Big mutual with a lot to offer intermediaries

Q: How is the Portman Group structured to deal with intermediaries?

A: The Portman Group encompasses three main brands: Portman, The Staffordshire and The Mortgage Works.

Although The Staffordshire remains a retail brand in the West Midlands, the products on offer have now been harmonised with Portman as far as intermediaries are concerned. Therefore, there is a single portfolio of prime products on offer from Portman.

We also have our specialist lending business, The Mortgage Works, which is dedicated to intermediaries and markets a range of niche products: buy-to-let, self-cert and complex prime.

Most importantly for intermediaries, we have a single sales team which covers the products on offer from both Portman and The Mortgage Works. Therefore it doesn&#39t matter if a broker wants to discuss prime products on offer from the Portman or specialist products on offer from The Mortgage Works, he or she can deal with the same point of contact. This move has been well received by intermediaries and is a clear point of difference between our service offering and the service provided by some of our competitors.

Q: What sets you apart from your competitors?

A: Products and service. Our strategy at Portman has always been to market a range of easy to understand, value for money products. We have a number of fixed, discounted and flexible mortgages, all of which have attractive headline rates. We have also launched an equity release product, a market which we believe will grow. Our products are underpinned by a good standard of service.

The Mortgage Works has a range of buy-to-let products available for landlords who have single and multiple property portfolios and our self-cert products have established a strong reputation among advisers.

Complex prime refers to applicants whose circumstances exclude them from many traditional high street lenders&#39 products. This doesn&#39t mean they have an impaired credit record – it simply means their needs are non-standard.

The Mortgage Works has also launched a range of &#39status plus&#39 mortgages aimed at full status borrowers with proven credit records who require higher income multiples. Restrictive income multiples have been a bone of contention in the industry for some time now and this range provides a solution.

Q: What is your distribution strategy?

A: Portman&#39s distribution strategy is to deal direct with the consumer via intermediaries and also through our own retail network, the internet, email, phone and postal services. The merger with The Staffordshire enabled us to extend our geographical reach into an area of the West Midlands where we didn&#39t have a strong branch network previously.

Q: Do you use mortgage packagers?

A: We deal with some of the larger networks that have a packaging facility but we don&#39t have a distribution strategy that is specifically focussed on packagers.

Q: How do you see the intermediary market in two years&#39 time?

A: Intermediary distribution will continue to be critical to lenders.

Regulation is going to change the shape of intermediary distribution with networks having tight control over appointed representatives and it will be interesting to see precisely how many mortgage brokers are active in the market in two years&#39 time.

There will undoubtedly be further consolidation among lenders and networks and there will also be more moves by mainstream lenders to acquire or establish their own specialist lending divisions to improve distribution and grow their balance sheets.

We have seen a number of developments on this front during the past year and there are undoubtedly more to come.

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Andy Pratt – Alexander Hall

We have placed an increasing amount of business with Portman in the past 12 months, particularly its improved fixed rate products. Our advisers have a good relationship with our Portman BDM which has helped resolve underwriting issues.

Being able to overpay by up to 10% has also proved attractive to customers. Over the past six weeks servicing standards have slipped due to increased applications. But the backlog was quickly identified and cleared with over 40 cases being processed by underwriting in a week. Portman must deliver an online application system in order to continue to compete.

Mike Fitzgerald – Brentchase Financial Services

Portman has a good name and a solid range of mortgages. It has quite tight criteria for many deals but they can nevertheless be ideal for the right client.

Service has never been a major problem. You always get a friendly reception when you call, and are not left on hold listening to Vivaldi. I have recently started using its specialist subsidiary The Mortgage Works which also seems to be on the ball with its appealing true self-cert products and fast-track underwriting.

Products are available with or without extended redemption penalties. It&#39s refreshing to have the choice.

Ray Boulger – Charcol

Over recent years Portman&#39s stance has changed from a heavy intermediary focus to a broader channel strategy. The society&#39s products are competitive although service is sometimes under pressure. It has a sensible attitude to underwriting but its policy of loading the interest rate, typically by 0.25%, on loans in excess of £500,000 means it is usually not competitive above that level. It has been astute in its acquisitions giving it the ability to diversify its lending into more profitable niche areas and adding geographical coverage. How long it will remain a mutual is questionable.