Post-2008 the banks have been pilloried and perhaps, collectively, as building societies we have not taken the opportunity to make the most of our good name and reputation. So, after much planning we launched the Family Building Society as an offshoot of National Counties. The latter traces its origins to 1896. It was founded in fine Victorian social reforming tradition for the benefit of postal workers.
Our ethos is to help meet the needs of families – the borrowing needs of first-time buyers, the self-employed, those who are going through life changes such as divorce or parenthood and people who would like to borrow into and in retirement. In addition to pioneering customer-led mortgage features, such as protection for unemployment, we also brought innovative tax-free savings products to the market.
So what lessons have we learnt and how can the industry benefit from our experience? Firstly, the industry needs to catch up with the way people live today; the profound changes that there have been in society over the last 30 years, and offer things that meet the needs of today’s borrower and saver. We are not talking about online access and split-second decision making; nor are we trying to be the Amazon of the financial service sector.
We need to make the effort to get to know our customers and their financial circumstances.
Think about it; rampant house price inflation and the impact of MMR, as well as the massive increase in the self-employed and a record number of people living well in to their nineties, means that the “squeezed middle” have a number of weighty concerns. In addition to paying down their own mortgages and planning for retirement, they worry about their parents’ needs in later life as well as supporting their own children and helping them onto the housing ladder.
How can a system-driven, box-ticking formula, backed up by punitive credit scoring, really work? Well it might for the ordinary, straight-forward borrower, but not for the self-employed, or the salesman who is on a basic salary, plus bonuses, or the first-time buyer who struggles to get together the deposit to bring the LTV on their mortgage deal down.
So, working with brokers who introduce 80-90% of our borrowers, our underwriters look at each application on a one-to-one basis. Our underwriters work very closely with introducing brokers to ensure that we have taken every aspect of the borrower’s financial situation in to account. There is no computer to say no. It might take some weeks to process the application, but we make sure that the borrower can afford to repay the loan. And our track record on defaults proves the point.
We have learned that innovation, getting to know your customer and working hard for the broker is the way forward, and with mortgage applications up 47% across the group this year we must be doing something right.