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Goals for 2007

So that was 2006. By any measure, not a bad year for the mortgage industry. The housing market continued to prosper and most will be grateful that house price inflation has become rather less frantic.

Fears of a hard landing have not proved founded, exciting products have been devised to make home ownership more available and business volumes continued to grow.

The Treasury rightly recognises the value of the housing market in terms of generating consumer confidence, the Bank of England has controlled inflation while still operating historically low interest rates, lenders have responded to borrowers’ needs and advisers have willingly adopted higher standards to underpin the client confidence. These elements combine to provide the feelgood factor in the market and the industry has preserved its good reputation with consumers.

Looking forward, the prophets of doom are identifying all sorts of issues that could become obstacles and are right to do so. My response is that there will always be areas of concern and the trick that has served well over the past few years is to check out the horizon constantly to identify the risks and adjust sensibly to minimise the risk of damage.

There are concerns about the levels of consumer debt, affordability, rising inflation and interest rates. None of these are insurmountable and can be managed provided everyone keeps a cool head and continues to recognise the mutual interest to all parties of a stable and successful market.

Much of business inevitably focuses on the immediate future, with the need to produce returns to shareholders and investors and to deliver bonuses for the lucky ones. This might be right for most of the time but I would contend that for at least some of the time we need to focus on the longer term. This task is undoubtedly harder but there are areas where failure to address the long term will be damaging and probably expensive.

We are probably all familiar with the football club that buys success but more and more are now recognising the importance of developing their own talent. Perhaps we could learn from the football world, even if their best talents may have little use for our products.

Intermediary business has thrived in recent years and, for those who are interested in looking after clients and helping them achieve their life aims, there are few careers that offer a more rewarding or predictable future.

Financial services are not well regarded and fully understood by careers advisers. The sector is all too frequently perceived to be low-skill jobs in call centres or unattainable high-profile jobs in investment banking. Action is needed to build awareness of the opportunities that exist in intermediary business where there is plenty of scope for individuals to influence their own earning ability.

There has to be recognition that access to specialist knowledge represents a significant part of the role of an intermediary. There is no reason why those who are looking to build a career in the industry should not take the first steps in gaining this knowledge before they enter employment. More colleges should be encouraged to provide access to the first level of qualifications. If those in the industry today get involved in these initiatives, it will act as a clear signal that young entrants will be encouraged and welcome.

Richard Fox is chief executive of the Society of Mortgage Professionals.

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