Michael Bolton is not a man known for his reluctance to express an opinion on anything from the future of securitisation to the comeback of the mini-skirt. Something of a character in a market beset with blandness, the “Big Bopper” (watch the man dance) has risen up the ranks with a refreshing lack of verbal restraint which has enlivened many an industry function in some of the country's drearier venues.
As the new head of mortgage marketing at Birmingham Midshires, Bolton is overseeing this week's launch into the sub-prime market of the specialist lending arm of Halifax, now under the HBOS umbrella. After only five months in the job,it is quite a challenge but Bolton is excited at the prospect and says alongside the responsibility comes status and certain day-to-day benefits.
“The attraction of this job was actually very simple – to be in charge of the mortgage proposition for the specialist lending arm of the UK's biggest mortgage group and everything that goes with that – and, of course, the bonus of getting to work for a good boss!”
For a man of only 36, Bolton has probably had more bosses than he would care to remember. After graduating from Essex University with a degree in economics, he joined LF Rothschild as a junior bond trader before switching careers to become a mortgage adviser at John Charcol in 1988. Never one to hang around, he left a year later to join what is now UCB Home Loans, the specialist lender of Nationwide, where he did “just about every sales and marketing job going”. He enjoyed it, stayed for eight years and only left in 1998 to join sub-prime lender Future Mortgages, where he became head of marketing before he got the call from Midshires.
“So far things have been good. The response to our repositioning has been very positive and it is a real boost to have the backing of a such a large organisation. The BM brand is well known already but with the HBOS name it is an easier sell than from some weird and wonderful sounding lender with little or no track record. No names mentioned of course.”
No stranger to controversy, Bolton has become a well known figure in the mortgage market partly due to his forthright views and reluctance to shy away from awkward questions. Having spent years in the sub-prime market, a sector not famed for its transparency, Bolton looks favourably on forthcoming FSA mortgage regulation as he believes the mortgage code has done little to help an industry in need of an image overhaul.
“The mortgage market is long overdue for statutory regulation – the mortgage code has failed to deliver the level of credibility that was hoped for. There are still too many grey areas which allow some elements of the market to circumnavigate the spirit – if not the letter – of a code intended to increase transparency.”
F urthermore, Bolton has little truck with those who have been highly vocal in their criticism of the new regulations, saying “it is time for the industry to get on with it” but acknowledges there are areas of the FSA's proposals where he was not in complete agreement. Generally, he thinks tougher statutory regulation will mean more business for IFAs and brokers as the shadier characters are forced out of the market.
Of more immediate concern to mortgage intermediaries will be the classic E-type Jaguar Bolton is raffling off as part of the broker roadshow he is running to publicise Midshires' launch into the sub-prime market.
Having had a spin himself, he is sad to see it go but can console himself in the vast wine cellar he has at home which creaks under the weight of over 5,000 bottles. He admits to a spot of wheeling and dealing in the wine market but fears his collection “could be under threat” at the hands of removal men when he relocates from Winchester to Shropshire over the coming weeks. By then, Midshires – sporting a facelift to boast the name of its parent – will have a good idea of whether his aim to shake up the adverse credit market is likely to succeed.
It may also be clearer what is to become of certain subsidiary companies of the merged Halifax and Bank of Scotland. In particular, there is something of an overlap between Midshires and The Mortgage Business, the specialist lending arm of Bank of Scotland.
“All I can say is that HBOS has several mortgage brands and clearly there is some limited overlapping of product ranges. However, all the brands differ in more ways than not, have different distribution channels and are very successful – the market can sustain all of them.”
Whatever the future may hold for Midshires' stablemates, Bolton's ambition remains the same – to be running the biggest and most respected specialist lender in the UK within a few years. Included in that timeframe is his aim to import the high standards of service and transparency commonplace in the mainstream market into the non-conforming sector, something that he acknowledges will be difficult but necessary. For the moment though, he is looking forward to a well earned break in Southern Italy with his wife Louise, who is expecting their first child, a girl, later in the year.
“It has been a hectic first five months with Midshires and I am looking forward to catching up with the wife. I need to,I struggle to recognise her at the moment.”
Born: February 14 1965.
Lives: In Winchester but soon to be Shropshire with wife Louise.
Education: Economics degree from Essex University.
Career: 1986/88 bond trader with LF Rothschild, 1988/89 mortgage adviser with Charcol, 1989/97 various sales and marketing positions with UCB Group/Home Loans, 1998/2001 head of marketing at Future Mortgages, 2001 head of mortgage marketing Birmingham Midshires.
Career ambition: To run the biggest specialist lender in the UK
Life ambition: “To enter the world of politics and become an MP”
Likes: Good wine, Cuban cigars, talking
Dislikes: “Bad service anywhere, compromise, fudging, inertia”
Car: BMW M5.”It's quick.”
Peers say: “His rapid rise demonstrates his understanding and knowledge of the needs of intermediaries and lenders. His influence in product design shows his ability to read a changing marketplace, which affords brokers the chance to access loans which satisfy the requirements of their clients.”