Primis agrees Knowledge Bank tie-in
Advisers can look at an unlimited number of criteria in any search to place cases, including residential, buy-to-let, second charge, equity release, self-build, overseas, bridging and commercial loans.
Search results can be saved to a client’s file electronically, demonstrating clear, personalised evidence of their research.
Primis said it will also be adding a new back office operating system to its proposition later this year.
Primis proposition director Vikki Jefferies (pictured) said technology was clearly proving to have a hugely positive impact on the mortgage market.
“Tools like these continue to become increasingly valuable in this way, providing that extra ounce of support for advisers looking to simplify and streamline the application process,” she said.
“The hard work that our brokers put in to secure the best possible outcomes for their customers is exactly what drives their businesses forward – and with the addition of Knowledge Bank, we are confident that they will be able to amplify this to help a growing number of consumers with their lending needs.”
Knowledge Bank CEO Nicola Firth said she was looking forward to working with the network and its 2,500 brokers, adding that it would give them more time to provide face-to-face advice.
Mortgage Brain buys Criteria Hub
Mortgage Brain has already started planning the integration of Criteria Hub into its point-of-sale, CRM and compliance system, The Key.
It said it would consult about how best to complete the integration, but it is likely to involve results from Criteria Hub searches feeding into the Mortgage Brain sourcing system.
“We look at it complimenting what we are already doing,” Mortgage Brain CEO Mark Lofthouse (pictured) told Mortgage Solutions.
“Brokers are telling us that they want to understand lenders that will lend on something and then start looking for products from there, so the results from Criteria Hub will feed into the other systems.
“We don’t have a timescale yet on when this will go live but we will consult with our partners on what they would like it to look like and then start on developing.
“It is a high priority for us,” he added.
Criteria Hub will remain available to any adviser in the market as a standalone system or it can be bought as part of a package.
The criteria-based sourcing system has already agreed deals with Countrywide and Openwork for their advisers to access the platform.
‘Excellent strategic fit’
Lofthouse added that over the last four years Criteria Hub had impressed many people within the mortgage industry, including the Mortgage Brain team, and noted that it was “an excellent strategic fit with our business”.
“The acquisition of Criteria Hub demonstrates the next phase in our strategy to strengthen and extend our range of technology solutions and services for the benefit of all our customers,” he continued.
Criteria Hub co-founder Jason Hegarty said: “We’ve always had a very clear vision of how the Criteria Hub platform will grow and evolve around our users and with Mortgage Brain we’ve found a partner that shares our core values and vision.
“Together we are set for a very exciting few years ahead.”
Mortgage Brain is the parent company of AE3Media which publishes Mortgage Solutions.
Legal & General Mortgage Club launches criteria search tool
The tool was trialled with four diverse mortgage brokers including MSN, First Mortgage Direct, Springtide and Alexander Hall.
The system, which will be continually updated through work with lenders by admin staff in-house, will enable brokers to gauge whether a lender would consider their customer’s case at any given time but still have access to phone and live chat support.
The system has 492 different search criteria drawn from 394,000 individual enquiries and covers the new build and residential sectors at the moment, with expansion to later life lending and other sectors soon.
The software is free to use up to the end of March and brokers can register and sign a terms of agreement, however from April it will cost £20 a month per licence depending on frequency of club use.
(Example screenshot below)
Kevin Roberts, director, L&G Mortgage Club said this is the beginning of strategic change in its offerings to partner members adding that the club has to continue to deliver ever more value.
SmartrCriteria can be used as a training tool for new brokers to help them narrow down lending criteria and find the right solution for a client, said L&G.
Kevin Roberts, director, Legal & General Mortgage Club, said: “Looking for the best mortgage options can be a time-consuming process for brokers and their customers, and with ever changing lender criteria, it can be difficult to stay on top of it all. SmartrCriteria has been built with this in mind, designed to make placing cases both quicker and easier, resulting in better outcomes for both brokers and the end customer.”
Greg Cunnington, director of lender relationships and new homes at Alexander Hall who has trialled SmartrCriteria adds: “This is a really great move from Legal & General Mortgage Club. The technology behind SmartrCriteria does the heavy lifting for advisers, allowing them to spend less of their time speaking to various lenders and more time concentrating on what really matters – maintaining strong client relationships and giving good advice.”
Understanding start of the mortgage process can help decide the outcome – Firth
One thing they tend to have in common is that they deal with the end of the mortgage process – what mortgages have been taken out and for how much.
