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Tortured figures will tell you anything

Just past the first anniversary of Mortgage Day, it’s time to bring a smile to the lives of my fellow brokers. Despite the views of those who wear rose tinted glasses, the past year has been a tough one for most brokers. So this week the focus is on the funny side of statistics.

As Disraeli said, there are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.

Ask 10 people any question, get four to say yes and you have a 40% positive result. But this is hardly representative of the nation, particularly when you consider the statistical majority of consumers I have spoken to think the initals FSA stand for Food Standards Agency.

Having spent at least 40 years using statistical analysis, I am familiar with the many appropriate words of wisdom that have been used to show that caution is the best approach when reading statistics.

This is one of my favourites: ‘Statistics are like bikinis – what they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital.’

One recent example of a possibly inappropriate use of figures concerns statistics on home repossessions as put out by the Department of Constitutional Affairs.

The DCA recently claimed there were 54,344 actions entered in the first half of 2005 and 32,366 orders made in the same period. The Council of Mortgage Lenders then moved to shed light on the real situation in a statement which said there were only 4,640 actual repossessions in the period.

A top award for the most controversial of all the statistical claims bandied around our industry in the past year must surely go to those networks suggesting they have the highest percentage of brokers in the industry.

Just remember at this point that 98% of all statistics are inaccurate. Someone, somewhere might have conducted a poll that I have missed but if not I would love to see what the networks’ claims are based on. I just wonder how many brokers are satisfied with the service provided by their lender or network. That would be a statistic worth knowing. Remember, statistics can be used to prove anything, even the truth.

It seems that everyone complains about the service they get when processing a mortgage. Brokers complain about lenders, lenders complain that brokers fail to send cases in that are 100% completed and consumers complain that brokers fail to provide a speedy service.

Ask any one of these three bodies of complainants and they’ll either quote some superficial statistic or accuse one or both of the other parties of purveying porkies. The moral is either to dismiss statistics or take them with a pinch of salt. As they say, torture numbers enough and they’ll tell you anything.

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