Tipped to do wellThe mortgage market in 2005 will be flatter and lenders will become more competitive in an aggressive and tougher year although some who will do better than others, say mortgage brokers.Mortgages plc could double its market share due to its acquisition by Merrill Lynch in October 2004. One broker says: “They will catapult themselves into the market and make some serious noises in the non-conforming sector.” Intermediaries say Portman Building Society will be one to watch as its sharpens its fixed rates. The appointment of Michael Bolton as head of intermediary business at the Halifax is an encouraging sign that could boost the lender in the post M-Day world. Need to do moreIntermediaries agree that Abbey will be the giant, with most questions to answer after its takeover by Banco central Santander. One intermediary says: “It is a big retail acquisition. It will take a long time for it to settle. We probably will not see anything interesting until the third or fourth quarter of the year.” The Woolwich’s service issues are hard for intermediaries to erase from their memory but it is working on systems and brokers will want to see clear improvements before faith is fully restored. The year will bring a general election and a series of promises on pensions, property and taxes from all three parties. Industry figures expect to see a high-level argy-bargy over the state pension and all parties are looking at policies targeting first-time buyers – a guaranteed vote stealer. We can expect to see policies on shared equity participation and new forms of right to buy. But Chancellor Gordon Brown’s pre-Budget speech gives little promise of stamp duty changes. The Conservatives intend to unveil plans to cut regulation, with MP Richard Spring revealing how the FSA could be slimmed down and red tape cut. Former Treasury Financial Secretary Ruth Kelly has shot to the top of the Labour tree with her new role at education but Stephen Timms looks unlikely to play such a dynamic role although financial inclusion is one of the East Ham MP’s pet subjects. The Tories have backed Kelly’s child trust funds but the Liberal Democrats say if elected they would scrap the initiative. If the election comes in May, the first vouchers will have already been sent out so any plans to scrap CTFs could go down very badly ahead of the polls. Tipped to do wellThe top three providers – Friends Provident, Legal & General and Norwich Union – will continue to dominate protection while the sale of critical-illness insurance will continue successfully in a regulated environment, say brokers. The jury is still out on Axa and Royal Liver although IFAs say they are optimistic about the two companies, with intermediaries particularly keen to see what other products Axa introduces onto its menu. Need to do moreAdvisers say Prudential, Standard Life, Bright Grey and Scottish Widows all could take a step up towards joining the big three this year if they can build on existing strategies. Advisers will watch Bright Grey’s launch of its online system in the first quarter. Widows needs to look at its online offering and has signalled its interest with the appointment of Nick Kirwan. Firms will need to focus on four areas – products, pricing, distribution and service – if they hope to take the market by storm.