Three things struck me at the recent Money Marketing awards dinner. First, the Rolling Stones wrote some truly iconic music that cannot be easily imitated. Second, after-dinner speaking to IFAs is nothing less than a mental assault course if your material has not been updated. And third, predicting award winners is an impossible task.
Take Standard Life, voted Company of the Year. I wonder whether its policyholders can fathom why. If the capital-adequacy debacle was not enough, policyholders are now being asked to self-administer salt into their wounds by voting on demutualisation. This is the company that campaigned so vigorously against carpetbaggers David Stonebanks and Fred Wollard at a time when its value was around £20m. It is now worth arguably a third of that.
Paradoxically, all this comes at a time when its mortgage conduit, Standard Life Bank, continues to fly high. Whether rumours of a retail high-street proposition can be substantiated or its stated ambition to swell its mortgage book to £12bn within a year is realistic or not, its challenge to some presently complacent competitors is welcome.
Another award winner was Nationwide, for many years the irritant of many brokers for refusing to pay procuration fees. Its stubbornness has now abated and it enjoys excellent relations with brokers while having maintained its competitiveness on pricing. The fact that it is one of the few lenders which does not engage in dual-pricing may also have swayed the judges at a time when Professor Miles' recommendations are fresh in the memory.
BM Solutions picked up another two gold bars for its advertising ingenuity. I always felt the red postbox phenomenom, while innovative in its design, was more prolific because of the potency and timing of its launch rather than its message. That said, the recent collage of “We're never satisfied” pieces is inspirational.
Finally, London & Country must be ecstatic at being voted Best Mortgage IFA. The firm has a strong telephone-orientated dynamic, is informative and market-leading in its product matrix and is skillfully positioned with the media by David Hollingworth. But whether perennial runner-up Charcol shares my belief that a clearly-defined peer group for L&C exists is debatable.
Conspicuous by its absence in this group was Savills Private Finance which, in view of recent events at Charcol, is now possibly the industry's powerhouse. Its latest product prototype is a hotel room buy-to-let scheme. The spectre of terrorism and its potentially catastrophic impact on hotel occupancy levels may render this a leper product for lenders. But it is a novel concept and has one mischievous consequence – next year we may all be checking into the Grosvenor in the knowledge that our £250a-night rooms are swelling Savills' £2m bottom line.
Kevin Duffy is managing director at Hamptons International Mortgages