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Phone home

Guy Anker looks at Halifax’s moves towards mortgages by mobiles.

Halifax has taken its first steps to allowing brokers to submit applications via pocket computers such as BlackBerry devices.

It has made its intermediary website available on PDAs and says the move is just the first phase in a new technology drive which it hopes will end in full application capability via handheld devices.

The initiative has been welcomed by brokers, who stress that any move that helps improve speed and accessibility is one they will support.

However, the sector has questioned how far such technology can go, particularly whether it would be possible to submit what can be complicated nonconforming cases in such a fashion. This has led some experts to claim it would only be suitable for the mainstream prime market.

There is also the issue over whether brokers will want to spend a few minutes typing on a mobile device as many say it is a difficult process on such a small gadget.

Halifax Intermediaries managing director Jack Saxton says: “The PDA version of the site comes in response to feedback from intermediaries and forms part of our ongoing pledge to make it easier to do business with us.”

The lender’s spokeswoman Carol Wright adds: “Applications are not possible at the moment but we will be looking to see if this is poss-ible in the future. If you are on the road and you get a call you can get a quick indication of what products are available with the system.”

Intermediaries can now access Halifax’s affordability calculator, lending criteria information and search for products.

Hamptons Mortgages managing director Kevin Duffy says: “We are very supportive of that. HBOS has been at the forefront of most technological advances so I am not surprised it has made this move.”

Purely Mortgages chief executive Mark Chilton says: “It is an interesting development as anything that speeds things up has to be a good thing. Lenders have to think ahead at what will change regarding technology so they have to allow their systems to move with the times.

“The only problem with moving it a step forward to application is that it does not get to the route of sourcing. But if the client had the key facts illustration and wants to go ahead with an application then it could be useful. It could also be too complicated for non-conforming cases as it may only be possible to put in basic details on an application.”

Another issue with full applications has been raised by Edeus chief executive Alan Cleary, who says that keyboards on mobile devices are too small to comfortably type on for long periods.

However, a BlackBerry spokeswoman says that 70 per cent of its seven million business customers worldwide use their devices for applications other than email, adding that in the US, many firms use their BlackBerry devices to fill in forms particularly to acknowledge receipt of deliveries, which means typing for a few minutes.

Cleary says that Edeus is likely to launch a website similar to Halifax’s next year and plans to move towards full applications later on, but only if mobile technology has moved on enough to make keyboards easier to use.

GMAC-RFC is another lender that has pledged to launch a PDA-friendly website. Marketing director Jeff Knights says: “The Halifax initiative is a great one and something we would look to do some time this year to give intermediaries and packagers flexibility, so it can be done in a client’s home or even a cafe. At the moment, you can take your laptop out with wireless technology but handheld devices can be put in your pocket. As technology expands at such a pace, lenders need to look out for it as Blackberry devices and mobile phones could change to incorporatemuch more.

“At the moment, application processes are possible but it is difficult to type it on a BlackBerry. In the future, I predict people will get instant offers on phones and Blackberrys with the way technology is moving. The question is how, so we will have to wait and see. Who would have predicted five years ago that the mortgage market would have instant offers? Lenders and brokers have to keep pace with the changes.”

GMAC was the first lender to pioneer instant offers last September, with Edeus and BM Solutions following suit shortly after. GMAC chairman Stephen Knight has even suggested that brokers could one day submit applications via their iPods – a point also previously raised by Cleary.

The Edeus chief says that in a few years, people will have one device that will act as a phone, PDA, iPod – and something brokers can use to submit applications.

One lender that has been at the forefront of technological advances over the past few years, Kensington Mortgages, is more cautious about Halifax’s recent announcement, though accepts that it could be a useful tool in mainstream prime cases.

Kensington marketing director Ian Giles says: “Halifax has the scale in mainstream prime where if you can strip out costs, even just 10 per case, it would be worth millions. We are working on our technology for case tracking but areas like instant offers are more important to us than this.

“For us in the specialist sector, an underwriter needs to look at the case. There are elements of processes like yes and no answers that you can give on such a device in the mainstream market but with the specialist sector there are a lot of maybes that need to be processed by a human being, and if they were done on a computer, let alone on a BlackBerry, it would too often be a case of ‘the computer says no’.”

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