Of course, many sectors have already felt this, notably supermarkets, and we’re in for a frugal Christmas if the experts are to be believed. However, your local supermarket running out of avocados is mildly irritating, not being able to get to work or a medical appointment is more serious.
Record levels of demand at a time of constrained operational capacity is something the mortgage industry has been experiencing since the housing market reopened in May last year, with pinch points particularly felt in March, June and the end of September as the stamp duty holiday hit its key deadlines.
Underwriting mortgages is not digging holes. You cannot simply employ more people to deal with strong business levels; roles such as underwriting require specialist training and that takes time, making it a challenge to flex.
It’s an issue we were conscious of and made sure we were operationally ready to cope with the peaks, as did our peers. On the whole, the industry has fared well and service levels have largely held up.
An unexpected positive of the past year is that it has enabled us to kick the tyres of our operations and see where we can improve. If you pass water through a pipe with enough pressure, it will test the weak points and spring a leak. The strong business levels of the past 12 months have been challenging but we haven’t wasted the opportunity.
During the pandemic we engaged with brokers to find out how we could best support them. Lack of product availability, frequent criteria changes and poor service levels were common frustrations. Product availability is now back to pre-pandemic levels and more certainty in the market means lending criteria is less constrictive and changes far fewer.
So, the question is how can we improve service? We are doing this in a number of ways, one of which is using technology to streamline our processes.
As a specialist lender, we’ve always been proud of our approach that emphasises the expertise of our staff to find solutions in some of the most complex of cases, so we’re careful not to commoditise this.
We know that a simple conversation with the right person can quickly get a tricky application moving in the right direction. Lenders shouldn’t replace real people picking up the phones with technology anytime soon but investment in the right systems can equip our people, not replace them.
We are working towards using technology to support them to do their jobs more efficiently, to make decisions more effectively. This is using AI, not automation, to do the heavy lifting and using our people to add value.
We have some exciting plans over the next two years and I’m looking forward to updating you all as we progress on this journey.