Knowledge Bank’s quarterly data is concerned with what brokers are looking for at the beginning of the process, not what they ended up with, so this reflects what clients really need.
Publishing this information may well change the future shape of the market as it shows the needs of clients at the outset and therefore the products that lenders really need to provide.
Borrowers lives are complex and so are their financial needs and the more we understand the better we can, as an industry, serve their needs.
For the second quarter running the most popular residential search was for lenders who would accept a self-employed borrower with just one year’s accounts.
Although many people still consider the self-employed to sit outside of mainstream lending the number of self-employed is increasing steadily, jumping from 3.3m to 4.8m since 2001.
So, maybe the fact this has been the top search during the first half of the year will be inducement enough for lenders to consider adopting this criteria if they are not one of the twenty who already do so.
Additionally within the residential sector brokers have clients for whom their age at the end of the loan term is a major consideration.
The second most popular search in this category is once again the maximum age of the borrower at the end of the mortgage term, suggesting borrowers are aware they will need their borrowing schedule to extend beyond retirement age.
As the age of first-time buyers continues to extend into their thirties, it makes sense they will increasingly need to borrow until an older age and this will become the norm rather than the exception.
Buy to let
Within the buy-to-let sector, harsher affordability criteria and more stringent stress tests could be the reason the number one search performed is once again minimum income requirements.
It also highlights the role a landlord’s income now plays when taking out a buy-to-let mortgage, where a few years ago this would have entirely been based on rental income.
The second most searched criteria was for first-time landlords, demonstrating that, despite the government’s best efforts to make buy-to-let less attractive, there are still a notable number of people wanting to enter the market for the first time.
Further reflecting the effect that changing regulation is having, first-time landlords was this quarter overtaken by brokers looking for lenders who will lend to limited companies.
With the continued shift in the market, this could well reach top spot next quarter.
Within the Equity Release sector there has been a more significant change in the searches performed.
During the first quarter borrowers were more concerned about fiscal restrictions in the form of maximum lending, debt and interest-only availability.
This has changed during the second quarter of the year and brokers are now looking to place cases focused on property restrictions and leasehold conditions.
With the government looking to either abolish or heavily restrict new leaseholds, it is interesting that this is already being reflected in what brokers are searching for.
Criteria sourcing for second charges has also seen a shift in emphasis.
January to March was very much focused on immediacy as brokers were sourcing lenders who do not impose the six-month rule.
However, in the second quarter to June this changed and it was loan amounts and affordability that took centre stage.
The search for maximum loan to value (LTV) and arrears raises the question of how many of these searches for second charges were being done as an alternative to a remortgage?
This could be as the remortgage LTV limits would be too restrictive or the client would not qualify because they had incurred arrears since taking out their first mortgage.
These statistics show us what’s happening at the start of the mortgage process giving an indication of what we may see in completion figures further down the line.
At the earliest stage of the advice process, clients are revealing their financial circumstances in the hope the broker can find a lender to offer them a product.
But not every potential borrower finds the lender they need.
Let’s face it, which would you find more interesting; last week’s horse racing results or next week’s?
Countrywide adds Criteria Hub access for brokers
The system is part of the new wave of software support for brokers which sources products based on criteria rather than price.
Countrywide managing director Peter Curran said the deal would help ensure customers were placed with the right lender based on their circumstances.
“Having deep knowledge of lender criteria is essential to a successful consultant,” he said.
“Digital tools are becoming more and more important for consultants, so working with Criteria Hub will help both build and improve knowledge and make sure we work more effectively with customers to improve their experience with Countrywide.”
Criteria Hub director Jason Hegarty said he was pleased to have struck the deal to work with the national property services firm.
“Having been an estate agency-based advisor myself at Countrywide some 15 or so years ago I know all too well the demands these advisers are under and the importance of being able to quickly identify a solution for their clients,” he said.
“Criteria Hub will reduce the time spent researching criteria meaning that Countrywide advisers will be able to place cases quicker and improve the customer journey considerably in many cases.”
First year self-employed coverage tops list of mortgage criteria searches
The subject topped the list in the residential sector and was closely followed by the maximum age at end of term; maximum loan-to-value (LTV); interest-only; and first-time buyers.
According to the first edition of Knowledge Bank’s Criteria Activity Tracker, on average brokers using the service searched 4.5 different criteria categories for each client.
