NatWest is making a concerted bid to win a bigger share of the intermediary market with the launch of its first self-cert mortgage which will initially only be available through IFAs and mortgage brokers.
The move this month builds on its new intermediary branding launched early last year, with a private detective theme of Your Mortgage Cases Solved designed to illustrate that it can deal with even the most unusual applications and queries.
NatWest has also doubled the size of its intermediary relationship management team in the past 12 months to 65 and restructured its service teams to ensure it has people dedicated to working with brokers with experience in that area.
It believes its decision to focus more on IFAs has worked well and head of intermediary sales Dave Broadhead is in bullish mood about its recent achievements.
Broadhead says: “Last year was the best year ever. We grew our intermediary business by 60 per cent while the average growth in the market was about 30 per cent.”
This year, the big event for NatWest to date is the launch of its self-cert mortgage range which it believes is the sort of product that intermediaries are looking for. NatWest says it is one of the first major high-street banks to cater for the UK's three million self-employed whose income cannot be easily verified and who struggle to get a mortgage.
Intermediaries can also offer the product to employed clients and interest rates start at 4.65 per cent with a maximum loan to value up to 85 per cent.
NatWest says one of the main benefits of self-cert for clients is the ability to cut the number of days it takes for applications to reach completion as they go through its system more quickly.
Broadhead says: “A large percentage of our customers are self-employed, as are a lot of intermediaries' clients. It is not just that self-employed people will have difficulty verifying their income but a lot of them just do not have the time to go through a detailed application process as they need to get on with running their own businesses.”
The bank says it is giving intermediaries the first bite at the self-cert cherry as it has found that a lot of self-employed people rely on IFAs so it makes sense to target them first.
Broadhead says: “We are keen to give strong commitment to the financial adviser community.”
It has plans to launch self-cert products through its branch network in mid to late February in the next stage of the rollout.
Another change that NatWest has made recently is to alter the criteria on its buy-to-let range – another popular area for IFAs.
It has increased the number of buy-to-let properties allowed in one portfolio from four to five, removed the need for a buy-to-let borrower to have a minimum salary and introduced interest-only loans.
Broadhead says: “We have also made it simpler for people who are not commercial investors but have one or two buy-to-let properties.”
NatWest's next project is to improve its technology and electronic commerce facilities for intermediaries through its own website and as part of the lender consortium which has equity stakes in trading platform and sourcing system Mortgage Brain.
In the second quarter of this year, it will offer online agreements in principle and then plans to introduce online applications on its own website before offering them through Mortgage Brain.
Broadhead says it has no regrets about investing in Mortgage Brain in favour of rivals in the market such as Trigold.
He says: “The intent is to develop a trading platform everyone and anyone can use and Mortgage Brain had the right market share. Its link with Mortgage 2000 to develop a common trading platform makes it a good proposition in terms of distribution.”
Broadhead also feels the consortium, including Alliance & Leicester, the HBoS group, Nationwide, Northern Rock, Royal Bank of Scotland and Woolwich, is working well and the technology is developing as planned.
But, tactfully, he does not discount Trigold altogether claiming it is better to have competition from a rival with a reasonable market share.
But NatWest says it has no immediate plans to offer AIPs and online applications through Trigold and will, at least initially, restrict this service to intermediaries signed-up to Mortgage Brain.
Broadhead also welcomes competition within the Royal Bank of Scotland group, of which NatWest is a part, and says the banks are run as two separate lenders and will continue to be differentiated brands both for intermediaries and consumers.
He is confident of the outlook this year both for NatWest and the housing market in general. “The market is still buoyant and the lack of housing stock will keep demand high,” he says.