There can hardly be an IFA or mortgage broker who is not aware of the need for training as mortgage broking moves away from being an unregulated business to a fully regulated one under the FSA. However, in the effort of keeping up to date with each wave of change in the industry, there may be a temptation to neglect the training of those who perform back office functions.
The most persuasive argument for staff training is that in the current environment, the value of customer relationships has never been more important, and a competitive edge comes from the experience the customer has with an organisation. Good customer service is a pro-active marketing tool that will positively differentiate your organisation from the competition. Yet some companies see training as an expensive distraction from their main business.
Steve Holt, compliance director at Home Loan Partnerships (HLP), says: ‘While there are a lot of professional companies in this industry, there are some with such a heavy workload that they only have time to work. Some companies believe training takes staff away from earning money and one of HLP’s aims is to promote the idea that training enhances a business and that it does not cost money overall.’
Linda Grant, training manager at the Skipton Building Society, echoes this view. She says: ‘You have to speculate to accumulate. If you invest in your people through training then hopefully their productivity will improve. In terms of customer service if you give your staff skills, such as complaints handling, then you are more likely to retain customers.’
Anyone considering staff training can conveniently split it into two basic camps: training specific to the mortgage industry and more general training in terms of administration or customer relations. Local colleges often run courses on topics to do with business administration and customer care, and will frequently be cheaper than going to one of the many professional training companies.
Qualifications are available from organisations such as the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management, or the Institute of administration management, or even the Institute of Chartered Secretarial Management. These courses help staff to understand the importance of providing professional customer service, and develop techniques when dealing with customers face to face, or through telephone calls and correspondence.
Apart from general training there is a wide variance when it comes to recommendations of specific training for the mortgage industry.
Bill Dudgeon, managing director of The Mortgage Business, says: ‘Internally we are encouraging people to take the CeMAP qualifications. Clearly the activities of paperwork are not going to be regulated, that will just be the initial interview, advice and the most appropriate type of mortgage for the client ‘ but you can never have too much training. I would also think most people would want their staff to be made aware of the Mortgage Code. This could take the form of an initial course on joining a company and then a refresher course, which would take a couple of hours once a year.’
The merits of Dudgeon’s argument are obvious. Mortgage industry qualifications would make the mortgage process clearer and help staff understand the process from start to finish. This would include reasons for the paperwork and the various pieces of necessary information. If a person understands the paperwork and the lender’s approval process, and hence understands what is required, then this is key in speeding up the process. Trained staff would know if something was missing and deal with it before the process was held up.
But training does not end with a brief course. As an employer it is important to think about your staff’s ongoing needs. Holt says: ‘In this industry people will pass a qualification, or receive training, and that is it, they do not keep up to date. One of the things we do not do in this industry is continuous professional development (CPD). This would involve setting certain learning objectives in a given time period and train to that. This could be done through training sessions on new products, new regulation, or different formats of regulation and so on. If it were my company I would make sure that at least once a week an hour was spent training with my staff.’
There is even an argument for making sure your staff are aware of issues that will never directly concern them. Grant says: ‘It is always helpful to raise awareness of legal issues in terms of the house buying process ‘ what goes on behind the scenes that staff are not actually involved in. Clients often have questions that do not involve giving advice.’
Not all IFAs, or mortgage brokers, have much in the way of staff to train, but in this situation the majority of clients’ contacts would be through the intermediary. In this case there is an argument for spending a little time and cash on themselves. Mortgage networks and clubs frequently offer courses on the skills necessary to trade and, as mentioned, local colleges may offer short courses on more general administrative subjects. Training for anyone in a company is an investment in people and an aid to staff retention while maintaining your quality of business.
Paul Robertson is a staff writer