The value of advice in a nutshell

At the current time, I suspect many broker firms are concerned about their ability to continue operating and offering the same level of advice and service they have prided themselves on.

In a reduced mortgage market, solutions which would have been readily available just a month or so ago, may no longer exist, or if they do, come with much-changed criteria and requirements which might take them out of the reach of the client.

Working in such an environment is a tricky ask and there may be some advisers who believe the value they are currently providing is not perhaps what it would be in more ‘normal’ circumstances.

However, from our perspective and having witnessed the ongoing work of our network firms and advisers, you could use an old sporting adage and say that ‘you can only play what’s in front of you’.

The mortgage and protection markets ebb, flow and fluctuate at all times, and part of the great quality that advisers possess is their ability to look at what is possible and available at any given time, and find the right solution for the client.

Just because a specific product or service was available at the start of the year does not mean you are providing a sub-optimal service because that facility is no longer available to you. What we have to focus on is giving the best service and the most appropriate solution, with what is currently accessible in the sector.

Of course, in recent weeks product availability (and lender service capability) has changed frequently, but we have started to see an inching back in a number of product areas, as lenders get on top of their mortgage payment holiday workloads and other service pressures, then begin to review their product ranges and where they would like to win market share. Special mention is due to HSBC which has managed to offer more consistency and certainty than most, much to the benefit of the broker market.

Sometimes of course the true value of advice is represented not by the end product or service that’s recommended, but simply the time spent with that client. I spotted on Twitter recently an adviser talking about a client who was on the verge of asking for a payment holiday, but after a quick discussion around incomings and outgoings, it was shown that working from home would provide the savings required such that a payment holiday wouldn’t be necessary. At least, not yet.

There’s the value of advice in a nutshell – it’s the outcome that was achieved following a review of the current situation, the existing and future need and the finances.

In that regard it was interesting to see the publication earlier this month of the FCA’s business plan for the year, which naturally had a considerable focus on COVID-19 and what the regulator planned to do as a result.

We’d already learnt that a number of the regulator’s core projects have been put ‘on ice’ while it works its way through the crisis, but there were also some mortgage market advice takeaways.

One of those was around what the regulator deems to be ‘good value’ for consumers and we appear to be swinging back on the pendulum away from process towards outcomes. We’ve been here before – who remembers the focus on principles-based regulation? Again, we look to be moving primary focus to the end outcome, with the FCA appearing to concede that its own focus has been too much about the process, rather than the consumer outcome.

Perhaps as a result of this positioning, we’ll have advisers feeling free and able to demonstrate their undoubted value through excellent consumer outcomes.

Regulatory compliance remains key, but I suspect that if there’s any group which is able to show its worth and the excellent value it delivers to clients, then it is mortgage advisers. We at Stonebridge are certainly here to support them in that, and in continuing prosperity despite the effects of the Coronavirus.

Rob Clifford, Chief Executive of Stonebridge