In this market when it comes to service, it really is all relative. One lender’s trash is another lender’s treasure to misquote the famous saying and, from what I gather, there is an incredibly discrepancy between the service levels currently being received by advisers throughout the market.
Take this as a recent example. Steve Cox, our distribution director, recently recounted a conversation he’d had with an intermediary partner where he mentioned Fleet’s time to assess documents had needed to move from 24 hours to 48, because of the increase in demand we’re seeing and the volume of business we’re currently working through.
It’s clearly not a move we wanted to make but we think it’s important to manage expectations and to tell advisers the truth in terms of what we can deliver. For what it’s worth, we tend to beat that 48-hour deadline pretty regularly but it’s better to be upfront just in case a document review does take that full two days.
Steve apologised to the adviser concerned and was somewhat surprised to learn that 48 hours was currently seen as top of the class in terms of service levels. He was told that no other lender was getting anywhere near this turnaround time and that we appear to be unique in the market at the moment.
I also saw a recent thread on the Cherry forum again talking about lender service levels, expressing surprise at our current timings and amazement that our underwriter on the case had actually rung the adviser, ‘satisfied a few requests over the phone with basis explanations’ and had moved from ‘app to offer in nine days with a valuation done’.
Now, of course, that is welcome news for us as a lender but it does strike a worrying tone because we’re not the only lender in the market, we only operate in the specialist buy-to-let sector, and we know that advisers may be having many different service experiences across the board.
And of course, getting cases through to completion is not only the task of lenders; there are many stakeholders active within the process, not least the surveyors, conveyancers, and the client themselves who have to be relied upon to provide the necessary information in a timely manner.
Advisers and their clients are also suffering here as well, with surveying capacity currently taking something of a battering. In some cases it is taking five to six days to even put a case onto a system, let alone the time it then takes to get the valuation/survey booked in to be completed.
These issues present advisers with a difficult situation in terms of their own patience, and handling the expectations of their client, who may well be reading about the stamp duty holiday and what needs to be set in train in order that they might complete before 31 March. L&G earlier this month suggested homeowners would need to begin their ‘journey’ by the 1st November in order to have the best chance of beating the deadline.
It’s perhaps no wonder then that advisers should want to highlight just how important service is to their clients, especially in relation to cost. Of course, rates/fees/pricing is always going to be a priority but, as an adviser, if you see little hope of the client completing with the best-priced lender, then what is the point of making that recommendation?
I understand that there is something of a price-fixation at present but if you have the evidence to support a recommendation based on lender service, and the ability to get the case completed in the right timescale, then I strongly believe that you’re well within your rights to go down that route. Indeed, you might well argue, that to go with a different lender/product whose service makes it look incredibly difficult to get to completion, then this is can’t truly be said to be treating customers fairly.
Given the situation we all find ourselves in, with large numbers of staff working remotely or from home, with areas moving in and out of lockdown, with large levels of demand working through the system, then maintaining a high service quality is difficult. But it can be done, and as an industry we’ve had a number of months to get used to this current situation and to ensure our systems and processes are built to work with what we’ve got.
If you go with those who can maintain that service then I’m pretty sure neither you – or your client – are ever going to be truly disappointed with what this allows you to achieve.
Bob Young is CEO at Fleet Mortgages