During a period of upheaval for the mortgage industry,a certain amount of poise and grace is required. No problems there for Mortgage Intelligence managing director Sally Laker, a trained dance teacher and aspiring artist.
Despite having trained to teach ballet, Laker has spent most of her life in the mortgage business and is now at the forefront of seeing one of the biggest changes to the industry.
The major challenge for MI, according to Laker, is to ensure it is a quality network with a strong infrastructure that can deliver all that has been promised to members. She hopes that MI is able to be a one-stop-shop for all brokers to access, whatever part of the industry they are in – be it directly authorised, appointed representatives or those focusing solely on the commercial side.
The Bournemouth-based mortgage club and network was launched as a new business in 1996, when Laker joined as a sales manager. It was acquired by UK merchant banker Close Brothers Group in March 1997 and Laker became sales and marketing director.
She has been kept very busy since M-Day with lenders clarifying processes and MI staff answering members’ queries. There have been enquiries from members about lenders having different criteria on dealing with brokers. For example, some lenders require each broker to register individually online while others do not. There have also been problems with FSA numbers being accepted online. But Laker says: “These are the kind of things to be expected. After all, this is only the first week of mortgage regulation.”
But she does find it astounding that some intermediaries have only just started to realise the full impact of regulation and that they should have made a decision on their status.
“When Cemap was made compulsory, little was done to check for this qualification. There may possibly be a similar feeling that the FSA will not check intermediaries’ positions but I can assure you the FSA will be very active in visiting firms and that is when the realisation of the FSA regime will take place.”
As intermediaries continue to make decisions on their futures, Laker believes there will be a short settling period over the traditionally quiet Christmas period. But from February, next year, intermediaries will be hungry for business as well as the lenders, leading to a rush of “sexy products”, according to Laker. She says: “Once we have gone through a period of adjustment and lenders have established how their systems are working, lenders will ask where their distribution will be coming from. The landscape will show a clear definition of the market.”
That definition will inevitably encompass consolidation among the mortgage networks but what makes Laker think MI will not fall into the traps of so many networks already buckling under the financial pressures of regulation?
S he believes the network’s established business model and careful financial planning are the keys to its success. MI, which has nearly 3,000 directly authorised members on its database, spent 1.5m on IT software and its IT proposition to be ready for compliance. MI has seen considerable growth from 2000 when it secured 500m in mortgage lending. The target for 2005 is 10bn worth of completions and she thinks this year will see around 7bn.
Part of Laker’s positive attitude emanates from MI’s legacy. “Mortgage Intelligence had no baggage, no investment. Professional indemnity cover has been easy to obtain at an attractive rate with sensible excesses. Our main challenge is to deliver to brokers’ expectations.”
She predicts that there will be a lot of shifting around in the coming months as brokers become dissatisfied with their choice of network. “We are excited about the future and feel sure that there will be dissatisfied brokers after M-Day, who may have signed up to a network with easy entry and no guarantees on what it delivered a compliance package. Sadly, there will be casualties.” She is a vocal critic of the “stack ’em high” principle of some smaller networks, where numbers play a bigger part than a commitment to quality.
Mortgage Intelligence, despite its rigorous selection process has certainly been growing but Laker thinks members may still reconsider where they want to be within MI. For example, she predicts that many of the directly authorised members may decide to switch to the Vantage arm of MI as they realise the cost and burden of IT and compliance support.
Along with the confidence of financial security for 2005, Laker has a positive outlook for next year. She believes buy to let will still be strong, despite doom mongers’ predictions. “When property prices are high, people rent. As property prices fall, renters will continue to wait until they get very low, and so continue to rent. Meanwhile, landlords buy at low prices. If rates fall, it is then the opportunity to remortgage.” She says the professional landlords far outweigh the novice landlords, adding further buoyancy to the market.
She thinks the second success story of 2005 for mortgage brokers will be commercial property, believing the “mystique” surrounding commercial property is being eroded as lenders make it more accessible although she says for some brokers it will be a learning curve.
Finally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, properties abroad will also be a broker favourite as clients start to lose their unease of foreign mortgage markets. She says France, Spain, Portugal – all the golfing territories – will be popular.
She would like to escape to Hawaii with her CD player at some point but it seems as if 2005 is going to be a very busy, and successful, year. Until then, she will have to be content in her hometown of Bournemouth, although she is consoled by the fact that it has “the most fantastic beach in Britain”.
Laker is fully committed to the success of MI and says: “We feel our position is strong. Brokers, quite rightly, expect a good service as a result of paying fees and want good value for money. This is a challenge for all of us to deliver.”
Born: Bournemouth, 1956
Education: Bournemouth Grammar School, where she took her A levels.
Drives: Saab convertible
Career: Laker has always worked in the mortgage business, mainly through life companies such as Norwich Union, Royal Life and Prolific & Provincial. In 1996, she joined Mortgage Intelligence as a sales manager. In 1997, she became sales and marketing director and in 2000 became managing director.
Career ambition:”To continue to enjoy mortgages and be at the forefront of developments within the industry.”
Life ambition:To learn to paint
Likes: Melon, theatreballet, swimming and film
Dislikes: Cricket and asparagus
Hero: Eleanor Carter deaf sportswoman who in 1996 rode across the US on horseback
Favourite film:A Few Good Men
Favourite band/singer:Blue, Jamelia, Snow Patrol, Michael Bolton (the singer, not the guy from Birmingham Midshires.”). Musical influences come from her two teenage children.
Desert island essential: CD player