Over the past few weeks I've been looking at commercial and short-term lenders and there are still one or two left on my list. But I promised to take a look at a couple of residential lenders based in Northern Ireland so here are First Trust Bank and the Progressive, both based in Belfast.
First Trust Bank is a subsidiary of Allied Irish Bank distributing, amongst other products, a range of mortgages directly to consumers. Progressive has a wider distribution with a good chunk of its mortgage business coming via intermediaries. Initially, neither lender could understand why I would want to write about their marketing material but both came up with the goods. To be honest, I don't particularly like either set of material but at least it was easy to find interest rates on the Progressive's website.
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First Trust Bank
One of the great things about the internet is that website owners don't have to do much to keep all their product information lively and up-to-date and website visitors can get all the information they need with a few mouse clicks. While that may be true for the majority of the internet, it doesn't seem to have filtered through to First Trust Bank yet. You would think, wouldn't you, that it would be easy to find information on product rates. There are no links from the product information, not even from their list of features on their fixed rate mortgages and it was only by mistake that I eventually found a rate schedule. Makes you wonder if they've got something to hide. Shame really, as the website has got some interesting stuff on it, especially on self-build, a significant market sector in Northern Ireland, and on ideas for home improvements. These two areas go some way to supporting the proposition of wanting the customer to say yes to a First Trust Bank mortgage. Nice touch this – so much more customer-centred than the old TSB strapline of 'the bank that likes to say yes'. As to the printed material, there are lots of features but not many benefits.
I reviewed the Progressive's website just over a year ago and it doesn't seem to have changed much. The cartoon imagery still reminds me of the Jetsons and I still don't understand why some people are wearing space helmets and others aren't. One of life's great imponderables. But the mortgage information contains just what I would need if I wanted the facts about a mortgage product. For example, click on 'fixed rate mortgages' and up comes the fixed rate range including the headline rates. Click on an individual product and up come the details of rates, fees and charges. First Trust Bank could learn a lot from looking at this (ignoring the cartoons, of course). And they would do well to emulate the Progessive's straightforward monthly repayment calculator too. All in all, and turning a blind eye to the imagery this is honest, simple stuff. The information is clear and easy to get at, and you get the impression it does exactly what it says on the tin. As far as the printed material is concerned the one-third A4 mortgage leaflet is basic. Clearly it's not intended to be anything more than an introduction to the Progressive's mortgage services so it doesn't try to be.