We meet in the Holborn branch in London in one of the mortgage interview rooms, Pearce is in the adviser’s seat. It reminds me a little of when I got my first mortgage 15 years ago; small room, one grey printer, and some company-approved art. Retail branches don’t change that much. When a nervous customer walks into our room by mistake, looking slightly sweaty and apprehensive, I can see how branch customers can find branch interviews intimidating. Our intruder is swiftly extracted, and Pearce laughs: “Let’s crack on if we are not expecting anyone else.”
Investing ‘deeply’ in digital
The bank’s intermediary partners have reached 19, and by the end of the year it will have made its products available to every AR in the country, or near enough. It’s roll out has been deliberately slow, launching the pilot in 2014, and is still using the same intermediary platform today. However, by the end of the year brokers should notice improvements which make it easier to deal with the bank. One of the enhancements will be to accommodate returning intermediary customers.
“We are currently investing deeply in a digital platform which we hope to release by Q4,” says Pearce. “This is underlining and underpinning our continued support for intermediaries in this market and making it easier for brokers to transact with us. Our current platform is absolutely fit for purpose but the new one will have additional functions.”
Solutions for a speedier house buying
Pearce is keen to see market-wide improvements in the speed and simplicity of the house buying process, enabled by developments in digital technology. Dealing with one in five directly-placed mortgage applications, lays a large part of this responsibility at the bank’s door.
“More and more we are seeing our customers wanting the time to say yes to be as quick as possible. They want that certainty and deserve the clarity of when they are going to get that lending decision.”
Pearce says she can sympathise with customers’ frustrations and wants the industry to come up with a solution which allows the customer to safely scan a passport into a secure platform which will allow all parties in the housing chain to draw back from the same bank of documents. “We are starting to see some technology providers doing that, I’m interested in seeing how quickly those start to develop to become common practice.”
Assertive without the alpha
The bank is working across all fronts to enhance its mortgage proposition, and Pearce is unquestionably the right person to head up the changes.
Previously head of mortgage products at Nationwide, Pearce calls a spade a spade, and if something isn’t good enough, she will say so. She will not be hurried with her plans for the bank, “you get one shot at this,” she tells me.
Pearce genuinely enjoys what she does. It comes across in her direct sense of humour, which I can imagine one would need in order to pull off a project of this scale. In-between banter with her press man, Steve, and I she is relaxed when she talks through her strategy, which comes from confidence. She could give lessons to a few bank bosses in how to be assertive without the alpha attitude.
Through a focus on product, channel diversification and intermediary support, the bank achieved a 21% rise in mortgage approval volumes last year, indicating her strategy is working. At the beginning of May, the bank launched its lowest five-year fixed rate at 1.69% for borrowing up to 60% loan-to-value, currently the lowest on the market.
Atom Bank may have stolen the title of lowest-ever five-year fix just weeks earlier, but the product was withdrawn after just seven days. HSBC expects its product to be available for some time longer. “We wouldn’t put a product out that we didn’t think was sustainable.”
With a growing BDM team, getting to close to 28-strong once training is complete, HSBC wants to ensure its 10,000 brokers are well-attended. Directly authorised intermediaries have not been overlooked either, assures Pearce. Once the roll-out through the network has been completed, the bank will look to the second phase of expansion next year.