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We can’t afford to fail our clients

To be a survivor in this industry is very much about keeping fully aware of all of the things that are relevant today and those that may affect us tomorrow.

For many years, mortgages were the domain of the building societies and house ownership was about getting somewhere to live. Now, there are a great number of lenders and property is seen by many as an investment, with multi-ownership becoming ever more common.

Mortgage regulation was embraced enthusiastically by the industry and there is very little evidence that consumer interests have not been taken account of or that the regulatory regime needs strengthening.

Equity release presents a challenge but if advisers gain the requisite qualifications, they will have the knowledge and understanding to advise on these products. It is heartening to see the industry voluntarily commit to ensuring that advisers are qualified. This will ensure that the great majority of consumers will continue to be confident that the financial aspects of the transaction are in good hands.

All this sounds like great news but as always we need to have regard to the future. Customers must continue to be VIPs for all of us. Servicing their needs and meeting their expectations underscores our future reputations and well-being.

Sadly, some firms still disappoint. An FSA review of the use of disclosure documentation identified that the quality of documentation issued by some smaller lenders and intermediary firms continues to contain errors. Some failures are concerned with errors of calculation but others involve fundamental errors regarding the content of the documents.

Would it be revolutionary to suggest that two years after the requirements were known, these errors should have been corrected? To its credit, the FSA has adopted a practical approach, with Clive Briault referring to “encouraging progress” and ensuring the availability of factsheets, templates, and learning events.

Disclosure is all about helping the customer understand all aspects of the transaction. A fairly recent development has been the greater reliance by lenders on assessments of affordability. Total mortgage lending continues to rise, with more people using mortgage lending to repay an unsecured loan. Figures indicate that most new loans are at a level of five times income.

The customer needs to understand more about how that figure is calculated as being affordable. At a time of low wage inflation, expensive today remains expensive tomorrow and servicing the loan will not always be easy, particularly if the economic background becomes harsher. The Bank of England is beginning to acknowledge publicly the reliance of the UK economy on the high levels of debt being carried by households and businesses. The City is concerned at the level of bad debts that would be faced by the banks. I am more concerned that behind these numbers would lay countless examples of people facing real hardship.

I suggest we should spend more time with customers to ensure they really take on board the way in which their ability to service a loan is calculated.

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