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Exclusive: Sinclair to retire from AMI

  • 13/06/2024
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Exclusive: Sinclair to retire from AMI
Robert Sinclair will retire from his position as chief executive of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries (AMI) at the end of this year, Mortgage Solutions can reveal.

Sinclair helped to establish AMI as an independent entity in 2012, having previously worked for its former trade body AIFA in 2006. He was initially responsible for its subsidiary the Association of Finance Brokers (AFB) at the time, and in 2008, AMI.

He said the AMI board discussed his possible retirement three years ago when he turned 65, but he agreed to stay on for three more years.

The conversation returned to his retirement at the start of 2024, which was when Sinclair decided to step away from full-time work. He said AMI needed a “full-time head”, so it would not be fair for him to continue on a part-time basis.

“Having done this for 16 years, I leave the industry in a much better place than it was in 2008 when I took over,” Sinclair said.

He said it came to a point where he questioned whether he wanted to carry on in the role, as his energy had begun to decline and he saw “too many cycles of the same thing”.

“Therefore, it’s probably an appropriate time to step aside,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair is also the non-executive director of Darlington Building Society, and he will continue to fulfil this role. He will stay on as chief executive of AMI as its board looks for a replacement and will oversee any handover process.

Sinclair said his legacy was making AMI independent and “respected as a standalone trade body in its own right”.

“It’s respected by the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA], Financial Ombudsman Service [FOS] and Financial Services Compensation Scheme [FSCS] for having a voice and opinion,” he added.

He also said its efforts in putting advice at the heart of the mortgage journey stood out, as when he joined the organisation, the market was worth just £140m and 50% of mortgages were intermediated.

The market is currently worth more than £420bn and around 80% or more mortgages are obtained through a broker.

“It’s a much bigger, stronger sector with much more professionalism,” he added.


Getting the right tone and message

AMI is lucky to not be caught up in the world of corporate politics, Sinclair said, meaning the organisation could be bolder in its statements as there were fewer concerns about reputational damage.

“My member firms have a different perspective, in that I have been quite likely to be a bit of a vocal terrorist,” he added.

Sinclair said this came with responsibility and knowing when not to overdo it.

He recalled being “much more vocal and much more antagonistic and much more aggressive” in the early days, as he wanted to make sure the organisation was heard.

Sinclair said AMI was well-established now and it was an achievement that it could do “more of its work quietly, as opposed to having to be upfront”.

For anyone who wants to be as influential as Sinclair, he advised to “never be afraid to speak your mind”, saying this was particularly important if it was done on the behalf of customers.

Having authenticity and being genuine is also “the strongest message you can ever give”.


AMI giving mortgage brokers a voice

Sinclair said through AMI, he influenced more mortgage professionals to comment on the market in a “consistent, informed” way.

“If I go back 10 years, I would be the person making all the comments. Now, I don’t have to do that, because a whole host of people understand what the core issues are, and how they can try to engineer change in a consistent and better way.

“It’s also about ensuring we do that in a balanced way, so it’s constructively critical opinions, not just critical.”

When AMI first became independent, Sinclair said the market was “seen as lenders and brokers fighting against each other”.

“We’ve pulled that much closer together. People understand that actually we’re codependent on each other.

“We might have disagreements but, like most families, we’ll kiss and make up,” he added.

Sinclair said when there were arguments, such as the debate over product withdrawal notice periods, better and more mature conversations were taking place “so that the voice of the [broker] at the sharp end of this, who talks to the customer, is heard by lenders”.

He said the promotion of sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) cemented that cohesion.

There tends to be surprise at how small the AMI team is, Sinclair said, particularly when people consider what the trade body has been able to deliver.

When AMI started, it was just Sinclair and his colleague Alex Revell, who now works as a senior associate at the FCA.

The AMI team consists of five people today, and Sinclair said his four other colleagues were a “group of independent-thinking individuals”.

He feels pride whenever he saw Chloe Timperley, Stacy Penn and Rachel Edwards present in public, as it meant the trade organisation was made up of people who could not only do the “thinking and analytical work”, but also “articulate that well in front of audiences”.

“That’s probably what I’m most proud of,” he added.


Adapting priorities

Sinclair said when he first took on the role, “it was very much about survival”.

“The income stream of advisers was declining. The industry was in a degree of trouble. We were doing a fair bit of political lobbying to try to work out how we could recover the market.”

AMI started off primarily writing and explaining compliance to brokers and firms, but its remit shifted over time as more firms hired risk and compliance teams.

“The industry has changed a lot over that period of time, and we’ve changed into trying to influence the agenda going forward.”

In the last three years, AMI has turned its focus to DE&I and sustainability.

To support this, the trade body launched its Working in Mortgages website in 2022 to invite current and potential mortgage professionals to connect and seek mentorship. AMI is also a member of Mortgage Solutions’ Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF).

Sinclair said the industry was “in the dark ages” with DE&I when the website was launched, as this “wasn’t on anybody’s agenda”.

He said AMI managed to “put it into a framework where people who are passionate about [DE&I] have got the ability to have a voice”.

Sinclair said it was important that this was “front and centre” of many conversations and seen as something the sector must embrace and adapt to.

Properly embracing DE&I is the difference between “inviting [people] to a dance and asking [people] to dance”, Sinclair said, as the latter is a warmer, more genuine welcome.

“We’re still in the world where we’re inviting people, we’re not asking or enjoying them. Therefore, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.”

Sinclair added: “Until every person feels that they’re entirely welcome in this industry, every person, the job is not done.”

When announcing his departure at the AMI Dinner on Thursday, Sinclair also said while he would like to see anyone worthy of the job take over from him, he would like to see a woman lead the trade body.

He said the green agenda was still not getting much consumer traction, especially since the government had pulled back on measures to encourage people to make their homes more sustainable. However, he said the mortgage sector was “thinking much more seriously about how it participates in engineering that change”.


Leaving a positive mark

Sinclair will work to complete three big projects from AMI before he departs, including its annual protection viewpoint report, a review of its 2021 diversity and inclusion (D&I)  report, and research on the value of advice.

He will also engage with the FCA on the possibility of it extending its advice and guidance boundary review to include protection. Sinclair said AMI feels “this is the wrong answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. So, we’ll be pushing very hard to try and make sure that doesn’t happen”.

Summarising his time at AMI, Sinclair said: “I have been exceptionally blessed to have been given one of the best jobs in the mortgage industry. I’ve loved every minute of it. And whoever gets to do it [next] should wrap their arms around it and love it too.”

The “people and the parties” were what Sinclair said he would miss most, adding that he was lucky to work with “some really good people”. He described former and current AMI chairs Pat Bunton, Martin Reynolds and Andy Montlake as “absolutely wonderful” and said his AMI team was “impossibly great”.

He will also “immensely miss” all the principals of firms and mortgage brokers he has spoken to over the years who are trying to do right by their clients.

Sinclair said he hoped his work inspired the sector to learn the importance of partnership in a collaborative mortgage sector for the ultimate benefit of consumers.

“Whether the work we’re doing is in conveyancing, surveying, lending or advising, we’re seen much more as being together than any point I’ve ever seen before. And I suppose that’s the bit for me, that really is powerful,” he added.

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