The improved service levels were driven by fierce competition and technological advances. However, down valuations have introduced a sour note to the market for a rising number of clients, particularly in London.
Nationwide and HSBC were praised as “exceptional”, Santander “superb”, Halifax “consistent” and Barclays “good for a while now”. On the technology side, Scottish Widows was noted for its new lender system, NatWest for its new documentation upload process and Accord won plaudits for accepting digital documents as proof of identification.
“We’ve noticed a considerable increase in the speed of offers produced by most lenders. It’s not uncommon to have offers in less than a week,” said Lea Karasavvas, managing director, Prolific Mortgage Finance.
Service levels have become the most important factor in lenders seeking to outpace their market rivals.
David Hollingworth, associate director, communications at London and Country, said: “We’ve seen some exceptionally quick turnaround times from application to offer, with the likes of Atom Bank clocking in at seconds. That isn’t the norm, but service standards have become as key a battleground for lenders as product pricing. Where once one might have made up for the other, increasingly lenders are having to deliver both to really make a lasting impression—and big lenders have generally upped their game on processing times.”
However, the snag in the market is down valuations, which require advisers to re-submit applications in some cases.
“Especially where re-mortgages are concerned it has been like that for some time, with more down valuations in London in the past six months. Valuers, particularly at the higher end of the market, are nervous about the uncertainty around Brexit. We work with lenders on the valuation appeals process, but some valuers are easier to deal with than others,” said Andrew Montlake (pictured), brand director at Coreco.
Karasavvas added: “It can hurt the customers because a lower valuation means a higher rate in many instances and when they believe it is wrongly valued, it’s difficult to stomach. For us, if a mortgage goes from being a deal of below 60 per cent loan-to-value, to above 60 per cent, then as brokers we should really source the whole deal again because we could find a better lender than the already chosen. It can involve doing two mortgage applications for one mortgage, which is very time consuming.”
However, better service levels have helped to improve the overall experience for customers.
Greg Cunnington, director of lender relationships and new homes, Alexander Hall said: “Lenders have such margin pressure with competitive products, so are realising that they can’t fight on rate alone. One lever that can be used, as well as criteria, is service. We have seen service standards and time-to-offer improve from quite a few lenders in the last 12 months—some significantly so which is of course great to see,” said
“As an intermediary you want to know that you can expect a positive outcome so long as the documentation supplied correlates to the agreed case outline. We are very close to being there with most lenders,” Cunnington added.