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Challenge would benefit loan sector

A market in which one player establishes what seems like an unassailable lead may not be healthy and some intermediaries are concerned this is happening in mainstream mortgages.

One of the UK&#39s best-established mortgage brokers Savills and lively recent arrival Hamptons hope that Abbey National&#39s chief executive Luqman Arnold can back up his “back to basics” words with deeds. They believe Abbey has been an underperforming number two.

Cheltenham & Gloucester and Nationwide continue to do well but Abbey, with its established relationship with intermediaries and strong high-street infrastructure, remains in their eyes the most credible contender.

No one is worried that the top dog is in danger of getting complacent and there is a lot of choice. HBOS chief James Crosby isn&#39t expected to suffer a Tiger Woods-style loss of form while the latest good news for the group is that Intelligent Finance is saying it will break into profit by the end of the year.

A monopoly this isn&#39t – and HBOS doesn&#39t feel like one with so many different arms – but the brokers are right – it will be good for the market if the number two raises its game.

Aifa, having successfully extended its remit to mortgage brokers, is turning to protection, not through the formal structure of Aifa subsidiary the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries but through a statement of intent. Most will either be mortgage intermediaries or IFAs but there is a threat that at some stage the purpose of the &#39i&#39 in Aifa gets lost. There should be a debate about any change in function as a drift to a different type of organisation without proper consultation would not be acceptable to many IFAs.

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