Buy-to-let and second charge criteria searches are also included in the monthly results.
Minimum income standards were the most searched in the buy-to-let market, followed by first time landlord; houses in multiple occupation (HMO); the six-month rule or day one remortgage; and lending to limited companies.
For the second charge sector, arrears for a mortgage or secured loan or missed or late payments was the top criteria search.
Unsatisfied County Court Judgements (CCJs); adding broker fees to the loan; maximum LTV; and accountant’s projections completed the top five in the second charge area.
Changes not publicised
More than 203,000 criteria searches have been made using Knowledge Bank since its launch in September.
It said the data revealed that even for residential mortgages, brokers were struggling with those more hard-to-place cases.
“One of the key issues facing brokers is that most criteria changes are not publicised unless there is a particularly positive change and so brokers can be totally unaware of changes until they submit a case,” it added.
Knowledge Bank CEO Nicola Firth (pictured) said: “One of the things that surprises most brokers is the sheer scale of changes being made every week.”
She added that brokers were often too busy to spend time checking through countless spreadsheets or lender websites for updates.”
Criteria Hub available to Openwork advisers
Criteria Hub allows advisers to search and compare provider criteria through its online database.
Openwork mortgage, protection and general insurance proposition director Paul Shearman (pictured) said: “We have been piloting with Criteria Hub for the last few months and the platform has been well received.
“It is intuitive and the data set is comprehensive, making it easier than ever before to obtain the answers needed to place a mortgage. It is a great tool for our advisers.”
Criteria Hub director Jason Hegarty noted that mortgage brokers’ work was becoming increasingly complex and that researching specific criteria from multiple lenders could be time consuming.
He added: “We provide the kind of accurate fine criteria detail that advisers need to save them time, as well as providing evidence of the research undertaken to back up final recommendations.”
‘Learn from every meeting’ – Building a business part three
Having started Knowledge Bank with a bright idea as a broker knowledge sharing site in 2015, in just over a year we had seen it burgeon and develop beyond anything we thought possible at the outset.
When coming up with an initial idea, little do many people realise just where it will take them and what else will be required.
We had already redeveloped Knowledge Bank in 2016, but by 2017 we had so many other things to add onto it we carried out another complete rewrite.
Central to the rewrite was still our philosophy of Knowledge Bank being quick and simple to use.
Even before launch we already had several hundred brokers either in trial or as paying customers, but after the rewrite to version three it was time to launch Knowledge Bank to the whole market.
By now we had expanded our IT team, expanded the support team and brought in an experienced PR firm to help with the launch.
We picked a prominent expo which attracted a large audience. This was an acid test of what people thought.
Fortunately, the biggest criticism we received was ‘Why didn’t you do this earlier?’
We had four lenders and one network contact us on the launch day asking how they could become a part of it.
Legalities and funding
We have been also amazed by the number of people expressing an interest in investing, so we registered for the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) to make this future investment easier if and when we need it.
We also found a good corporate lawyer to draw up all the agreements we have needed with lenders and networks.
The most important thing has been to learn from every meeting.
When you’re doing something new, it sparks people’s imaginations and we have received so many fantastic suggestions as a result we have created a system to capture them all and put a schedule for each to be implemented.
We have added at least one development per month but our future plans will take this to a whole new level.
And our growth of use shows no sign of slowing. We went from 48 lenders to more than 100 in just three months, with 26,000 broker searches in that time – more than 215 per day.
Looking forward, we are now on a recruitment drive.
Our most recent recruit was a former mortgage broker as we believe it is important they understand the market and the trials and tribulations faced by brokers.
Most important for any business is to keep in touch with what your customers want, in our case that is brokers and lenders.
This is not only for now but focusing on the future and what people’s needs will be in six months or a year.
The challenge is to absorb the ideas but still stay focused.
You can read part one and part two of Nicola Firth’s journey building Knowledge Bank online.
‘It was amazing how unashamed some people were’ – Knowledge Bank’s birth of a business, part two
The objective behind Knowledge Bank right from the very beginning has been to make it as simple as possible. The first version of Knowledge Bank was just an A to Z list of information, but it quickly became clear that we needed more.
So in 2016 we redeveloped it, launching our second version of it making it much more intuitive, easier to use and helping to save brokers even more time.
As demand escalated it became more practical to give lenders their own log-in and let them input their own data.
