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BDMs and brokers – will the relationship ever be the same again?

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  • 31/07/2020
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BDMs and brokers – will the relationship ever be the same again?
'Walking the floor', doing deals over coffee or calling the underwriter to smooth things over, business development managers (BDMs) are the glue bonding together the relationship between banks and brokers.

 

They absorb stress from above when the lender tightens policy and pressure from below diplomatically dealing with demands from a broker desperate to complete a deal.

And if they have done their job well, they can leave the broker’s office at the end of the day with a beer in the diary.

Relationships, say BDMs, are everything in this role.

But with face to face visits and travel on hold for most firms, how will the role of the BDM evolve to the new way of working without losing relevance in the market?

 

Swapping life on the road for life at home

A BDM for 25 years, Nadeem Iqbal’s working life has drastically changed going from four days on the road, to five days at home.

“On a personal level, being on the road is something I love to do,” says Nadeem who covers Greater Manchester for Accord. “When you are in a meeting, physically sat opposite someone, you can give it your full focus.

“But working from home going from call to call, email to email I find I am being more reactive rather than proactive.”

One of the upsides of being at home, however, is being more available to his intermediaries.

“Now I’m not on the road, I’m speaking to many more brokers. With the best will in the world you can’t get round every broker in your area but now I can because I have more time,” he says.

 

The Zoom bug

Technology has made it possible for office workers to work from home, and during the core lockdown months between March and June friends and family relied heavily on tech to stay connected.

The proportion of people making video calls doubled during lockdown, with more than seven in 10 doing so at least weekly, according to Ofcom. Zoom has seen a rise of almost 2,000 per cent in users from 659,000 in January to 13 million by April.

But contrary to the hype, BDMs say they’re not using video conferencing all the time.

Scott Apps, has been a BDM for Castle Trust for five years and covers London. He says his brokers prefer frequent and brief contact to keep them up to date so he emails information and calls them for short conversations.

“I’m conscious that you can’t demand an hour of someone’s day every time you want to speak to them,” he says.

“We can’t expect brokers or an entire company to be that accessible. I would walk past them in the office, knock on the door and say fancy a coffee?

“We’d have a chat about some deals for fifteen minutes and that was it. But now brokers are at home looking at their diaries thinking I can’t spare an hour to talk to him, I have too much on.”

Instead Scott says he has been more successful getting intermediaries’ attention by suggesting regular and short conversations.. Zoom is useful, he says, if you want to speak to a couple of people at the same time.

Nadeem says his main methods of communication are now phone, email, texts and whats app.

 

Personal relationships

Despite the lack of visual communication, Nadeem says he feels like he has got to know his brokers better.

“I’m getting to see the personal side of my brokers,” he says. “Of course you got to know them well before, but now we’re having a laugh.

“There’s suddenly a scream in the background because their kids are having an argument or they have fallen over, or the dog is barking.

“Then you have that lighthearted conversation, not just about work but about our personal lives.”

Email enquiries and phone calls are still a staple of Andy Williams’ day, but he is using Zoom to conduct drop -in sessions. Andy is a BDM for Kent Reliance, covering Berkshire, Hampshire and south west London.

One of his broker firms has asked him to host a two hour video call session once a month and he gets 10 minutes on a one to one basis with brokers.

“When you walk the floor at the some of the bigger firms, you don’t often get time to speak to anyone for very long,” he says.” This way you have their attention for a full 10 minutes and it has worked really well.

He has also been holding webinars with individual firms to give them updates on products and policy via Webex.

Halifax BDM Nick Jury who covers central London says he has been asked to communicate with firms in varying ways. He has lots of virtual meetings lined up with his bigger clients but says brokers are missing the face to face interaction.

“Like us, brokers are working remotely without their support network, so I feel that when I am having conversations with them now it’s not just business it is more personal. You are their support network.”

Halifax has no plans to send BDMs back into brokers’ offices, says Nick, so until then he is coming up with new ways to keep in touch, such as ‘surgery visits’.

One of his firms has asked for a reoccurring virtual meeting where there is no set agenda or presentation, he is just available at that time and brokers are free to dial in to discuss their cases.

Whatever way BDMs are using to keep in touch with brokers they agree they can fit in more appointments than they did before.

 

Back to the norm?

So should the BDM’s role revert back to its traditional ‘on the road’ format in the future?

Nick says there will always be a place for face to face communication between brokers and BDMs.

“People buy off people,” he says. “You are not buying a product, the product is your relationship.”

But some of his firms have said they are re-evaluating their business, and whether they need their central London office.

Scott says he is looking forward to returning to some normality and thinks there will be face to face meetings as soon as companies allow it. But the Zoom bug for some, will remain.

“I think some brokers may still prefer the 20 min Zoom call, rather than eight lenders all coming in to talk to them on the one or two days they all come in to the office,” he says.

Nadeem says the Accord BDMs do believe the their role has changed, and will continue to change because of the pandemic but in-person meetings will always be an integral part of his job.

One part of his job that has changed for the better, is his commute.

“I don’t miss the traffic jams,” he says. “I’ve probably never had family time as good as this with my wife and two children. We have more time to spend together in the evenings and we have never communicated as well as we have through lockdown.”

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