Steady as she goes for AR numbers

There has been little change in the total number of ARs in mortgage networks so far this year, although a couple of players have ambitious expansion plans, says Richard Griffiths

The table below shows appointed representative firms in mortgage networks as of March 31 2008. The numbers were extracted from the Financial Services Authority register on April 1 and April 2.

The networks listed are regulated for mortgage and in-surance activities but not for investment activities so the table does not include traditional IFA networks such as Sesame and Whitechurch that are regulated for investment business.

The growth rate in AR firms in mortgage networks was virtually zero in Q1 2008. Quelle fromage, as Del Boy would say. So how did this happen?

The obvious culprit is Manchester, with a loss of 89 firms. In my last quarterly review (Mortgage Strategy January 14), I explained that it was in the throes of integrating the ARs of PMPN into its Mortgage Broking Services brand.

MBSL now has 170 firms listed, with 45 including eight duplications remaining under the PMPN name, together with a note on the register that there has been an application to cancel its authorisation.

The net total of 207 has nevertheless experienced a dramatic attrition rate compared with the 296 companies that existed three months ago.

Elsewhere, The Mortgage Times Group’s network, under its new name Vision Network, remains firmly at the top of the table. Despite its announcement in January that it would be extending its activities into investments and pensions – i.e. become an IFA network – the FSA register shows that it is regulated for mortgage and insurance activities only, which makes it eligible for inclusion in the table.

Chris May, director of Mortgage Times, said at the time of the announcement that he wanted to “rule the oceans, not just be a big fish in a small pond”.

So there you have it direct from the lips of Captain Nemo – he evidently thinks that brokers are small fish in a small pond. This can’t be a particularly comforting thought for his AR members, who have all been hard grafting brokers to date.

The regulated company is called The Mortgage Times Group although its rebranded Vision Network is shown on the register as one of its eight trading names.

Similarly, Pink Home Loans is one of five trading names of Advance Mortgage Funding. In February, Pink purchased a majority stake in BDS Mortgage Group.

Unless I am mistaken, that stake is at least 75% although BDS continues to trade under its own name and remains a separate entity in the table. If the two were combined, it would elevate Pink into third place and push Home of Choice down the table.

I shall resist that temptation, especially as David Copland, marketing director at Pink, has stated that “the brands will be totally separate”. Well, it said that about the Enable network before it was merged with Pink in late 2005. I’ll give it two years at most before BDS suffers the same fate.

GHL Group has completed the transfer of ARs from Classic Network Solutions, the latter now showing as no longer authorised.

As revealed in the February 11 issue of Mortgage Strategy, a new network appearing in the table is In-Focus Mortgage Network, a spin-off from defunct lender Infinity Mort- gages. It hopes to have 50 ARs by mid-2008.

Another network with similar ambitions is Premier Network Group. It boasts no fewer than 14 trading names and has attracted a good deal of publicity recently. This is undoubtedly down to the hard work of PNG’s head of sales Karen Butt. The company is reported to want 60 ARs by the middle of this year and to be a top five player by the start of 2009. Best of luck to it.