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Santander launches bursary to broaden broker access to DIFF

  • 04/05/2023
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Santander launches bursary to broaden broker access to DIFF
The Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) has worn different guises over the years, but its drive to build a more equal, kind and balanced mortgage industry has never changed.

From its beginnings as a women-only seminar and lunch club of around 20 loyal guests to the all-encompassing DIFF of today with 130 members from 70 firms and a full-time events team to give it both the reach and focus it deserves. The addressed topics so far have included racial discrimination, LGBT+ challenges , fertility issues, social mobility, the menopause, and depression. These educational, debate and story-telling-led events have played into the zeitgeist after the mortgage industry became increasingly aware that its corporate conduct ‘has far to go’ on fairness and equality.

Mortgage Solutions launched the campaign in 2018 in the shape of monthly podcasts, seminar events and editorial coverage with explicit learning takeaways in a bid to help everyone feel supported regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

Members continue to rethink strategic approaches to their customers, HR policy and often also, their own personal lives.

Bursary sponsorship

Santander UK decided to extend its participation and drive the finance forum’s agenda onwards. The bank paid for bursary membership for ten mortgage adviser firms giving them a place at five events over the calendar year including the DIFF networking lunch.

Brad Fordham, mortgage director at Santander UK’s homes division, said this was also a bid to mark the importance of brokers in a successful and vibrant mortgage market.

“Diversity is fundamental to ensuring that we create a balanced and fair mortgage industry and is why Santander is an active supporter of the DIFF programme. It’s in all of our interests to work together to create the platforms for a healthy and sustainable mortgage market, and we can only do this by ensuring we allow everyone to have a role and play their part,” he added.


Practical usage, real change

Fordham said the networking and educational value of the scheme had already made an internal impact for employees at Santander.

He said: “We love that we’re able to support the development of our team through the differing membership levels within DIFF. This allows colleagues to network and create new connections. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing colleagues develop and grow into the leaders of the future. Being part of DIFF allows our teams to create those connections, and importantly, take their ideas, learning and reflections back into our business. We’re seeing progress across a range of workstreams because of the connections our teams are making.”

On those learnings, Rob Gill, managing director at Altura Mortgage Finance, one of the bursary recipients, said a standout moment for him was hearing industry members he had known for years share their own life experiences.

“Some of these were real eye openers. In the social mobility session, the way people felt they had to change how they talked or hide elements of their personal backgrounds to make a professional impact. Equally, the disability session. It’s an area I know least about, and I have never encountered a disabled person at an industry event. I had to consider whether being a small-sized broker might be an impediment, but I know we could accommodate a disabled broker if the individual needed that support,” he explained.

Sarah Grace, director, Sarah Grace Mortgages, another bursary recipient, said she had little prior knowledge of the events before attending her first on social mobility in January.

She said: “I found the facts astonishing that university educated women are much more likely to be in management. I attended as Martin Reynolds CEO of Simply Biz Mortgages put my name forward to Santander as I had told him one of my goals was to give something back to my industry. We are very diverse as a company, as I employ people that are mixed race, gay, have a disability and someone in their sixties who felt they were previously being excluded due to age. He thought that as I was a diverse employer anyway, that I may be able to share my thoughts and hopefully gain some new ideas.”


Story-telling and lived-experience

We’re thankful to all the event speakers and podcast guests whose memories and shared narratives have left many of the deepest impressions for attendees.

The podcasts featuring Brightstar Group CEO Brightstar Financial Rob Jupp and deputy CEO at Mortgage Advice Bureau Ben Thompson on depression and mental health are often mentioned, alongside Sesame’s strategic relationships director Stephanie Charman’s contribution on fertility issues alongside Foundation Home Loans’ regional account manager Sarah Hartwell.

Fordham said: “Paul Adams (sales director at Pepper Money) is an ex-colleague of mine and I was moved when listening to his honesty as he spoke of his addiction and how that affected him in both his work and home life. And what made me more proud was to hear how he’s come out the other side. Well done Paul.”

LDN Finance associate director Romit Patel wasn’t alone among the bursary beneficiaries in remembering Blind Dave Healey’s keynote from the disability session as particularly moving.

“The partially sighted opening speaker gave us an honest and raw insight into his life, but also his challenges and adaptations required for working life. It was eye opening and humbling to be part of the crowd he was delivering his speech to,” he said.


The industry progress report

Cat Armstrong, mortgage club director at Dynamo for Intermediaries, another bursary recipient, said: “I don’t think as an industry we are more or less inclusive than other similar markets. We have come on in leaps and bounds on diversity in what was, when I joined over 20 years ago, an incredibly male-dominated market. We need to continue to talk and engage in forums like DIFF and commit to considering everyone on their merits and muse on the fact we all need to do this in our lives as a whole rather than just within the confines of the industry.”

Armstrong added: “It’s important to be able to continue to learn and develop. Just because something has always been done doesn’t mean it is right and we need to challenge ourselves to continue to learn and change. As employers we need to open our eyes to the value in every person and understanding the more specific needs of different groups to be able to engage with them is very valuable so being able to hear from and ask questions of the speakers who gave their time at these events is very valuable.”

One of the most memorable quotes of the campaign so far came from Paragon Mortgages’ Richard Rowntree, who during the session on social mobility, said: “The energy it takes to hide could be invested in your job, in yourself.”

And it’ll take yet more of that energy, focus and action again to continue to make real change across every sector and firm, large or small, in the mortgage industry.

Fordham concluded: “We are delighted to work with DIFF and support this important initiative. As a responsible organisation working with DIFF allows us to support intermediaries who may not ordinarily have had the opportunity to join the programme.”


The DIFF campaign continues to drive on with the subject of ‘Wokeism’ in June.

For information on membership, contact

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