First published by Mortgage Solutions
As a network principal, there’s never really a point where you are not thinking about your market proposition, what it provides now, and certainly what it might be required to deliver in the future.
Those ongoing strategic debates, preparations and plans have been drawn into even sharper focus by COVID-19 and lockdown, especially in a period where remote working has become the norm – for both us as the principal and our AR firms – and where it not only looks likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future but becomes a core part of the ‘new normal’.
In a very real sense, lockdown is likely to shape the next stage of evolution for networks and brokers. Certainly, we have asked our AR firms what they wanted from their network during the lockdown period, whether it met their needs and what networks may be required to deliver in the months and years ahead.
During lockdown, stability, certainty, transparency and strong communication were all high on the ‘wanted’ list. Siobhan McAleer, MD of Stonebridge AR firm, The Mortgage Shop, said that we acted as a “security blanket” and it was comforting to hear that we had a “long-term commitment” to both the sector and firms. She said this was particularly reassuring during a period when there were many changes in the wider market.
Jon Stones, MD of another Stonebridge AR firm, Mortgage 1st, echoed Siobhan’s point about ‘never feeling like we were on our own’ and the confidence having “a team of people there to offer us support and guidance” gave them, especially at a point in time which Jon describes as “the most uncertain…in our business history”.
That is a point that networks, both now and in the future, should continue to heed – we may underestimate how important regular communication is, regardless of the existing situation, and also the reassurance that AR firms take from having ongoing contact and being made aware of the support that is available to them. Upping our communication levels even further, has certainly been a key takeaway for us.
Of course, when it comes to what networks might continue to offer, core support and service functions delivered both pre- and during lockdown are still going to be required, but it’s also clear that when it comes to technology provision, for example, AR firms are looking ahead.
As Jon points out, “Brokers being able to operate remotely will be a key factor in their future success. Firms will be looking to their network for support whether that is developing tech or developing remote selling skills and processes.”
That ability to marry up these potentially shifting sands of demand for advice, potentially not being able to sit in front of clients in an office, and the technology that gets you professionally and safely over this hurdle, is going to be a key part of what makes a successful network/AR partnership.
This is not just about the software which networks make available to advisory firms of course, but how they can utilise it and whether the way they approached clients in the past is going to be advantageous in the future. Processes may need to be tweaked but so might sales and also softer skills, especially if you can’t get the same extent of rapport and client relationship when engaging remotely. It’s not as easy as it sounds, many brokers tell us.
So, as networks – and this is certainly something we are prioritising with our Revolution business management platform – we’ll need to keep developing our technology and support systems, as Jon says, “to enable brokers to fully operate remotely, whilst also enhancing the customer journey through the use of efficient document upload and automated case updates” for instance.
This, at a time when there are market uncertainties to cope with – currently the market is performing well but at some point we might anticipate that to steady and there may be a different environment for advisers in six to nine months’ time. It is here that networks will also earn their corn, in terms of the product and service opportunities they continue to present to their AR firms.
Overall, we feel we’re in a strong position to deliver for our AR firms and to ensure they can continue to benefit from the security and to secure the income and growth they require. That is our primary job.
Rob Clifford is Chief Executive of Stonebridge