The crisis will end, and the market will return to an element of normal, however that looks.
Cloe Atkinson is managing director of Mortgage Engine
Market commentators had pointed to 2020 as the year we could start to see technology truly influence change in the sector.
If there is one positive we can take from the past month, it is how quickly businesses in the mortgage sector have used technology to adapt in response to the coronavirus crisis.
We have seen lenders and intermediaries adopt new digital tools at speed, enabling their teams to successfully work from home and continue supporting their customers.
While the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has effectively led to a temporary ‘closure’ for the property market, headlines across the national press are only telling one side of the story – many businesses are working extremely hard and have made big, successful changes to help secure their footing.
The fast and widespread adoption of technology in the market exemplifies this, and some areas of the market are already starting to steady – remortgage completions have reportedly returned to ‘benchmark levels’, according to LMS, for example. For a sector so often regarded as slow to innovate, this does at least suggest there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the market post-crisis.
Many brokers met the first lockdown challenge – keeping their businesses moving while working remotely – head on, making greater use of video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams to stay connected.
House sales have understandable seen a slow-down, but as aforementioned there is still a customer demand for broker support with remortgages and product transfers. Digital communication tools have played a role in helping replace face-to-face consultations with customers here, too.
Lenders have seen unprecedented increases in calls or requests for support from their customer service teams during the crisis. This challenge has been compounded by the fact many employees have been off sick or have needed to self-isolate. Technology has helped ease the strain here.
At a more basic level, we have seen lenders focus their efforts on updating their websites with important information or even creating digital application forms for mortgage payment holidays.
Some larger lenders with more advanced capabilities have encouraged customers to use their chatbot facilities. These are often powered by AI and provide personalised services.
We have also seen examples of some lenders expanding their use of digital and automated valuation tools – historically the preserve of remortgage and lower LTV cases.
Technology will never replace human professionals in this market, but recent times have shown how it can support them, improve their service offerings and boost efficiency across a business.
It will drive fundamental changes to various processes in the market. If there is one thing we have learnt from this time of crisis, it is how much businesses can achieve by embracing technology in the face of a challenge.
The days of tech-adverse businesses in the sector are surely behind us: those who have not invested in technology yet will be playing ‘catch-up’ with those that have and come out all the stronger for it.
We can and should find reasons for optimism in the way the market has responded to COVID-19. The way businesses have changed their approaches to using digital is a shining example.
The crisis will end, and the market will return to an element of normal, however that looks. Every business involved in that new normal will have embraced digital tools during the crisis.
And it is highly likely they will be more open to exploring technological innovations in the future.