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Summer presents opportunity for mortgage service catch up

August is peak holiday time and there’s no doubting that due to this, and a combination of other factors, the market might have something of an opportunity to draw breath and, hopefully, take time to catch-up on dealing with pipelines that many stakeholders have struggled to work through.

Advisers will be acutely aware of the market they have been trying to work within over the last few months, and it is to be hoped, if this period does present lenders and conveyancers in particular with an opportunity to get on top of their existing business and to get their service timescales down, then it will be time well spent.

It has felt like a frantic market recently, with advisers having to try and explain to clients why everything appears to have been taking longer than anticipated, and the knock-on impact this might well have on their ability to secure the mortgage they were initially recommended.

Advisers I suspect have had to earn their corn in this climate. Managing client expectations around service levels is a tricky ask at the best of times, especially in a market where products have been changed/pulled with alarming regularity.

That said, I also have sympathy for the predicament of lenders. Managing staff levels and trying to bring on increased resources to deal with the demand that has been in this market since the pandemic, has not been easy. I know that some advisers are frustrated that some are still using the ‘pandemic excuse’ but it should be clear to everyone that businesses right across the UK and across multiple sectors are all struggling to hire the staff they need for the level of work they have.

Now, you might well be able to argue some of these issues are the result of decisions taken during the pandemic and staff moving elsewhere, others are perhaps more political, but this is not an issue unique to the mortgage industry.

The overall resource problem has however tended to be exacerbated by a hesitancy to act and communicate transparently with the advisory community. Advisers will tend to forgive a lot especially if they are made aware ahead of the curve and they are seeing decisive action which will ultimately lead to better outcomes.

However, what we’ve tended to have from some is a reluctance to act until it is too late, resulting in large amounts of business, followed by last-minute product pulls/changes, and even decisions not to honour offers that have already been made.

While a decision to stop lending during such a period is obviously not ideal, if it comes with a timetable of when products will be pulled and gives advisers time to act and/or find alternatives, then I think it will be appreciated more than a piecemeal approach which suggests everything is business as usual but ultimately leads to greater disappointment and frustration.

What has made some of the current situation more difficult for advisers to manage is the lack of uniformity in service levels, and the different takes on how best to solve this. I will say that when you are in a position where it is taking double-digit working days to even open the post, then you have to wonder if you are working in the right way.

Significant delays have significant consequences, and it is advisers who are left to manage those client situations, and to explain why things are ‘progressing’ in such a manner. This becomes even trickier when customers can see rates moving in an upward direction, are worried about their household budgets, and want to sort out their mortgage in double-quick time in order to have certainty on what is likely to be their largest monthly outgoing.

Lender-adviser communication has never been so important in our current marketplace, so we would urge all parties – as well as agents, surveyors, conveyancers, etc – to try and find a process to share as much information as possible, at as early a date/time as possible.

When it comes to client interaction, knowledge will be power for advisers. During this period, and as long as lenders have been able to cope with the fluctuation in resource levels that summer brings, it is to be hoped those most impacted will have brought service levels down to more ‘normal’ levels.

And we hope everyone will be in a much better place to be able to deal with client demand, which I don’t expect to tail off – particularly when it comes to remortgaging – given the uncertain economic environment.

Rob Clifford is chief executive of Stonebridge

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