Q: What sets you apart from your competitors?
A: The things we have put in place to listen to what brokers want. We have regular focus groups and also conduct a monthly survey of every broker that has placed a case that has gone to offer. We will soon be launching a service section on our website that will allow brokers to see how fast we are turning offers round, which areas we're doing well in and where we're not performing so well – we had a service downturn earlier this year. The site will carry good and bad comments as well as telephone answering standards.
Q: What products do you offer?
A: As a prime residential lender Accord's launch range was what you'd expect – fixed rates, trackers and an offset. These still exist but this core range is evolving in the way we said it would. Instead of having a wide range of products we are concentrating on niche markets. An Accord product is a combination of the rate, service and the risk profile we are prepared to write – hence our 100% LTV professional product for those who may not fit standard criteria but have the types of jobs whose salary progress we can predict. We have a new-build scheme and are about to launch a product called Elite for high value loans. We eventually want a product range that is dominated by these niche deals and by exclusives with our biggest partners.
Q: What is your distribution strategy?
A: We are committed to the internet as the primary distribution channel and have achieved 80% penetration online. The development of a slick, clean, easy-to-use website with fast approvals in principle and full online case tracking was a priority. We recently developed end-to-end for AIPs with Trigold and are working towards the same for full mortgage applications. We are in negotiations for a similar arrangement with Mortgage Brain. We are happy to go on all distributors' panels at the moment because we don't know who the winners and losers in distribution are going to be post-October 31. We don't use packagers and are unlikely to do so in the future.
Q: What services do you offer to intermediaries?
A: Accord's key selling points are recognition of the broker's ownership of the customer; fast online AIPs with full case tracking; enhanced proc fees for e-commerce business; proc fees for large further advances; a 10-day application to offer service for cases where all the necessary paperwork is provided upfront; and a willingness to develop exclusive product and service offering.
Aside from our forums, surveys and website, we have set up a broker panel of almost 3,000 advisers that we use when we have particular issues. The most recent question for the panel was about telephone answering. We don't want to make changes that will annoy more people than they please.
Q: What impact will regulation have on your business?
A: We are as well positioned as we could be in terms of products, panels and relationships. Any sensible lender's strategy has to be to get into as many distribution boxes as possible now. In January 2005 lenders will probably review their panel presence. We will keep distribution as wide as possible – especially of niche products – and will continue to deal with all intermediaries, regardless of business volumes.
Q: How do you see the intermediary market in two years' time?
A: We don't think there will be the wholesale clearout of advisers that is feared. The big networks and lenders will be fine but there are a lot of companies in the next layer down and there aren't enough intermediaries to go round. Brokers will be reluctant to sign up if they're not sure their principal will get authorised so the FSA's slow progress on this can only benefit the larger organisations.
We use Accord regularly for cases that require a higher income multiple since you can get around 4 x joint which is excellent. It is also useful for clients who are contract workers as it takes a sensible underwriting approach and is prepared to be flexible. The 100% professional product is also good. We deal with Accord online for the most part – and with a good business development manager. Service is fine and Accord should be applauded for being prepared to hold its hand up about the service issue earlier in the year. It seems to listen to brokers . Indeed, I am attending a focus group soon.
I gave Accord a favourable verdict when it launched and that is still my position. It has been successful which meant its service suffered earlier in the year. As a result it had to make its products a little less competitive and thus get a better margin but that was a sensible strategy for dealing with the problem. Hopefully it will expand its capacity further. It offers unlimited penalty-free overpayments and payment holidays. It is focussed on intermediaries, for example offering good exclusives. Respectable products and the right attitude make it a good intermediary lender.
Accord has proved to be a nice little lender and the cases we have put through it have gone ahead smoothly. Its turnaround times are excellent and any hitches are swiftly resolved. It has made a favourable impression in its first year of trading and has overcome the temporary service downturn admirably. Best features include some online-only products – a sensible move in our opinion, particularly with the approach of regulation. It also has 100% lending and an open approach to brokers. If it maintains this, it should continue to get a steady stream of business.
Accord Mortgages launched last year as the dedicated intermediary subsidiary of Yorkshire. The company is headquartered in Bradford (pictured above) and has a dedicated office suite in a call centre site close to the city centre.
This has allowed Accord to establish its own identity and branding. Over 120 staff are now based there. The management team is headed by managing director, Linda Will. Accord has its own board and product development committee.