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Survival instincts

When Home of Choice chief executive officer Gerry O’Brien invited me to become a non-executive director last year, I not only needed to do due diligence but also to under-stand the issues they faced and be satisfied that my executive experience (with Thinc, Bradford & Bingley and Merrill Lynch) would be of value to HoC.

My research confirmed that the challenges facing them and other networks were considerable. The credit crunch was gathering momentum and mortgage sales were rapidly declining. However, not all mortgage networks were the same and in terminal decline as some commentators asserted. Rather, they could be divided into two broad categories – those who recognised the need to change and adapt and those who believed the downturn would be short-lived and that there was no need to do anything except cut overheads.

Networks with the ability to be honest with themselves had real opportunities to make changes to their proposition to benefit clients and ensure their future viability.

Realists know the recovery will be gradual and that the mortgage market will not return to where it was. The number of lenders, the types and features of products will be different and so networks need to adapt. The following checklist is a summary of what I believe networks need to do to improve their likelihood of survival and future success:

  • Adapt or die. There has to be a sense of realism and an acceptance of the need for rapid changes to survive, let alone prosper. Some networks which focused exclusively on taking cost without also reviewing and adapting their business model have failed. Transacting mort-gages solely or predominantly is not a solution or one that provides any sort of firm foundation.

  • The client first. TCF should be central. How can improvements be made in the products and services offered and also their delivery?

  • Do more of what you already do well. Most mortgage networks also transact life insurance protection and general insurance. However, penetration rates vary widely. Those networks which have focused on providing training for advisers to help them iden-tify client needs and require-ments more effectively have increased levels of business.

  • Provide only other relevant services. Networks need to focus on providing services for clients that they demon-strably need.

  • Proactive management that listens. Networks not only owe their success to having the right proposition but also to management teams that initiate and deliver change. This comes from continuous dialogue with the advisers. Some management teams only react to events as they unfold.

  • Investing for and in the future. Networks need to invest in infrastructure, be it IT, people or services, to implement their ideas.

    Networks which focus on the client, servicing the needs of their members and accept the need for continuous review along with change and improvement have every chance of not only survival but success.

    Roderic Rennison is a non-executive director of Home of Choice Group roderic.rennison @homeofchoice.co.uk

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