Association of Mortgage Intermediaries director Robert Sinclair prides himself on having experienced the “sharp end” of both banking and advising, which he says holds him in good stead to head the mortgage adviser trade body.
Sinclair dreamed of being a pole vaulter in his youth and became British University pole vault champion, even beating future Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson, but injury and sickness forced him to find an alternative career, which turned out to be banking.
He started learning the trade of a lending banker at Midland Bank. Sinclair says it was an exciting time moving staff from the “Captain Mainwaring” model of banking to one that was retail and consumer-led. “It broadened my horizons and made me think differently and is probably why I can do some of the things I do today. We had to stop thinking in a straight line back then and being in a trade body, you have to be flexible and adaptable.”
Some of his first tasks involved working on several “chunky special projects”, such as a ground-breaking on-the-road scheme to train bank staff.
“We put six big trucks on the road and visited all the Midland branches, taking the staff out of the branches and into training programmes on the trucks.”
He has remained passionate about education within the lending industry throughout his career.
“Organisations are not keen on developing people outside of certain confines because they do not want to lose them but I believe if you give people open, transferable skills, they become better. It also gives them some passionate interest in what they do.”
Sinclair had various roles in Midland Bank, including managing a “sizable” discretionary mortgage lending authority. He eventually wound up working in HSBC’s private banking arm, where he experienced the advice side of financial services. For him, this move seemed a natural progression.
“It is all about sitting down with customers, analysing what help they need and then working out a solution. Whether it is a borrowing solution, a business banking or a personal investment solution, it is all about finding the solution that fits their needs.”
He says one reason there is a perceived gulf between advisers and providers is a lack of communication.
“At the start of the marketing process, you are looking at the need and then developing the product but what tends to happen is they drop the product into the market and people see it as just a product, not as a solution to an issue. People are not talking to each other. How often do the marketing guys talk to the sales guys? Or how often do they talk to the intermediaries? There is a disconnect.”
Sinclair eventually moved to Abbey and helped train its staff in the run-up to M-Day. After regulation began, he moved to oversee the quality of advice processes of Abbey staff, where at times he found the balance between quality systems and cost-cutting difficult.
“I was trying to move them more towards the process of advice but banks are still very customer-centric, so making that work in a way that is advice-driven is quite hard. This certainly created some robust debate with the sales-side of the business.”
This led Sinclair to a role at the Association of Independent Financial Advisers as director general of the Association of Finance Brokers. Following the credit crunch and the mortgage downturn, the trade body restructured and Sinclair moved to the AMI but still heads AFB as well as working for Aifa.
“If you went back five years, Aifa and AMI would have been two different beasts but now the largest intermediary is Sesame Bankhall, which is as much a mortgage firm as it is an IFA, and Openwork and Intrinsic are both mortgage and investment companies. The fact that you are giving advice gives a common thread to the bodies.”
Sinclair says much of the work done by AMI and Aifa is to try to maintain the relationships between various sections of the business. The organisations have to represent the interests of different types and sizes of intermediaries and also act as go-betweens to help bridge the gap between provider and adviser. Recent clashes over dual-pricing strained the relations between lenders and mortgage brokers but Sinclair is keen to stress they are working towards a common goal.
“We tend to see the big banks as monoliths but they are not, they have a lot of strands to them. The people who work on the intermediary side of those banks are passionate about servicing intermediaries. They do not come to work thinking how to protect the branches, they come in thinking how to give IFAs a better deal. We are on the same side.”
Sinclair also rubbishes any talk of the biggest lenders leaving intermediary lending. “If they wanted to kill off the intermediary they would have done it by now, they would not have waited this long to do it quietly. If they wanted to find a way to lend more through their branches, they would have.”
As well as bringing together the providers and the advisers, Sinclair says AMI and Aifa must also make sure the biggest and the smallest intermediaries are properly represented and protected.
“The thing that is vibrant about this industry is that people get into it because they do not want to sit in a bank and follow a straight-line process. They want to be able to look at a broad market, sit down with customers and do what they do well. They also want to do a job in their own way in their own time.
“It is important we understand that vast mix in the mortgage industry and make sure it prospers. That is what we are here for.”
Born: Edinburgh, 1956
Education: George Heriot’s School; Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh: BA (Hons) Business Organisation; Fellow of Chartered Institute of Bankers
Career: 2008-present: director, Association of Mortgage Intermediaries and Association of Independent Financial Advisers; 2006-08: director, Association of Finance Brokers; 2003-06: head of advice development, Abbey; 2000-03: regional manager, Inscape Investments: 1985-2000: branch manager, corporate banking manager, audit manager and senior private banking manager, HSBC (formerly Midland Bank)
Likes: Concerts, sport and beating my son at pool
Dislikes: Drug-taking in sport, motorway middle-lane men, ex-wives
Drives: Mercedes SLK 280
Book: Credo by Melvin Bragg
Film: Casino Royale
Album: Rokstarr by Taio Cruz
Career ambition: To make a difference and be passionate about what I do
Life ambition: To stay healthy
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A full-time athletics coach and wine taster