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Shining a light into columnist’s darkness

In a recent issue (Mortgage Strategy, November 7), Richard Griffiths stood on the shoulders of giants by quoting Benjamin Disraeli, no less. The original quotation went: “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” But today, as politicians substitute spin for wit, he might have also added a fourth – press articles.

I have always subscribed to the view that while geniuses craft quotes, it is generally fools who repeat them. But as we are exploring quotations, I’d like to mention a few.

Griffiths’ opening remarks made my heart swell with pride: “Depending on which article you read, by the middle of 2006 Home Of Choice will have become either the first or second largest mortgage network in the UK market. Jolly good.”

Actually, I too believe that by the middle of 2006 it will be the largest. So I took that ‘Jolly good’ as an affirmation from a well-wisher. Nice, I thought, that competitors can be so generous of spirit to a newcomer.

But no. I had been lulled into a false sense of security because at that point Griffiths, having exhausted his reserve of goodwill, charted a course from competitive bile through sexism to ill-judged – and, indeed, defamatory – innuendo. Not content with that, he followed through with a succession of dubious extrapolations from ill-founded data analysis. Disappointing from a business that includes the word ‘data’ in its name. “Curiouser and curiouser.” – Lewis Carroll.

Let me make just a few points to attempt to shine a light into the darkness of Griffiths’ confusion.

Home of Choice is a new network that opened for business at the end of July when we received our first appointed representative application. Even with our fast recruitment process, there is a time lag between receipt of application, clearing references and appointing the applicant. Some of this is not our hands.

Our proposition is proving popular with advisers across the industry. As a result we are receiving a substantial number of applications from advisers as they discover more about it. It doesn’t take an intellectual to work out that a high and accelerating volume of applications for a successful start-up will inevitably invalidate routine assumptions about the relationship between the Financial Services Authority website and applications being received and being processed. “Those who know the least always seem to know it the loudest.” – Andy Capp.

In other words: our pipeline of recruits is obviously going to fill up before inputs and outputs balance.

Our press release and first advertisements were an expression of our exuberance and pride that we had received 500 recruitment applications from ARs in just three months. At the time of writing, we are about to pass the 600 milestone.

The continuing flow of professional mortgage brokers choosing to sign up with Home of Choice has convinced us it is now just a matter of time before we become the largest mortgage network in the UK. We are not complacent by the way. We respect the magnitude of that task but it is our aim and we believe we will do it. Indeed, I’m pleased to note that Mortgage Strategy plans to include Home of Choice in its league table as this will allow the industry to chart our upward progress over the next six months. “Applause waits on success” – Benjamin Franklin.

Unlike, it seems, Griffiths, we believe we can also build strong relationships with directly authorised brokers. Interestingly, a number of DA brokers have already chosen the AR route with us, having been impressed and reassured by our proposition and processing capability. Of course, the point is that having DA brokers sign up with you isn’t the end of it. They still have to decide to place their business through you. And we don’t allow ourselves to forget advisers always have a choice. Whether DA or AR, we will always have to compete for their business. And unlike many networks, we don’t punish ARs for leaving. If they don’t want to stay it’s our problem, not theirs.

Griffiths mentions ex-Zurich/Openwork members in a couple of regards. We are on record that, at the time we were asked, the number of applications received from ex-Zurich/Openwork firms was 12.

Griffiths “begs to differ”. He may be confused by the fact that nearly half of all brokers in the industry today were, at some stage connected to either Allied Dunbar, Zurich or Openwork. Many have since moved on. The 12 firms we referred to had applied to us directly from Openwork. Of course there were others who had earlier connections. But in fairness, a large proportion of our applicants have, as far as we know, no past or present relationship with either Openwork or Zurich. “I have never found that criticism is inhibited by ignorance” – Harold MacMillan.

Griffiths’ sources are cited as: “… a few eyebrows in the industry…”, and “…people I have spoken to in the past week …” Hardly a statistically valid sample.

This would matter less, of course, if they were right. But they are not. I could play tit-for-tat and sully this page with observations made by people I have spoken to in the past week. But I won’t.

Then comes the bit where Griffiths gets personal, referring us all to his headline, “Lies, damned lies and statistics”. He then refers to Richard Coulson being “a defendant in the court case brought against him by Zurich/Openwork”. Which court case is that? “Eating words has never given me indigestion” – Winston ChurchillAs is apparent in the announced settling of our dispute with Zurich/Openwork, that HoC is not a business that relishes court proceedings where the problem can be sorted out without them. And having set the record straight, we’d prefer to get on with growing our business. We don’t expect Griffiths to thank us for this clarification in this article – as Disraeli himself said: “It’s much easier to be critical than correct,” but he should certainly apologise and, in the words of Alexander Pope, admit that he is “…wiser today than he was yesterday.” We await his response with interest.

Keith Baldwin is chairman of Home of Choice


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