This week Natwest unveiled its new broker portal, which it believes will make it easier to submit and track applications, the latest in a long line of lenders to come to market with new portals for working with intermediaries.
While brokers welcomed some of the improvements in the system, they pointed out that there are still basic features lacking, and called on lenders to focus more on delivering simple, easy-to-use systems in future.
Improvements are welcome
Jamie Thompson, mortgage broker at Jamie Thompson Mortgages, said that the new Natwest system actually takes longer for keying in an agreement in principle than the old one, since it lacks the ability to copy the same address for two applicants, an example of “some basic features” which are lacking.
However, he did note that the new system does produce a property agreement in principle certificate “which is a great improvement from before but this was long overdue”.
James Bull, mortgage broker at JB Mortgages, also praised the new Natwest portal for the ability to gain decision in principle certificates, which he said was “a welcome improvement”.
Brokers are the best judge
Benjamin Blyth, director at Houz Mortgages, criticised lenders for telling brokers how great their portals are, noting that intermediaries will be the judge of the quality of the portals since they use the systems on a daily basis.
He continued: “MSO is a strong reliable system used by a number of lenders but personally, I think Nationwide and HSBC have some of the best portals as they make life easy to make post-offer changes – crucial in the current ‘daily rate change’ environment.”
By contrast, Blyth suggested that the portals offered by smaller building societies tend to be “the most painful to use with really limited functionality”.
Thompson was another to praise the MSO system used by the likes of Accord, TSB and Principality, arguing: “It’s so easy to use. I wish all lenders would use it.”
Darryl Dhoffer, mortgage expert at The Mortgage Expert, picked out the likes of Santander, Nationwide, Halifax and HSBC as all offering excellent portals, noting that they offer “intuitive interfaces, real-time updates, transparent communication and detailed case tracking”.
At the other end of the scale he suggested TSB and Barclays’s portals could use some work, as they suffer from slow performance, an outdated interface and technical issues.
Keep it simple
All that brokers want from a portal is something that’s easy to use, argued Rhys Schofield, brand director at Peak Mortgages and Protection.
He continued: “Many brokers’ favourite is the off-the-shelf version used by Leeds, Accord and TSB that ticks those boxes nicely. I always have had a soft spot for Halifax’s mortgage sales platform because it feels like an old friend.”
At the other end of the scale, Schofield suggested that plenty of intermediaries look forward to the day that Barclays implements a system “that doesn’t require a PHD in astrophysics to understand”.
The best broker portals are the simplest, suggested Charles Breen, founder and director of Montgomery Financial.
“You can tell when a lender has put thought into a portal and invested in it by how simple it is, only asking the questions that are relevant and pertinent,” he added.
By contrast, Breen suggested that the portals used by a lot of the smaller building societies “have clunky overly complicated systems asking every possible question from what the client ate for breakfast last Tuesday”.
The flaws of bad broker portals
Breen warned that too often portal systems “feel like they have had no broker input in their flow or how they work and it’s purely built by coding boffins”.
According to Michelle Lawson, director of Lawson Financial, many lender portals appear to just be “a revamp of a previous offering”.
She agreed that all brokers really want is something that helps them place the case with the lender, adding “If we can upload documents to case, communicate with underwriters to add case notes, view and download documents and make amendments, this is great.”
Who wants to download an app?
Peter Stamford, director of The Mortgage Uni, said that it’s important for lenders to offer portals with simple logins, such as two-factor authentication emails, as well as data pull-throughs, removing the need to re-enter the same information repeatedly.
He also said it was important for portals to be browser-based, adding: “Nobody wants to download an app. Looking at you Virgin and Clydesdale.”
It’s not just about the portal
Blyth noted that it’s not just the portal itself which is important. He explained: “Portal or no portal, it all falls down if a lender’s internal processes are clunky, disjointed and slow.”