This put lenders in charge of their own data including the criteria that showed and when; it meant brokers could have confidence that the criteria they were looking at is the most up-to-date available; and it freed up our time for further development.
We also gave the lenders more control by enabling them to input the details into Knowledge Bank for criteria that has not yet launched and letting them schedule the date it will go live. It also became much more searchable.
Version two brought the most matched criteria to the top. Where more than one lender will accept the criteria, they are listed in alphabetical order so there is no bias. Fundamental to all this was user experience so that the system was intuitive and easy to use.
Site security and its data is of paramount importance so lenders know their details can never be compromised. Multiple levels of security and back up were enhanced in version two so that all data met the highest security standards expected by banks and building societies.
Expanding a business this quickly was a learning curve.
Brokers and lenders were becoming part of Knowledge Bank through word of mouth, but we still hadn’t even had an official launch.
Because of its growing popularity we had to pay attention not only to the development but also good business governance.
We set up a copyright so that the website content could not be copied. This proved a good move as we discovered, even in this fledgling stage. For example a number of other tech firms showed interest in what we were doing and how – some through fair means, some through foul.
Fortunately, our IT specialists had built in anti-scraping technology which flags up when someone is trying to copy the site and prevents it from happening.
It also flags up who the person is, but it was amazing just how unashamed some people were in trying to do this. (Interesting! – Ed)
It was at this point that we really understood the value of having invested heavily in the technology. The idea has always been that the site looks clean and simple and is easy to use. This does not mean that the technology involved is simple however.
We worked really hard to make sure that the user experience is central to everything; the clever technology is behind the scenes, but it is amazing to see the layers of technology underneath this.
Read the first of Nicola Firth’s blogs here.
The birth of a business – Knowledge Bank
I already had a successful business as a mortgage broker running Firth Financial Services. In fact, it was this that drove the birth of Knowledge Bank.
The experience of 13 years as a broker, with the frustration of finding the best rate for a client but then discovering the lender wouldn’t accept the criteria – and neither would the next lender on the list or even the one after that at times.
As every broker knows, placing more complex, or even less usual, cases can take hours – on the phone to the network or mortgage club help desk, and then to the lender or its BDM.
Initially Knowledge Bank was to be part of a larger Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. A knowledge sharing platform for brokers.
Originally called Compass, its aim was to point brokers in the right direction for their criteria requirements.
Having compared notes and shared frustrations with other brokers across the two networks I’d been part of, the idea was to have a system where brokers ‘bank their knowledge’.
We would all input information when we discovered a specific lender accepted a certain set of criteria, CCJs or a one-year self-employed case, for example. Everyone who input would have access to what others had shared.
The technical build
We started building this and telling people about it, but then lender BDMs saw it and wanted to be a part of it too.
This snowballed as almost every lender who heard about it wanted their criteria included and so Knowledge Bank was born – but we had no idea just how popular it was to become.
We originally thought it would be a small project. I advertised for an IT developer in May 2015, with an advert that read, “I’ve got a little project for a developer of a few hours per week.”
The head of my IT team often reminds me of this, as it turned into an all-encompassing project for up to nine IT staff at a time.
By August 2015 we could see this was going somewhere.
The increasing number of lenders led to more broker interest, and vice versa so Compass Systems was registered at Companies House.
Keep It Simple
The objective behind Knowledge Bank is to make it as simple as possible.
We know every mortgage broker is pushed for time, so we wanted it to be completely intuitive so searches could be done in seconds and no training was required to use it.
The design brief was “Fisher Price”. As with the toy brand, no instructions are necessary and the same ideology was important to us.
We knew it would save brokers hours but also wanted it to be simple for the lenders.
We have always been driven by the maxim ‘good for brokers, good for lenders and good for the client’ in every decision made.
So what did we learn in these early stages?
We learned that from a legal perspective, we couldn’t protect our idea and felt sure it would only be a matter of time before someone else saw what we were doing and entered the same space.
Key advice I was given was ‘be fast, be first’ so that’s exactly what we did, but to do that you have to recognise your strengths and weaknesses plus what others do best rather than trying to do everything yourself, so this was the bedrock Knowledge Bank was formed on.
Every day is a school day when you haven’t done it before.
You have to wear every hat in the business, be it product development, finance, marketing and IT, so I was quick to surround myself with experts in the various fields, from IT to accountancy, marketing to legal to help take the business forward.
Watch out for the next part from Firth detailing the birth of a criteria-driven sourcing system next week.