Celebrity status

Here we go again. Every time I prepare to do my market analysis editorial, I either read an article or watch a television programme that really gets to me.

One of these months, hopefully this year, I will tell you about how much the secured loans market has grown or how the development of our own business, with five new corporate development managers, administration staff totalling over 70 and the investment in a new 21,000 square foot head office.

But not this month. I happened to be watching Real Story the other week on BBC, where one of the lenders that we act for, First Plus, was pilloried for ‘irresponsible lending’ and also for the fact that they use the thinking man’s ideal woman, Carol Vorderman, as the face for their products.

Now correct me if I am wrong, but I always thought celebrities, when they reached a certain status, used their fame to advertise goods or services. I could list many celebrities who have advertised everything from alcohol to fast cars to dodgy razorblades and, even worse, male aftershave (remember Kevin Keegan & Henry Cooper).

Alright, before everyone starts sending e-mails, I am not comparing Carol Vorderman advertising First Plus to Kevin Keegan endorsing Brut aftershave in the 70s. What I am trying to say is that, in my opinion, it has not been Carol Vorderman that has sold the First Plus products but the company itself.

Both sides of the argument

As a person involved in the industry, maybe I am lucky that I have the knowledge of both sides of the argument when they are portrayed on TV. So, when the reporter is talking about the public being taken in by Carol Vorderman selling the products to an ‘unsuspecting’ public, I get really angry. This is when I feel that the lenders and people involved in the industry should stand up and put their side of the story across to the public.

I know that I am not writing this article directly to the public, but I think it is important that any mortgage adviser, or person who has used secured loan products in the past for their clients, should be able to answer any objections about why clients should not take a secured loan. It is for this reason that anyone interested in adding these products to their range of services should find a specialist packager/broker who will provide product knowledge training. Listed below are just a number of selling points that we use when objections are raised about First Plus financial products.

It is a subsidiary of Barclays;

First Plus’ interest rates are as competitive as high-street banks;

It uses the same rules as banks when calculating early settlement figures;

From our experience, it only accepts blue-chip clients with excellent credit ratings;

According to First Plus, it has never repossessed a house.

I can assure you I have not been recruited by the First Plus PR department, but, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am passionate about this industry and believe that since ‘Mortgage-Day’, the secured loan market has become a necessary part of the financial services industry. It is important that the people in the industry, and the public, are shown the products for what they are and when they should be used. Although secured loans are not regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) we are controlled by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) under the Consumer Credit Act (on loans up to £25,000) and there have been many improvements in recent years to make borrowing more consumer friendly.

A captive audience

It is very easy for a BBC reporter who has a captive audience to put across one side of a story and for the general public to be taken in by its side only. It only goes to prove what has always been said about this country – we love nothing better than building someone up and putting them on a pedestal and then knocking them off immediately they get to the top.

As far as I am concerned, Carol will always be the Countdown Queen and she will not influence my decision when choosing financial products. However should Brut make a comeback with Kevin Keegan, I cannot definitely say that my Issy Miyake might not be put in the bin.