London & Country managing director Phillip Cartwright is not too worried about making waves or ruffling feathers. In fact, when he is passionate about something and thinks he is right, he goes out of his way to do just that.
Nothing exemplifies this more than his recent attack on the market over the length of time it takes to process mortgages. L&C broke from industry convention earlier this month by guaranteeing to complete mortgages within 28 days or it will pay clients the money they lose on the transfer. It is a brave move that the industry is watching closely. Cartwright is confident it will shorten completion times and transform the market.
So far, only Alliance & Leicester has taken up his offer although talks are under way with other lenders, including Yorkshire and Nottingham building societies. Cartwright says he expected a slow uptake.
He says: “Lenders are not innovators. They are happy to jump on the bandwagon if everyone else is but they do not like being the first one on board.”
The 56-year-old has seen times like these before. In the early 90s, L&C was the first broker to offer fees-paid mortgages, where legal and transfer fees were included in the mortgage, an innovation that was similarly met with a collective raised eyebrow. But fees-paid mortgages seemed intuitive to Cartwright.
“Back then, I knew that if people went to the trouble of filling in all those forms, they wouldn't simply turn around and change their mind. People will not mess you around like that if they have gone that far and you offer them a good service.”
If you make remortgaging as easy as possible for consumers, the uptake will be much higher, says Cartwright. But when he approached potential lenders for trail, he was met with rebuttal after rebuttal.
“Like a lot of businesses at the time, lenders were wasting thousands of pounds in-fighting and being slow to market, yet they were worried about being out of pocket. It is odd to think it now but the idea was completely untenable to them.”
Cartwright went down the list of lenders and finally found one to agree to test the concept. A decade later, fees-paid mortgages are the norm. Cartwright is confident that the same thing will happen with 28-day guarantees, believing the industry is in need of a shake-up.
“Lenders come to us with products but when we say 'your rates aren't good enough', their retort is that they have very good service. The fact is that it has become a cop-out line for having bad rates. And the irony is everyone says it now.”
It is the hassle factor that Cartwright thinks L&C's 28-day guarantee, called PromptSwitch, will help resolve. In-house research suggests three-quarters of borrowers will not remortgage because it is perceived as too much hassle, even though there could be considerable financial benefits. The 28-day guarantee is Cartwright's attempt to provide a quantifiable measure, which should help allay consumers' fears.
In a throwback to last decade's fees-paid mortgage episode, and with a respectable measure of déjà vu, Cartwright is not afraid to speak his mind, taking pot shots at lenders which make it difficult for borrowers to switch loans. Phrases like “stuck in the Dark Ages” and “Dickensian lenders” flow freely as he discusses the present climate where remortgaging can take months.
He says: “Lots of lenders spend more time fighting each other than they do thinking about how to make a better product for the consumer.”
Cartwright quips that 80 per cent of the time lenders are fighting with other people in their own company. The other 20 per cent of the time they are fighting with the competition. “Widespread acceptance of features such as guarantees will go a long way towards ensuring a more consumer-driven mortgage market.”
It is clear that this is something Cartwright takes very seriously. When asked if he is worried by the possibility of missing his own deadlines and shelling out for guarantees his answer is matter of fact. “Sure, we'll have to pay out sometimes. But that is the point. We have looked long and hard at this and we are convinced that it will work for the consumer.”
You do not spend too much time with Cartwright before you realise he is an obsessive person. It seems anything he is passionate about he will follow to the nth degree. Gardening, art, football, his interests are varied. But with anything that attracts his curiosity, he does not just gloss over the surface. He dives right in with ardour and a vengeance.
Football has been a life-long obsession, starting in his school days following Bristol City. He once played semi-pro in the Southwest but never aspired to play professionally.
Along with Bristol City, tennis and cricket, recent years have seen Cartwright's interest turn to gardening. Following the theme of his life, he has not been content to potter around with petunias, his attention was caught by rare and exotic plants. But he maintains he is not a “plant snob”, finding simple pleasure in the fascination of things exotic and spending time outdoors.
He maintains that although passionate about his work, he has never worked out a career plan. In his 20s, he was not interested in a career at all – getting ahead is something Cartwright says he never consciously sought – his energy and passions was taken up more with football and enjoying life.
After drifting from accountancy to banking, he developed a knack for understanding people's needs when it came to mortgages and loans, he says.
“I was a working-class kid who simply wanted to get an office job. Coming from that background, you just don't want to stitch anyone up, so making a case for the consumer is second nature to me.”
Born: Bristol, May 1956
Lives: The village dream in Gloucestershire with his wife and daughter
Education: Bristol Grammar
Career to date: Went into the banking sector in 1979 with stints at NatWest and Britannia, where he was branch manager for several branches in the Southwest before being promoted to regional management. He joined L&C in 1992 as head of mortgages and in 1999 became a board director of Chase de Vere Investments. On the sale of Chase to the Bank of Ireland in 2000, he was appointed MD of L&C
Career ambition: To prove the L&C proposition of no-fee, good advice and value is at the forefront of the mortgage industry
Life ambition: To watch Bristol City play in the Champions League
Likes: Passionate people with no complications who care about what they are doing
Dislikes: Dishonesty, career politicians
Peers say: “He is a visionary leader, always looking forward to make sure the business is at the forefront of the mortgage market. He is enormously popular, talks to all the staff and takes a genuine interest in them and their families.”
Car: Audi A6