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Ben Thompson on working with Brodnicki and the opportunity to grow MAB – interview

  • 26/09/2018
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Ben Thompson on working with Brodnicki and the opportunity to grow MAB – interview
Ben Thompson has a plan if history repeats itself and the mortgage market is brought to its knees by another financial downturn or similarly catastrophic event.


Whether it’s a Brexit-related meltdown or Amazon-style disruptor, the managing director of the Mortgage Advice Bureau (MAB) is well aware the sands of the industry can shift at a moment’s notice.

A decade of low interest rates among other factors have lulled the industry into a “falsely benign” environment, Thompson tells Mortgage Solutions.

As part of his newly created role at MAB, he is steering the network and advice firm into the best place should “all the balls get thrown in the air”.

Thompson underlines the importance of being prepared for the worst-case scenarios.

He says: “If it all goes wrong, if we have a hard Brexit, what sorts of things could happen?

“What did we all do in 2008 that we could learn from?”

Thompson’s words may now chill those with less than fond memories of the financial crisis, but his outlook for the industry is far from downbeat.

He says: “I’ve got enough grey hair to understand different market cycles.

“I care deeply about this market and its dynamics and I try to look further ahead.

“I enjoy that stuff… I don’t live for today, I try to plan for tomorrow.”


Finding the balance with Brodnicki

Thompson’s enthusiasm for the mortgage advice industry and his bright and affable manner is an asset in an industry that puts people relationships at its very core.

Four months into working at MAB, alongside chief executive Peter Brodnicki, and he says all is going “very, very well”.

The two are finding the balance between who exactly does what, but at the moment they are essentially sharing Brodnicki’s workload with “two heads thinking about taking the group forward rather than one”.

Thompson says that neither of them are “particularly territorial”, they “bounce off each in a very positive way” and there’s “very little” the pair disagree on.

He adds they both share a similar outlook, are strategic, ambitious and “in different ways very energetic”.

How are they energetically different?

Thompson says Brodnicki is “healthily impatient – he can see very quickly what things need doing, what we need to become, the value add we need to offer”.

Whereas Thompson “delivers things quickly, to turn those thoughts into actions, into plans”.


Huge growth opportunity

Together Brodnicki and Thompson are working to position MAB as a “leader in its market”.

It’s an exciting job, Thompson says as MAB has a “huge growth opportunity in a market that’s got a lot changing around it”.

As managing director of L&G Mortgage Club, Thompson trebled the distributor’s mortgage market share through the midst of the financial crisis – and he will no doubt be looking to emulate this success at MAB.

The two roles share similarities, but the companies have a different culture.

Thompson says MAB “has the ability to move quickly, which I see as a real plus” when things need changing.

He adds: “Decisions that may have taken a long time to make in a big corporate entity, I felt through the relationship with Peter I’ve been able to do very quickly – whether it’s around recruitment of key people, or whether it’s around technology – there’s an attitude of ‘just get on with it’ if it makes sense.”

Thompson will only talk generally about how he hopes to grow MAB, but at the core is the idea of “accentuating the importance of advice”.

Within this focus on advice, technology has a “role to play – but never one I want to overblow”.

The group is looking at how digital developments and investment can “make the lives of our advisers more straightforward” and how technology can help “procure more clients into their business”.


Understanding consumers

Part of Thompson’s strategy is “trying to understand consumer behaviour” around home buying and refinancing to “get to them earlier in the process”.

This could be months or even years before they’re ready to buy, he adds.

For example, partnerships could help to potentially reach prospective borrowers when they think about what their credit profiles look like or what they can afford.

Having spent three years at the helm of technology and conveyancing company ULS, prior to joining MAB, the area is a part of the homebuying process that Thompson’s passionate about.

He says: “The industry as a whole – with some exceptions – are still making this incredibly difficult for a client.”

Lenders focus on prices since the financial crisis has eroded margins in surveying and conveyancing, meaning for these firms it’s become “quite difficult to invest in technology” with service suffering as a result.

This “needs to stop” and Thompson would “encourage lenders to invest in surveying and conveyancing”.


Stronger together

Thompson also feels strongly about the relationship between intermediaries and lenders.

The two should “always work together” and when one side is having a better time it shouldn’t use the position to “apply undue pressure” on the other.

He adds: “If you keep the lender and intermediary relationship strong, we’ve all got a much better chance of surviving and thriving as an industry.”

The belief in this relationship is part of the reason why Thompson said he won’t be using his position to put pressure on lenders over product transfers, for example.

In this area he has a lot of sympathy “towards lenders’ processes, legacy systems and regulatory challenges”.

He reiterates that the two need to work together for a “common shared and aligned interest” and says it’s good news that intermediaries have become more involved in the process.

There’s a lot of talk about the opportunity of product transfers for brokers, but generally Thompson says businesses are stronger when they have “multiple product lines and income streams”.

Part of his vision at MAB is to help advisers move into more specialised and growing parts of the market such as later life.

He adds: “We firmly want to be in areas where customers need advice – more complex stuff than vanilla stuff – and be the expert and specialist.”


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