Owain Thomas, contributing editor at Mortgage Solutions and chair of the Platform Bristol Supper Club, opened the discussion with an enquiry about the current state of business in the region.
One adviser said: “Things are ticking over. Business isn’t as busy as a few years ago, but Bristol and the South West are still quite buoyant.”
Another suggested that now was a good moment “to encourage first-time buyers, with valuations at affordable levels and rates the lowest they’ve ever been.”
The conversation turned to the challenge of advising clients in the era of robo-brokers. “A lot of the job is based around criteria, particularly in new-build,” said one adviser.
“As long as you’re having these conversations with the client, they understand that certain banks are not quick and that they underwrite differently,” the adviser said.
“That’s the whole point of a broker isn’t it? To understand criteria. And service. Once you’ve got the criteria settled, then you can look at the rate.
“A lot of people who go to comparison sites don’t get the deal that they want because it falls out of bed, criteria-wise,” the adviser added.
A question arose about lenders’ willingness to extend offers if a deal’s completion date is delayed.
“There’s a tension around completion dates particularly with new-builds, and asking lenders to extend offers which may continue if labour and materials are in short demand,” said one adviser.
“Virgin were offering seven and seven months and many other lenders are now falling into six and six,” the adviser continued.
“Skipton offers nine and three.
“It’s interesting to see how Nationwide, a huge player in the market, has only a small slice of new-build owing to its extension process,” the adviser said.
Bidding for borrowers
Brokers moved on to the hot topic of technology, unpicking how it was changing the way they work.
“The systems are good, but they’re not black and white. They’re an aid. Lenders will move,” said one broker.
Another chipped in that “business development managers (BDMs) are very important. We try to get recommendations out within a couple of hours of speaking with the client. We may be competing with other firms and we want to be the one calling lenders, not waiting around for the BDMs to call us back.”
Other advisers praised platforms such as Criteria Hub and BrokerSense. “They’re great. When I think back to when I started, you had to phone three or four lenders; now you just go on the platform. They’re very good value for money in my opinion,” said one.
“Ultimately, you’re dealing with more volume, 20 or 25 mortgages a month compared to seven or eight in the old days,” the adviser added.
Another predicted: “In the future, you’ll put in the criteria, and then the lenders will bid for that person. You won’t have rates so much as criteria.”
However, in-depth conversations with customers were still highly rated for assessing the client’s true situation and advisers noted that all systems have their drawbacks.
One adviser said: “You have to watch out because sometimes the systems are not up-to-date, and lenders are filtered out by mistake.”
Another, an adviser for 20 years, added: “The best thing is when you sit down with people and you don’t realise they have a need and you can have that discussion. We do a lot of protection conversations as well.
“Technology will make our jobs easier, hopefully, and open banking will have a huge impact if it takes off and make things easier for client,” the adviser added.
Broker’s widest possible reach
The regulator’s focus on execution-only versus advised mortgages triggered lively debate too.
“The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) paper says that the majority of mortgages should be advised, but they may still be transacted online,” said one participant.
An adviser said: “There’s a degree of smoke and mirrors with some of the robo-advisers. It’s an online fact find giving you some options, but ultimately there’s still an adviser in the background making a decision.”
Another focused on ways “to connect with customers online and offer advice as part of the customer’s online research journey, because picking up the phone is quite old fashioned.
“That could be live chat, so that customers are able to have that initial engagement where they can chat and then perhaps arrange a call. That removes the initial barrier where clients might not have called,” said one.
Another adviser added: “We need to use the online environment to remove those barriers for clients to get them interacting with brokers and to give them a choice of how they want to interact. Brokers who do that will engage the widest audience.”