The AMI has been vocal recently over the approach of some lenders to the removal of brokers from panels.
This evoked surprise from those lenders because they believe their processes are robust and responsible.
In addressing this issue, the AMI has been careful to not single out any lender or group. While we were concerned by some things we had heard, we have no hard evidence that anyone has behaved less than properly.
The main driver for opening this debate is that any panel removal has a major effect on the livelihood of the individual concerned and could result in them being unable to continue in our industry. Where there is well substantiated evidence which might include fraud, there is no defence and we must ensure our industry is staffed only by good advisers who know their job and do not assist in fraud.
Larger networks have the capacity and strength to negotiate on behalf of their members. But smaller, directly authorised firms may struggle to gain access to those who make decisions within lenders and this is of concern.
Where a firm is deemed to have breached standards, an appropriate warning should be delivered to give the firm or individual the chance to learn from feedback before any decision is taken on panel removal.
Where it is deemed that fraud might have occurred, suspension pending enquiry must be appropriate.
Where fraud is proven – with the details identified by the broker – then following a review of all the facts, the firm should be removed.
But care should be exercised over customer fraud that could not reasonably be identified by the broker, perhaps due to high-quality forged documents.
However, it is critical that all lenders follow a clear process, which should include the right of appeal and have some form of independent scrutiny. Removal can be very difficult for an adviser or their firm.
Many lenders have clear procedures which they have shared with the AMI and others have been transparent by providing access to data, cases and their rationale. But some have been silent.
Our purpose has been to ensure that lenders have looked in the mirror and are certain that they are robust in their approach. We will be holding discussions with the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association to try to gain agreement on some key principles. These follow the principles of natural justice and would ensure that all firms can have confidence in the process.
We are keen that lenders should not cascade information based only on suspicion or quality issues to other lenders. Information should be passed on only where there is proven fraud and via accepted controlled systems such as National Hunter.
None of the above should preclude a firm applying for re-admission, having taken appropriate remedial steps. Given this and the commitment to further debate with Imla, we have seen good progress.
The AMI remains ready to assist member firms which believe they have not been treated fairly.
Robert Sinclair is chief executive of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries