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Networks’ IT must benefit ARs too

Networks must invest in technology that helps their appointed representatives develop their businesses and exploit fresh market opportunities, says Richard Coulson

Mortgage networks must invest in the best technology so that brokers can benefit from the speed and accuracy of pre-population and inbuilt compliance, timely commission payments and fast, accurate business processing.

In fact, companies that are serious about innovation, differentiation and beating the competition like the hugely profitable big five banks will already have invested substantial sums in developing and maintaining their technological edge. But life offices have not embraced technological advances as readily. This has proved expensive in terms of clients and advisers moving elsewhere.

The reasons for this are interesting. Regulation of the mortgage market by the Financial Services Authority increased brokers’ costs as a result of ensuring compliance with the rules. It is largely accepted that Mortgage Day added an estimated 123m in costs to the mortgage industry. We all had to raise our game sharply just to get our profit and loss accounts back to where we were before regulation.

Brokers now need to find ways to offset their additional expenses by reducing costs elsewhere if they wish to build efficiency and profitability back into their business models and find more time to give advice.

Greater competition on the high street coupled with regulatory pressure means brokers have to achieve more benefits than the odd bonus from a lender or sourcing software house for processing applications online.

Brokers need tangible evidence of time savings, cost reductions and improved customer satisfaction levels. Technology is one way to achieve this.

Debate may rage over which are the best systems – in my view customer management tools, sourcing systems, no downtime and penny-perfect comparative quotations should all come as standard – but brokers need more from their networks than real-time processing, automatic commission payments and aggregated valuations. And some don’t even get this from their networks.

Technology is now an intrinsic part of daily business in the mortgage industry. From national firms to one-man bands, it is playing an increasing role from streamlining the sales process to saving time and cutting costs. But does it keep pace with clients’ expectations and increasing demands for more regular reviews and remortgaging?

Brokers and lenders have seen their business volumes rise substantially, and lenders have moved towards only accepting electronic submissions. Successful mortgage advisers have embraced technological enhancements and now communicate over the internet, eliminating the need to meet clients face-to-face during the provision of mortgages and related products.

The mortgage industry has seen a sea change, moving from a paper-based labour-intensive process to receiving online submissions for decisions in principle and offers. In this way, brokers have removed a significant amount of cost.

While there will always be a place for the old-fashioned way of doing business – and some firms wouldn’t be the successful businesses they are today without their hands-on approach – there is also a place for harnessing good business practice with the speed that new processes bring. The time saved can bring increased business volumes together with enhanced profits. It may also help advisers who are keen on golf to spare a few extra hours for relaxing, networking and thinking about the next business opportunity.

But we must not embrace technology and change for its own sake. Technology must meet the demands of advisers rather than advisers dramatically changing the way they work to accommodate technology.

This is why I have always advocated that networks should develop their own systems rather than choose off-the-shelf options, despite the considerable cost this might involve.

Anyone who has owned a video recorder will tell you that sophisticated software is only as good as the people who use it. That’s why modern mortgage networks have to offer more than high-tech wizardry to win the hearts, minds and business of mortgage brokers.

It is essential that networks develop a deeper understanding of their brokers’ businesses, strategies and goals and help them achieve those aims with credible and tested business development tools.

While some networks are prepared to charge a hefty consultancy fee to advise brokers, a few have embraced business development as a value-added service.

And far fewer will put their heads on the block to offer such support without receiving a penny in return, let alone a slice of the increased business.

Mortgage networks must work with their business partners to add value and profit, and even new income streams. If you are part of a network that makes the investment in technology, understands how the market works and satisfies its customers’ demands while remaining compliant, you can make the most of market opportunities. After all, with such an enduring market there has never been a better time to be a mortgage adviser.

Immigration fuels B2L boom
The buy-to-let market is undoubtedly on the up with demand from tenants standings at a four-year high. While the doom merchants predicted that a slump in house prices would spell bad news for landlords, the reverse seems to be the case. The upturn in the housing market along with the increased prices has forced many inspiring first-time buyers back onto the rental books while other demands on accomodation are proving to be a welcome boost, particularly in London.
In the past two years, more than 200,000 Poles have come to work in the UK. According to many experts, this constitutes the largest wave of immigration to hit Britain for 300 years. Other nationalities arriving to work in this country in large numbers include Slovaks and Lithuanians.

The stereotype of the Polish plumber is firmly established but in fact Poles are working in occupations from bankers to doctors to factory workers. This influx means a massive boost to the economy and the demand for accommodation.

For those wanting to invest in buy-to-let, the market couldn’t be more buoyant. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors says in the last three months of 2005 demand from tenants was the strongest for nearly five years, while Paragon Mortgages’ buy-to-let index for January showed increased activity with rising rental incomes, property values and rental profits.

When will this bubble burst? Not for some time, if these figures are to be believed. Your wealthier clients will be looking for some good advice and flexible products to allow them to exploit this booming sector.

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