over the next 12 months we're campaigning for areas such as buy-to-let and second charge lending to be brought within the FSA's remit, too.
More recently Alliance & Leicester announced that it is moving 100% of its mortgage intermediary business online. This reflects the fact that online services are central to conducting mortgage business in a regulated environment. It may be a little early for the market but is still a brave move that should be welcomed. The question is – which specialist lender will be first to make a similar move?
The industry has not prepared itself well
Trevor Youens, director, Flower
Three years is a long time in the financial services industry and especially in a mortgage market that continues to evolve and develop as we approach regulation.
The challenges of the past 12 months will no doubt be equalled and surpassed by changes in the industry post-regulation but I can't help but think that the industry in general has not spent the last year preparing itself sufficiently well. We have crowds of brokers, lenders and packagers all walking around slapping themselves on the backs because they have received their much-lauded MTA letters from the FSA. There seems to be an abiding view that once that letter in your possession you have done all you need to in terms of satisfying the FSA. The amount of people I have spoken to who seem to think that regulation will mean very little change in what they do is slightly worrying.
The truth could not be more different. The FSA is not a trade body or a club which we can all join and use to our own requirements. Regulation means responsibility and accountability and I can't help but be concerned that many in our industry have not given sufficient thought to the impact it is going to have on our working lives.
That said, it would be unfair not to look back at the past 12 months and recognise that there are many people involved in mortgages who can feel proud of what they have achieved and confident that they will be able to take on the relative burden of regulation without a great deal of concern. Mortgage Strategy for one should be applauded for its no-nonsense approach to reporting changes in our industry and keeping abreast of developments. Long may it continue.
Competition spurs the specialist sector
Guy Batchelor, sales and marketing director, Platform
Less than two months before FSA regulation, a review of the past 12 months cannot avoid reference to this major change. It is now clear that many intermediaries have opted for direct authorisation but also that a high percentage will become appointed representatives of networks, though many choosing the latter are leaving their choice of network very late.
Regarding the economy, the Bank of England has increased interest rates since November in an effort to slow house price rises and consumer debt. If swap rates are anything to go by, there will be at least one more increase before the end of 2004 so don't be surprised to see the base rate creep over 5% by the end of the year. Consumer debt (mortgages, credit cards, overdrafts and loans) has now topped £1 trillion with Britons increasing their debt by £1m every four minutes. Also, consumer credit (which excludes mortgages) recently reached a new high of £18.1bn. Though in the current economic situation this is manageable for most people, it will be interesting to see if the recent rate rises are the reason high street sales growth in August was the weakest since December 2003.
In the specialist mortgage sector, intermediaries and consumers have continued to benefit from competition between lenders. With margins still reducing and an ever-increasing choice of products intermediaries have had a variety of options to recommend to their customers. In this extremely competitive environment, we were delighted to be awarded Best Specialist Lender in the 2004 Mortgage Strategy Awards.
Chelsea changes reflect a good 12 months for the building society
Jeremy Hicks, public relations and corporate affairs controller, Chelsea
The past 12 months have seen the Chelsea continue to power on and break a number of our own business records as well as pick the type of industry awards and nominations you would expect form the UK's sixth largest building society.
In business and balance sheet terms the society delivered another set of healthy results with the highlights including gross mortgage lending up by 35% on the previous year and no let-up in the quality of lending with arrears standing at below half the industry average. As highlighted by the recent KPMG report into the building society sector, Chelsea has achieved high levels of growth with profits up by 13% and assets up by 18%.
Internally a number of changes took place, the most notable being the announcement that after nearly 30 years service Michael Bage was stepping down as chief executive to be replaced by Richard Hornbrook in early 2005. 2004 has seen the corporate account team being tripled in size. It is now headed up by Tom Gurrie and supported by a number of high profile account managers including Adrian Whittaker, Mark Bujega and Bob Gore.
This department has been working extremely hard to ensure that everything is set in place for Mortgage Day on the October 31 and all the indications are that the business as a whole is now more than ready.
