KM: What are you looking to achieve or develop in the next 12 months that will set you apart from past MDs?
MS: When you get the chance to lead a business like Abbey, it is a fantastic opportunity. It is very successful and, in talking to brokers, they recognise the effort that Abbey has made in the last 18 months.
We have helped to generate and move the market, with such things as our seven-day deals, and we are going to stick that strategy.
We have the commitment of the organisation [Santander] and the recognition of the market.
Service is a key differentiation for us and our core products have been very competitive. We want to be innovative and find news ways to make it easier to work with us.
The intermediary market is evolving in many ways. Advisers have a customer-centric focus and we want to support that and put more products in the broker market, not just mortgages and GI, as we are at the moment.
It is in the early stages and we are not launching tomorrow, but we are thinking of distributing our core retail products, such as current accounts, unsecured personal loans and credit cards, through intermediaries.
We want to support the broader business relationship with customers and brokers.
We have no timeframe and I don’t want to give dates, but we are not going to do anything that is not in line with the service and automation of our mortgage business.
If it takes more time, because we have to double our proposition, then it will. We have a very clear statement with mortgages, to maintain our service and our products. It’s about how we can put all products through brokers.
This is something we will be working on in the next 12 months, but it is not necessarily going to launch in that time.
KM: What are Abbey’s plans in buy to let?
MS: Our position has been very clear – we are analysing this side of the market as it is a growing industry in the UK.
Clearly, yes, we are going to be in the buy-to-let market, with a very clear statement that we have the right processes in place to make it easy to work with us.
We will only launch buy-to-let products when we are happy that we have all of this done. We won’t do it because everyone is talking about it.
Buy to let is a very good opportunity for us, but we are not there yet. We want to have the same service in buy to let as we do in residential mortgages.
We don’t have any timeframe for launch, although we want it to be sooner rather than later. There is no deadline; once we have the training, processes and products in place, we will launch.
It will be an earlier launch than distributing our other core retail products through brokers, but there are no set dates.
We are interested in the market, but we don’t want to make mistakes. Deadlines are not good for us and it’s not good for the market.
We haven’t got any buy-to-let lending targets, features or rates to discuss.
But we are talking about non-professional buy-to-let investors, with two or three properties, as the segment of the market we want to be in.
KM: When did you begin to seriously consider buy to let and how will Abbey differentiate itself?
MS: We have always been seriously considering it. You can’t be in the mortgage market without considering buy to let.
It’s not a matter of if, but when we will be a player in buy to let.
I think it will be well received – the big networks are asking for big new players and buy to let should be one of our core products.
Hopefully, our launch will be in 2012.
There has not been a delay to our buy-to-let launch, because there has never been a deadline or final launch date.
It is not an easy process and it takes time. We have to review our processes and make sure not to make mistakes. We are very concerned with jeopardising the position Abbey has in the market and we will only launch when we are ready.
I am sure we are going to differentiate ourselves enough from other lenders. We have done so in our core products.
Pricing and service is very important, but it won’t be easy as the market is very competitive.
KM: Abbey has seen a remarkable turnaround in its servicing levels. How much further do you think you have to go and what developments can brokers expect?
MS: It is more difficult to remain in first place than to achieve it; we need to keep enhancing and improving our service, and it has been tough.
We have delivered new things, such as the service page and document upload tool, which 70% of brokers now use, and the majority of the changes have come from broker feedback.
We have had many ideas from them, many of which we are putting in place.
The turnaround in service is very important and we will never stop trying to get better. Every day, we can do something more and improve.
The market is evolving so much from the lender and broker perspective and, if we believe our service is enough, then in a very, very short period of time, we will be at the back of the queue.
We have to be innovative in our products and service, be much more transparent and make it as easy to work with us as we can.
We cannot and will not stop trying to make things better.
Santander is also making a big effort in turning around its customer service and it is on a good path, with Abbey a clear success story.
KM: What do you project your gross mortgage lending will be this year and will it match up to 2010?
MS: We believe the mortgage market as a whole will be flat compared to last year and Abbey’s position in terms of volume or gross mortgage lending at the end of 2011 will be similar to 2010.
We are happy with our lending and our market share, and we want to remain in the place we are, hopefully as the biggest lender in the intermediary market.
We are committed to the market – the intermediary channel is crucial and we have a very strong position through intermediaries.
KM: Can brokers expect to see any further seven-day offers from Abbey?
MS: In June and July, we made that move to support the market and we still have a strong core proposition. Intermediaries have said thank you to us for it, saying that it helped them to reinvigorate the market.
It wasn’t a change to our strategy and follows our commitment in the market to try and support intermediaries to do business.
Innovation not only includes new features. The seven-day specials were one way of Abbey supporting and trying to push the market and our core products are the same.
The seven-day specials were nothing to do with how quiet the market was. It was how we thought it best to work with brokers from our feedback from them – this is why it is so important to be close to intermediaries.