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Need for speed

Poor service from lenders because of the booming housing market is one of the biggest frustrations brokers say they face but Bristol & West claims it has tackled the problem and turned itself around.

New figures from the Bank of Ireland subsidiary, which offers a range of buy-to-let, self-certification and flexible loans, show it can process 40 per cent more cases within 15 days compared with the same time last year.

It claims that 76 per cent of applications are completed within that threshold and it is looking at cutting the time still further.

Head of marketing Dominic Toller says: “We were a victim of our success and our service was not what it could have been for a couple of years. We now look at our volumes carefully and control them through pricing, criteria and communication. We are aware of seasonal fluctuations and we make sure we do not take too much on.”

B&W can now offer decisions in principle within three minutes after introducing online approval a couple of months ago. This is down from a waiting time of at least 24 hours.

New technology also means that 80 per cent of calls are answered in 10 seconds compared with 13 per cent of calls a year ago. Another initiative to improve service is the recent introduction of credit scoring which means that 30 per cent of applications now get an instant decision.

By using credit scoring, B&W says it is ensuring that consistent and reliable decisions are made but it is keen to emphasise that all referrals are still looked at by specially trained underwriters.

Toller says: “We try to be flexible and have loads of people who look at cases and we do not rely 100 per cent on credit scoring. We are trying to offer surety of decision and total flexibility which can work against each other.”

But opinion is mixed among the intermediary market about how much these changes have achieved.

Packager Sentinel&#39s mortgage manager Steve Evans says: “The service has imp-roved mainly down to the online AIP systems which imp-roves turn-round time. Previously, we did have some problems with turn-round and offers not being particularly brilliant.”

But people have long memories and one IFA says he is reluctant to use B&W because of previous problems with delays, sometimes so bad, he says, that he was forced to take cases away from B&W and start from scratch with rival lenders.

In May, B&W launched its Advantage Club, which is open to intermediaries who do at least two cases a month.

Benefits of joining the club include priority application processing for a quicker service, dedicated contacts, direct acc-ess to underwriters, exclusive products, better procuration fees and training.

Toller says: “We are not simply targeting massive brokers with the club but we are trying to get regional brokers from all over the country in areas like Cornwall rather than just London and the South-east.”

With economists predicting that interest rates are unlikely to rise in the short term, B&W is confident it can cope with even bigger volumes of business and is introducing more competitive fixed rates.

Toller says: “Lower inflation rates and market rates falling a lot mean we are unlikely to get a Bank base rate increase in August so we are in the middle of relaunching new lower fixed rates.”

B&W says it is a £3bn to £4bn a year lender, with roughly 40 per cent of its total lending being standard mortgages, 30 per cent buy to let, 20 per cent self-certification and 10 per cent adverse lending.

Although still confident about the future of the buy-to-let market, it admits there is apprehension among borrowers, partly because of negative media coverage warning of falling yields and an oversupply of rental properties.

B&W recently doubled the number of properties borrowers can have in their portfolio to 10 and doubled the maximum value of the total investment to £1m.

New products are being set up later in the year and two of the areas being looked at are equity release and loans over 100 per cent although Toller says it is too early to say what the new offer will be.

B&W says it benefits from being part of a big financial services group but Toller is keen to emphasise that BoI&#39s IFA brands Chase de Vere and MX Financial Solutions are never biased in favour of its products.

BoI has grown through acquisition and Toller says it has not stopped looking for more takeover targets

With the recent problems faced by rival Abbey National, the UK&#39s second-biggest mortgage lender, analysts have identified this as a possible target which would make BoI a formidable player in the market

It seems that, unlike some lenders, B&W has been willing to admit that its service has been far from perfect and has done something about it to prove its dedication to brokers.

If it can keep intermediaries happy during this boom time, it will have proved its strategy is working.

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