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Exclusive Q and A with Simon Thompson on Key rebrand and later life market

  • 24/07/2018
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Key Retirement has rebranded as Key and launched a television advertising campaign. Simon Thompson, group chief executive at Key Retirement Group, answers Mortgage Solutions questions on the changes and the later life lending market.


Why the rebrand and why now?

When Key was started in 1998, very few people would have imagined that we would see people releasing almost £1bn worth of housing equity in a single quarter – but this is what the latest figures for the Equity Release Council show.

The market is growing and evolving so this is something that we also need to do to continue to be a market leader.

Following our acquisition by Partners Group in 2017, we have done a full brand review and want to create a more cohesive approach which better reflects who we are now.

We believe that good advice is key and the brand reflects this.


What are your strategic priorities now as group CEO?

In August 2017 I became group CEO having worked for Key for four years as chief financial officer and deputy chief executive.

This gave me the time to really understand the business, the team, our partners and our customers.

Working with senior management, we have identified areas that we really want to focus on.

We are looking at how we can make our service more effective, how we can help to grow the market and what product innovations are needed.

It is a really exciting time for the business and as we land these projects, we look forward to rolling out these changes.


Retirement interest-only mortgages’ (RIO) recent regulatory changes are expected to broaden the product and lending spectrum.

What are your predictions for this product’s success?

We are supportive of RIOs as they give people additional choices around retirement borrowing and our intermediary brand currently provides advice on them and other suitable options.

Looking to the future, the affordability issue is likely to impact on market growth as borrowers must prove they can sustain a lifetime of payments.

I suspect we may find some customers take out a RIO in early retirement and then move to equity release as they get older.

We are also concerned that as brokers need to highlight the fact that ‘equity release might be a better option’ as part of the advice process, some may struggle if their customer says ‘great, tell me more’.

We are working with a variety of organisations to help meet this need through referrals.


More 2 Life has won awards for product innovation. What other product segments or opportunities is the lender considering?

While I can’t give too much away as all our competitors read Mortgage Solutions, I can confirm that we are looking at how our product range can evolve and grow to meet the markets changing needs.

We are really pleased that More 2 Life’s products push the market to innovate and have no intention of stopping now.


Over 20 years, Key has achieved significant growth as a business and not necessarily aligned with market growth. How?

Since launch the company has really focused on providing the best advice we can to our customers, working closely with our partners and hiring good people.

We listen to what is happening in the market and consider how we can use trends to grow our business. We learn from our mistakes.

All of these might seem quite basic business principles, but they work – there is sadly no magic formula.


In 10 years’ time, will the specialist equity release adviser still exist, or will most adviser models be hybrid or heavily referrals based?

I think there will be continuing demand for specialists.

Many of our customers do not have existing relationships with IFAs and mortgage brokers and are looking for real expertise and a track record in considering one of the largest later life financial decisions.

However, I also think we will see more advisers looking to offer equity release advice directly and take more holistic views of customer circumstances.

Our acquisition of a stake in AIR Group will enable the group to support growth in this area.


Why should mainstream advisers be sitting up and talking notice of the later life lending arena?

Compared to what our parents expected from life, our children have very different expectations and desires.

As an industry, we are not going to be in a position to support these if we simply do what we have always done.

Mainstream advisers need to consider how they can help the increasing number of people who are reaching retirement age with either a mortgage or insufficient pension savings.

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