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The flight of the first-time buyer

David Cole, marketing director of online research company CCB sets out the results of a mortgage survey which graphically illustrates how lenders are failing to hold on to FTBs by not offering new deals to existing borrowers

Homeowners in the 25-45 age category are the people who are most likely to switch mortgage providers and the likelihood of them switching increases as their income rise, according to research which was carried out last month.

The survey was conducted using the Fastmap online research tool among 4,000 consumers selected by online research company CCB to mirror the UK population’s demo- graphic profile.

Sixty-two per cent had an outstanding mortgage in October and 35 per cent had switched mortgage provider in the last three years with 30 per cent of the switchers being first-time buyers.

Unsurprisingly, first-time buyers were likely to have a lower income, with 45 per cent earning less than 20,000 and 38 per cent 20,000 to 30,000.

A third of all mortgage-holders had a non-listed mortgage supplier – an organisation not mentioned in the question-naire’s list of major providers, 16 per cent were with Halifax, 11 per cent Abbey, 6 per cent Northern Rock, 6 per cent C&G, 5 per cent Woolwich and 3 per cent Alliance & Leicester.

However, in each case, it was only the minority who had selected the same company for their mortgage as for their current account.

Only 41 per cent of Halifax current account holders had a Halifax mortgage (16 per cent share of the mortgage market) and other major providers fared even worse. Only 28 per cent of Abbey’s current account holders had an Abbey mortgage (11 per cent market share), a quarter of Alliance & Leicester (1 per cent market share) customers, 19 per cent of RBS (2 per cent market share) and 18 per cent of NatWest (3 per cent market share), illustrating that most banks are failing to promote their mort- gages successfully to their customers.

Half of the respondents who hold a mortgage with the Woolwich (5 per cent market share) had moved to the firm in the last three years.

The figures for other companies were almost as high – 47 per cent of the Cheltenham & Gloucester mortgage holders (6 per cent market share), 41 per cent of those who had mortgages with “other” providers and 32 per cent of Northern Rock borrowers (6 per cent market share).

Therefore, mortgage switchers comprise a significant chunk of total mortgage business for all providers, which is no doubt what has prompted the aggressive promotion of new customer deals over the last few years, and all mortgage providers are losing a huge amount of borrowers as they move their accounts.

However, although 71 per cent of borrowers said they expected their mortgage provider to inform them if it had a more attractive mortgage product and almost 49 per cent said they would be interested in a free service which reviewed existing mortgage arrangements, only 3 per cent of switchers had been prompted by their own mortgage provider to take up more advantageous deals.

This suggests that companies might find it more cost-effective to invest in customer information, care and satisfaction rather than generating discontent by running mass-media advertising campaigns promising great deals which specifically exclude their existing borrowers and possibly even prompt them to look elsewhere.

The current crop of bank advertising highlighting the unfairness of “new customers only” philosophy illustrates that a more customer-oriented rather than prospect-generating approach is slowly being adopted by the banking arms of financial organisations but the bulk of mortgage and credit card companies are still using the “great deals if you swap to us” proposition.

The three main reasons given by switchers for changing were – 23 per cent were attracted by competitor offers, 20 per cent reviewed their mortgage after an introductory offer ended and 13 per cent regularly reviewed their mortgage and switched when appropriate.

This indicates that mortgage companies would be wise to find ways in which to secure the loyalty of their customers before the initial offers run out, otherwise there is little to stop some customers from becoming serial mortgage switchers, chasing one good deal after another, with the mortgage companies bearing the resultant administrative costs.

In fact, although first-time buyers were significantly less likely to have switched their mortgage provider in the last three years, a proportion had learned to switch at the first opportunity, thus showing themselves to be deal-seekers. Otherwise, first-time buyers gave the same reasons as other mortgage holders for changing.

Thirty-seven per cent of borrowers admitted they did not even know whether they were on the best available mortgage rate with their current provider and 29 per cent were on a special mortgage offer which would eventually drop back to the standard rate.

Thirty-one per cent felt that buying a home and sorting the mortgage was very stressful and said that they did not have the energy to switch because it was “too much hassle” and 21 per cent felt that financial planning was a big headache and they felt they were ill-equipped to ask the right questions and were worried that they would make a fool of themselves.

Such passive responses could easily delude mortgage providers into a false sense of security, however the switch rates detailed above indicate that despite their apparent inertia, the combination of attractive, high-profile, money-saving offers and the promise of no-hassle, no-cost moves, is prompting more than a tenth of mortgage holders to move each year.


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