So, this week Mortgage Solutions is asking: Have you had to step out of your professional comfort zone more frequently this year to find suitable solutions for your clients?
The pandemic has required advisers to step out of their professional comfort zones in some respects, but for me it was never around the advice I continued to give clients.
The comfort zone I did need to step out of was the normal face-to-face meetings with clients.
I work in the equity release market, and for me, meeting my clients on their own territory, where they are most comfortable, has always been a mainstay of my business.
So, having to resort to providing some aspects of advice by video calls was alien to me, and took a little while to adapt to. Fortunately, family quizzes each weekend soon taught me the capabilities of video calling.
One potentially risky aspect of this was the inability to check whether the client had any vulnerabilities or not.
Were they being coerced by family, in the room but out of shot? Were they feeling vulnerable due to financial pressures, health, grieving or other factors?
I think that sometimes clients on video calls may struggle with the format, and may not be quite as candid about their actual situation, whereas face–to–face allows us to bond with clients better and demonstrate more empathy and consideration.
When it became clear we could meet face–to–face again for work, I arranged this where the clients were comfortable and with appropriate Covid safety measures in place.
I had a couple of meetings in delightful gardens during the summer, and others masked up and coated in hand gel. That was also a change to the process I was comfortable with, but I had to simply adapt like everyone else.
Most of the challenges were around remote working.
Even though we were geared up for it with an existing cloud system, we obviously had a main office that we worked from. So we had to set things up to ensure staff could work in the same way from home.
Beyond this, we’ve got to make strategic decisions about our working practices.
Do we ever want to go back to the office and do our staff? Some people have had kids since the pandemic so that changes things.
We also have to consider downsizing. As well as that, will staff be as committed to the business when working from home or will they think, ‘now I’m working remotely, I can work for any company, not yours’.
We’re still figuring those things out.
With clients, the more challenging parts are when you’re dealing with them and all of a sudden they go quiet. When you finally hear back, they say they caught Covid and have been in hospital, so the mortgage application has to be put on hold. Or they’ve been furloughed.
That’s difficult when you’ve been working on a case for a long time.
Therefore we’ve had to be more understanding and compassionate. Not that we weren’t before but you could have someone self-employed, running a business for 10 years, making lots of money and they can’t get a mortgage.
It’s a sensitive topic to approach because as far as they’re concerned, they’ve paid their dues but now the system is essentially telling them ‘no’.
There are a lot of conversations where I have to gently tell them that I don’t make the rules.
A lot of people feel hard done by, or feel that now their backs are up against the wall they’re not getting the support they should be.
So the challenges haven’t necessarily been due to cases placed, but more about how we deal with telling people that they can’t get the finance they want.
I’d like to say as advisers we need to encompass all areas. There’s still a lack of good brokers out there who embrace the likes of second charge loans, bridging or short-term finance when looking at refinancing.
For me personally, I haven’t stepped outside of my comfort zone because I’m always looking for alternative solutions for clients. I’ve always been that way.
Where one cap doesn’t fit, I’ll look at other options.
What I have noticed is we have had to be more thorough and our planning has had to be more precise.
Communication has been key – we’re all guilty of not keeping in touch with our old client base. We’ve had to try to keep communication lines open and that’s been at the forefront.
We do this by making sure clients are aware of any new product release as soon as it comes out.
As we specialise in adverse clients, where certain mortgages didn’t fit one month, we’re focusing on getting them back on board as soon as possible. So we’ll make contact when something suitable becomes available.
We have to keep abreast, keep a diary, know where they’re at and keep communicating.
This is especially important where clients are becoming more aware of the market. They are more savvy and switched on about what’s out there.
Where they’ve had more time on their hands too, they can pay more attention to their finances and are happy to take time shopping around.
It’s not a shoo-in anymore that clients will come back to you. We have to spend time to grab them more in advance than usual and talk to them continually.