The society also opened its most northerly branch in May of this year in Birmingham. The branch is situated right in the middle of the financial heartland of the city, once again demonstrating strength and confidence in our range of products, many of which have regularly featured in national best buy comparison tables. 2005 will see the Society continue to grow its branch network and already plans are in place to move into another major city.
The society has continued to grow its portfolio of mortgage and savings products and their appeal is apparent with nominations and awards being received from a number of industry and consumer titles. In mortgage lending the society not only outperformed its own business targets but also the industry average for gross lending by around 20%. The savings side also went from strength to strength with the Call-Direct Guaranteed 30 being our most successful account ever and helping the society to break its record for the number of open accounts.
There is no doubt that 2004 has been a big year for the Chelsea with a number of key business developments and advances.
2005 promises to be an even more competitive year in which the society predicts it will once again demonstrate that it can not only hold its own but also evolve to meet the emerging needs of an ever-changing market place.
Mole's most memorable moments
Back in May 2004, Mole uncovered some hair-raising exploits going at em-financial'¦ Hats off – or hair off – to em-financial's Simon Mouncher and Paul Edwards. em's operations director and BDM have been raising funds for charity Miles of Smiles by having their legs waxed. “It was hilarious,” Mole's source confessed. “Edwards screamed like a baby while Mouncher just ended up looking like one.” Between them the pair raised over £1,000 – and then agreed to have chests and arms done too, raking in an extra £400! The money will be used to take sick, disabled and underprivileged children to Disneyland, Paris.
MS did its best heat magazine impersonation in June, with Mole scratching below the surface to find out more about one of the Big Brother contestants'¦ Disappointment for Mole last week as it transpired that Michelle Bass, the Big Brother hopeful claiming to be a mortgage adviser, never made the grade. Mole spies within Northern Rock let slip that the lovely “mortgage adviser” Michelle – who confessed on the first night in the BB house to a penchant for pornography and lesbianism and to being a wannabe page 3 girl – was never employed as an adviser at all. “I can confirm that Michelle joined us in March this year,” Mole's source confessed, “But she did not train to be an adviser. She started work in a service centre as a call agent.” Michelle left the bank in May, explaining that she had been offered an opportunity in London that was “too good to miss”. Mole's sure Michelle will capture the industry's hearts either way.
Getting the affordability message over was hard
Stephen Peete, chief executive, The Loughborough
The past year has seen an interesting change in the content of dinner party conversation. At the beginning of the year it was all about how much people's property has increased in value, how easy it was to become a landlord and – isn't property a safer bet than equities? In London in particular, what life is like as a property millionaire became the only real topic (plus, courtesy of Mervyn King – is the market going to crash and by how much?) From the Loughborough's viewpoint we have simply been trying to do what we do best – talking to people about what they can afford and trying to reduce the hassle of financing a house purchase or remortgage to the bare minimum. At times getting the message of affordability across was extremely difficult particularly when the BBC was suggesting that all you had to do was pop into the lender of your choice who would cheerfully connive with you to lend you 12 times your salary. At the same time we, along with every other lender, have been trying to work out exactly what the FSA requires in terms of compliance with the regulated mortgage regime – and then working out how we are going to pay for it. Despite the pressures of an ultra-competitive market there have been some milestones along the way, notably record gross lending and the reduction in the level of arrears.
Looking ahead there is apprehension about the slowing market, the impact on borrowers of higher rates and the impact and cost of mortgage regulation but we will continue to offer good products and good service to both new and existing members.
Rising gross lending has been a constant
John Rattigan, director of compliance, Cartel
What a year this has been. We have had a property market that has risen beyond all expectations but which now appears to be slowing. A year ago we were in a climate of falling interest rates; now we are in a period of rising rates. The trend 12 months ago was for tracker rates; now the trend is for fixed rates.
The industry has had to deal with controversy over self-certification and fast-track, and found itself being made more accountable for affordability. As a consequence of these issues a number of lenders have withdrawn self-cert and fast-track products while others, like GMAC-RFC, have seen this as an opportunity.
New firms have been created and joined the industry whilst some well known names have withdrawn from the stage, the lat