BestAdvice (BA): What is your background?
Esther Morley (EM): I joined Secure Trust Bank from Kensington Mortgages, where I held a number of roles across 10 years, including managing director, transformation leader and director of customer services. I also ran a mortgage lender in Ireland for the business right in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. This gave me a rounded experience in what it takes to run a successful specialist mortgage lender.
BA: What attracted you to STB?
EM: It is a rare opportunity to develop a mortgage lender for an existing bank, with retail deposit funding. So often we see lenders build a business and then apply for a banking licence as a way of diversifying their funding model. With Secure Trust Bank, we had the bank and the funding in place and our role was to identify ways to use this strength to offer mortgages to customers that were generally underserved.
We identified some key areas where we anticipated increasing customer demand, such as contractors, the self-employed and people earning multiple sources of income, and worked with brokers to find out what approach they wanted a lender to take in these segments.
BA: What is your role at STB? How frequently do you touch base with intermediaries?
EM: My role is the MD of the Mortgage business with responsibility to build this relatively new function into a successful business line for the Bank.
Our intermediaries are our primary client, so it is hugely important that I stay up to date with their challenges and view of the market and make their voice heard within the wider bank. I am in continual dialogue with Tony Hall, our head of sales and marketing, who works with intermediaries every day, and I take every opportunity to get out and meet with brokers on a regular basis; such as spending a day a quarter with each of our BDMs on broker visits, amongst other activities.
We launched our proposition on the principle of being ‘remarkably honest’ and transparent, which was a direct result of feedback we had from brokers. This is an easy thing to say, but much harder to do and a big part of my role is to ensure that we fulfil on this promise in the way that we build products, interact with brokers and underwrite cases.
BA: What is STB’s mortgage distribution? Has it changed since launch?
EM: We decided to enter the market last year in a very controlled way to ensure that our systems, processes and, most importantly, service lived up to both ours and our brokers’ expectations. Over the course of the past 15 months, we have expanded the distribution through new partnerships and broadened our products to serve more customer needs. We are not quite whole of market just yet, but most brokers who want to work with Secure Trust Bank can find a way of working with Secure Trust Bank.
BA: Tell us about your product offering. Who is your typical customer? Any particular niches you focus on?
EM: Our product range has been developed to help the growing number of customers whose circumstances put them at a disadvantage in the mortgage market because they are either self-employed, work as a contractor, have multiple sources of income or are borrowing into retirement. We often find that our customers have a combination of more than one consideration and sometimes have had some sort of blip in their credit history in the background but have since returned to good financial health.
These are the customers whose circumstances are not easily analysed by an automated process but need an underwriter to interpret their story and make a lending decision that recognises their individual circumstances.
BA: Is there any flexibility with underwriting?
EM: Absolutely! Our proposition is built on looking for reasons to lend rather than reasons not to. We use our lending criteria as a helpful guide, not an insurmountable hurdle and our underwriters are empowered to make decisions and recognise a good case.
BA: How are you different from other specialist mortgage lenders?
EM: Competition is growing in the specialist mortgage market, but we think we genuinely stand out because of the flexibility we give our underwriters to make decisions and the way we work together with brokers. Our promise to work with brokers in a remarkably honest way is more than just lip service and is central to everything we do in the business.
BA: What knowledge/strategy have you brought from Kensington to STB?
EM: I was ‘lucky’ enough to gain a huge amount of experience at a very difficult time to be a mortgage lender, so I am now able to take a rounded view of the whole process and how that impacts customers’ through their life with a lender. In the push for growth, it can be tempting to focus solely on originating business, but it is far more rewarding in the long term to think about the entire customer experience, pre and post completion.