I the fourth book of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the main protagonist Arthur Dent is told “flying is easy. Just throw yourself at the ground and miss” – evasive instruction that is akin to the way some people describe how to lobby the financial services regulator and the Government. The difficulty of successfully executing the task itself is only slightly less of a conundrum than actually trying to work out how to approach the task in the first place.
But starting from scratch last year, the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries hit the ground running and has seemed to have worked out how to influence the bureaucrats and public servants that hold sway over its members. At the head of the movement has been director Chris Cummings, who says the past year and a half has been a rollercoaster ride with distinct highs and lows.
Foremost on the AMI's agenda has been getting the regulator to understand mortgage brokers' views on how regulation will work. Cummings says: “The trick is to understand that on the policy front you need to fight wars, not battles.”
He says from the start, the AMI has built good working relationships with the FSA, the Treasury and the FOS. The AMI wanted to work with these bodies as much as possible, but also wanted to maintain a distance so that when necessary it could be forceful on issues that required such an approach.
“It would be very easy for a trade body to express displeasure at every move the Government or regulator made but this does not get you very far. You need to make use of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things to solve the whole problem of regulation.”
In doing so Cummings believes the AMI has been able to help mould regulation to a point where its members' views have been included in the finished product.
The AMI's membership is not insignificant in the mortgage world. Under Cummings' direction, the association has grown from nothing to what he says is now 70 per cent of brokers in the mortgage marketplace: “If you believe some counts in the industry, like how many brokers the packagers and networks have signed up, you would think we have around 50,000 members. But actually, 70 per cent of brokers in the industry is roughly 16,000 individuals.”
With such huge numbers suddenly set to join the regulated world next month, Cummings is concerned that the mortgage industry should not look uglier in a harsher light. He says there is a danger that under new regulation, bad eggs may spoil the reputation of the industry.
“Brokers need to be mindful that they have a different reputation to IFAs. Brokers are all about getting people houses and helping them get the best rates. Regulation must be helpful to this process rather than a hindrance.”
But Cummings is not demanding rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. He believes the new regime is workable for brokers and has published a series of guides about getting ready for regulation and operating under the new regime.
The AMI has put out a new checklist for brokers. Essentially it is a list of 30 things every broker must have done to be ready for M-Day. “By completing the checklist brokers will know they have finished getting ready for the beginning,” says Cummings.
Cummings has deep concerns about brokers that are not ready on time because without being fully ready, they will not be able to do business: “The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to repair. Come M-Day, if you are not ready to go, get ready for things to go wrong.”
Unsurprisingly, every now and then, Douglas Adamesque themes emerge from Cummings, who is a great fan of the author. He says Adams' view of life and how he faced adversity – both his own and the planet's – has been a great inspiration to him.
Although a great admirer of Adams' fiction, Cummings believes one of the writer's greatest works was his book on endangered animals – Last Chance to See. “Lots of people have tried to approach this issue in the past but never got through to readers,” he says. “By injecting some life, fun and the dizzying changes in perspective he is known for, Adams is able to capture people's attention to this issue.”
Cummings himself tries to take a more light-hearted view of life, the universe and everything in it. He believes there is a time and place to be serious but that some things happen for a reason: “Like the onset of regulation, sometimes you just have to make the best of it.”
It is an approach Cummings has taken since his university days. An enthusiastic and adept cook, Cummings began his culinary pursuits at campus dinner parties where guests would bring one item of food and they would try and make up complete dishes: “Turkey and sausage stroganoff was one of the many favourites.”
Now, on the cusp of a regulated market, Cummings says the AMI will be sure to help brokers make the best of the situation.
He adds that there will be plenty of work to be done after M-Day. General insurance regulation is set to come into being mid-January and the EU's insurance mediation directive still has the potential to play havoc with a broker's business. The trade body is constantly working on delivering brokers tangible benefits such as best practice guides, checklists and a help desk.
But is this all that is keeping him busy? Curiously, since Aifa director Paul Smee announced his resignation Cummings says he has been fielding a lot of questions from colleagues and the press who are all asking if he will step across to fill Smee's shoes.
The director and political lobbyist's answer? “Paul has very broad shoulders and mine are still growing. I would be honoured if people thought I was up for it but there is plenty to keep me going at AMI.”
Educated: School in Yorkshire, then BA honours in philosophy and politics at Newcastle University Career: 1990: trainee consultant, then senior consultant, Mercer Fraser (now part of Marsh Consulting); 1993: marketing communications manager then head of marketing, PPP Healthcare; 1997: senior consultant, Coopers Lybrand; 1999: marketing director; 2003: director, Association of Mortgage Intermediaries Career ambition: See what's around the next corner
Life ambition: To be a successful novelist
His view on peers: “David Kenmir is the most pragmatic man in regulation, if a little un-PC at times. Walter Merricks was born to be an ombudsman.”
Heroes: Douglas Adams, Paul Smee and other people with big brains Likes: Cricket, rugby, Australian Shiraz (especially Brown Brothers), fast cars and cooking.
Dislikes: People who don't ask why. Boats.
Drives: Mazda MX5