Platform began as Bear Stearns Home Loans in 1989 and, apart from a four-year period administering other lenders' loans, has more than 10 years' experience in the UK centralised lending sector. In 2001, Platform Home Loans was purchased by Britannia for £55m. Two years later Platform Home Loans and fellow Britannia mortgage lending subsidiary Verso merged to become one-stop intermediary lender Platform.
The firm employs more than 250 staff, with about 210 based in Exchange Tower in London's Docklands (pictured above). There is a team of 20 sales staff plus 20 underwriters, both onsite and mobile.
Q: How is Platform structured?
A: As we deal solely with intermediaries the business is structured to build and enhance our relationships with them and provide them with dedicated points of contact from application to completion. Our new business department is split into regional teams and our business development managers are paired with these teams.
Q: What sets you apart from your competitors?
A: Platform's cascade underwriting service means that applications which initially fail from a credit perspective will automatically be offered another mortgage product from the range. This facility has proved popular with intermediaries as it saves time for both them and their customers.
We are also one of the few lenders that offers products across the entire specialist mortgage sector including prime, self-certification, buy-to-let, non-conforming and Right to Buy. We were awarded Specialist Lender of the Year at this year's Mortgage Strategy Awards which shows that our commitment to the intermediary sector is recognised by our customers.
Our conforming range now makes up half of all new business received. This popularity is mainly due to a combination of price and straightforward criteria. The non-conforming range has been altered significantly since our launch 18 months ago and includes a 95% product, minor and light-adverse options, medium-adverse, fast-track and a variety of Right to Buy products. We also have four discounts available across the non-conforming range of between one and two years.
Q: What are the pros and cons of your core product range?
A: The variety of our core range means we are able to meet the needs of the majority of customers. Our buy-to-let criteria have been improved recently by allowing the pay rate to be used when calculating the rental income needed on any base rate trackers lasting five years or more. In our non-conforming range, our minor and light-adverse products offer competitive initial rates and criteria. The importance of such products is increasing as more and more customers experience one-off events such as redundancy, illness and divorce which result in small levels of adverse credit being recorded.
Q: What is your distribution strategy?
A: We have a wide distribution which includes branded lenders, packagers, IFAs, mortgage brokers, mortgage clubs and networks. Branded lenders and packagers are important to us and will continue to be so. We are also on most of the major network and mortgage club panels including Legal & General and, most recently, Zurich.
Q: Do you use mortgage packagers?
A: Yes. We believe that packagers will still have an important role to play after Mortgage Day and so will continue to support the packaging community and work with organisations such as RAMP and PMPA.
Q: What impact will regulation have on your business?
A: It will alter distribution for all lenders in the intermediary sector but we believe that due to our hard work in securing our panel status on the majority of networks and mortgage clubs, we are in a good position. However, it is important that we work on our relationships with packagers, networks and mortgage clubs alike to ensure we are in the best possible position coming up to regulation.
Q: How do you see the intermediary market in two years' time?
A: There will be fewer mortgage clubs, networks and packagers than at present but due to the importance of choice for intermediaries and customers, there will still be a number of options available. Margins in the specialist sector will continue to be squeezed and there will be new lenders operating in this area which will further increase competition.
Thumbs up or thumbs down?
John Stewart – PMI
Platform is a decent lender which comes out with some good products from time to time.
Like most specialist lenders Platform tends to dip in and out of the market in terms of best deals but it is usually competitive. We use it mostly for sub-prime and buy-to-let deals and I have my own buy-to-let mortgage with it.
I personally found the service pretty good and have no hesitation in recommending Platform to clients if the products are right for them. I haven't yet used Platform for prime deals but would not rule it out.
Kevin Morgan – Consilium Financial Planning
I have never got on with Platform in any of its incarnations. This opinion may be out-of-date as I have avoided using it for about a year.
We keep an eye on all lenders in the market and would of course use it again if the product was right for the client but it is not popping up very often for best rates anyway.
I used to find the service was slow, unwieldy and unhelpful, with fussy requirements. Platform does not make processing smooth for the broker, which is odd in an intermediary lender. I hope I have better luck next time.
Trevor Youens – Flower IFA
Platform is a solid lender, and we have known the management team for many years.
It is great for adverse cases which have sailed through every time. The packagers it deals with have been professional and have not held the process up. We don't place a great volume through Platform but even on an occasional basis, the cases we have done have had no problems.
There don't seem to be any administrational hiccups, at least in our experience, so it would be churlish of me to give Platform anything other than a thumbs up.