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Alison Hutchinson

The managing director of Kensington Mortgages believes the lender has the X factor – a combination of expertise and pace-setting innovation that will enable it to shine in a competitive market, says Philip Scott.

Alison Hutchinson’s sole grumble about her job is not having her office next door to her home. Kensington Mortgages’ managing director was born and brought up in the west of Scotland but now lives near the Surrey/ Hampshire border so has to face three hours of commuting into London five days a week.

Hutchinson started her career at IBM, where she spent 14 years in a variety of technical and sales roles. She joined Kensington just over 12 months ago from Barclays, where she was on the board of Barclaycard as director of marketing and communications.

She says her year in mortgages has been fascinating. Hutchinson is responsible for the direction and leadership of the business and was quick to make her mark. She felt that Kensington had too broad a team which lacked some specialist skills.

“I wanted to ensure we had better clarity and levels of expertise in each function and that we had a smaller number of decision-makers so we could move at the pace we needed.”

Some staff changes followed. For example, the chief operating officer was given responsibility for overseeing the back office and front office as well as IT.

In 2004, the group made a decision to focus its IT resources on M-Day. “When M-Day finally arrived it was, like the Y2K issue, was a bit of a damp squib. It was business as usual, which is exactly how you plan it to be.”

Business for Kensington has been good since regulation, according to Hutchinson. “In our mid-year results, we have grown over 5 to10 per cent and we have grown signifi-cantly since then. Lending is up year on year.

“I am not sure that today’s flat market is a result of M-Day. I think it is more to do with the level of employment, low house price inflation and interest rates not changing significantly, alongside the level of unsecured debt at around 1trillion in the UK.”

She concedes that many smaller brokers are probably finding business more costly and complex than they thought it would be but she believes that the influence of the regulator has been positive.

“If regulation means a reduction in less-qualified people in the market, who should not be giving advice, then that is fantastic news. It creates a level playing field but I am not sure we have quite got to the point where it has achieved the aim of individual consumers being able to shop around. I think key facts illustrations are a good step forward but there are still some lengthy ones out there.”

Kensington unveiled new products in March, opened up to the direct broker channel as well as packagers, set out its near- prime product and revamped its buy-to-let and right-to-buy deals.

Hutchinson has watched the packager debate closely. Today, the branded lending function at Kensington is still being developed ambitiously. The firm has eight packagers on its branded lending panel, with the most recent addition being Pavillion Securities. Hutchinson says this part of the business will continue to grow and the group is in talks with other potential parties.

Hutchinson believes there will always be a role for packagers although she admits that packagers in the traditional sense are not going to last. The market has recently witnessed a number of firms opening up a direct-to-consumer arm or broker arm while a number of packagers have become lenders. Hutchinson says there is more of this to come.

“Packagers will continue to be around. There are organisations which are embracing the future and there are others trying to push away the reality of the marketplace, which is probably the most intense and challenging it has been for the past five to 10 years and they are not faring as well as others.” It is only the players which have tackled their strategy and cost base which will thrive as opposed to just survive.”

But Hutchinson is not hopeful for any new lenders entering the market. “In a market which looks pretty flat over the next couple of years, I would question if there is room for the number of new lenders entering the marketplace. I am sure there will be a consolidation of lenders and this will involve the new and traditional players.”

Kensington’s latest offering, introduced last week, is its self-employed deal – a flexible mortgage which also carries an optional insurance product. “Customers can overpay, either every month or with one-off increases. Once they have overpaid, they have some choices – to pay off the mortgage earlier or maybe take a drawdown or payment break.”

“I think we could always be better at bringing a pace of new product innovation into the market. As more come into the market, I think it is an incumbent responsibility to raise the pace of increase in terms of product and service.”

Weekends for Hutchinson include going running with her husband – “who goes too fast” – and spending time with her three children, who have drawn her into the television talent contest The X Factor. Her votes have been divided between Shayne and Maria but, following the latter’s recent ejection, she can at least take solace in cheaper phone bills.

Born: Dumbarton

Lives: Surrey

Education: BSc in technology & business

Career: IBM – 14 years, Barclays – four years, Kensington Mortgages – one year

Likes: Family, sports, champagne

Dislikes: Whingers

Car: Porsche Boxter

Favourite books: The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams & John Lloyd Good to Great by Jim Collins

Favourite album: Simply the Best by Tina Turner)

Favourite film: Shrek (influence of her children)

Hero: Paula Radcliffe

Life ambition: Happy, healthy children

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