Ten years ago, if you ordered something to arrive in the post, you would happily wait 28 days for its delivery, Now, you expect it the next day.
Now more parts of the mortgage chain are moving online, there is pressure on lenders and brokers to keep up and ensure their part of the mortgage process has a quick turn-round.
Lenders such as Mortgage Express and Alliance & Leicester have recently announced new initiatives and this is something the industry can expect to see more of.
BM Solutions went online two years ago and this side of the business grew fairly rapidly, accounting for half of our business within three or four months. Now the figure is more than 90 per cent of the 18 or 19 billion applications that we get each year.
In October last year, we launched our online decision process so brokers can instantly see if customers have been accepted for a product.
It makes the sale process much easier for intermediaries and the customer can go away knowing if their application has been accepted. The system has proved to be an inspired use of technology and a great marketing tool.
Moving all parts of the housebuying process online will help integrate processes. The increasing amount of data available from credit reference agencies has meant that lenders are much better placed to make decisions without the need for traditional paper references that can make the process time-consuming.
Traditionally, when mortgage applications used to come in on paper, we would then send the details to a surveyor in the post. Now with online applications, the information can be sent automatically to a member of our valuation team. In some instances, customers get a call about the valuation when they are still sitting in the broker's office.
Hopefully, in time, instructing solicitors and conveyancing online will be the norm and speed the process up even further but at present, online capabilities in these areas are a couple of years behind other parts of the mortgage chain.
BM Solutions has already launched an online conveyancing service in partnership with some of the leading conveyancers in the UK and no doubt others will follow suit.
It will be interesting to see how quickly people accept the services offered to them and the benefits they provide. Will, at some point, people be able to do their own legal searches online? Personally, I would want someone who knows what they are looking for but it depends whether customers chose the advice or non-advice route. The key thing with an online offering is to empower people with choices.
But there will inevitably be some downfalls to a completely online housebuying process. A lot of people are still not comfortable using a PC and the mortgage industry should not alienate this sector of the community.
But this is slowly changing. Five years ago, people were reluctant to do any financial shopping online and that is certainly not the case now. I do not think there will ever be a time when a good online service will replace good advice but it can add value to the whole process and it is imperative that online information and face-to-face advice should work in partnership.
Every lender now offers some form of online service ranging from Intelligent Finance, which has an excellent customer site, to lenders such as the Halifax and Alliance & Leicester which cater more for the broker market.
It is essential that sites are available 24 hours a day as you never know when a busy broker might want to put a case through at 3am. In addition, companies such as esure are moving into the online conveyancing arena and websites such as homecheck.co.uk allow buyers to get an environmental report of the area they are moving to.
Consumer websites such as charcolonline.co.uk and moneyextra.co.uk give borrowers the ability to compare, apply for, and transact their mortgages online. These sites are good for people who are comfortable with mortgage products and provide an excellent service for people who understand the market and know what they want. They are an essential part of the non-advice route.
However, there are still a lot of people for whom face-to-face advice is best because they do not understand the different products, what impact interest rate rises will have or know which mortgage is right for them.
In the future, it is going to be very difficult for lenders which do not embrace online process to continue to show the same growth as they have done in the past.
The way that society is going means that the online side of things will become more and more important. More people are getting broadband and home computers and will want to work this way. Getting to grips with technology is especially important in the broker market and an FSA-regulated environment means there is more documentation to be produced and kept.
In time, the online process will move another step forward where all aspects of the case including valuations, conveyancing, credit-checking, and cross-selling all happen in real time while the adviser is sitting with their client.
Estate agents and property portals such as asserthome. co.uk provide online tours of properties and allow buyers to tailor their search to certain types of property in defined areas. Those that fail to embrace the online culture may simply fade away.
The key message is that having more of the mortgage process online is an empowering tool and helps people get the best out of systems. It is not a solution to everything but it is, without a doubt, the way ahead.