The meaning of life

Who are you?

Assuming that this is not part of a deeper theological question on the meaning of life, I would have to say, I am Ricky Okey, managing director of the Abbey and Alliance & Leicester intermediary businesses.

What did you do at the weekend and what other hobbies do you have?

I’m currently spending most of my weekends trying to finely balance my time between spending some quality time with my family and a long standing work commitment. Both are very important to me and sadly I don’t have too much space outside of these to focus on hobbies, although I do also have a long standing commitment to my football team, Birmingham City.

What is your background and what do you feel made you suitable for your current role?

I have been in the industry now for over twenty years and although I won’t bore you with my CV, I have in the past worked in both sales and management roles for both distributors and manufacturers/providers.

Having had general management experience on both sides of the fence has been very useful in understanding the needs of both the intermediary and the lender and how to strike a balance between the two to grow the business in difficult market conditions.

How does your company support mortgage advisers?

We have continually demonstrated a commitment to the intermediary market both in the short and long term. Introducing new technology, streamlining service, offering exclusive products to the broker market and through all this we continued to lend via intermediaries during difficult market conditions and when many of our competitors did not.

Everything we do has the intermediary in the forefront of our mind. Our execution may not always be perfect, but our goal to be the best provider for intermediaries in the UK remains the key driving force behind everything we do.

How is your company moving forward in terms of merging A&L/B&B and Abbey? What should mortgage brokers know regarding this?

Operational restructures like this are never easy, but we are moving ahead as planned and we are confident that as part of our structural operating changes brokers, despite being in a difficult market, will see an overall improvement on performance in the products and service we offer, as well as our overall proposition. We are investing for the future.

What opportunities are there for brokers looking to advise on mortgages?

In a ‘vanilla’ market with a focus on prime residential mortgages, advice remains important. In a transaction that remains complex and also one of the biggest in a person’s life time, poor clients will demand great service and expert advices from their broker. As such there is still a major role to play for brokers, but they must demonstrate the “value add” that they can contribute to the transaction. This will not only help them to attract new clients but also retain the confidence of existing ones.

On that note, as part of that retention process, having been used to the phone ringing off the hook with new enquires in the not too distant past, now some brokers will have some way to go in order to “farm” their client bank to retain existing business opportunities.

Where do you think interest rates and the housing/mortgage market will go in 2009?

At the moment we are still in a phase of regular monthly falls in house prices and a low level of confidence in the market. With unemployment having risen by a monthly record 138,000 in February, this is likely to reinforce the low confidence in the near term.

But not everything is negative - mortgage rates have fallen and new buyer enquiries are rising. If the Bank of England’s view that the economy may see some signs of recovery before the end of the year turns out to be correct, then this should lead gradually to a more positive tone in terms of market activity, with more of the enquiries turning into actual new business. At present, it looks more likely that recovery, when it does occur, will be slow and gradual than strong and dynamic.

Who do you think is to blame for the recent problems in the mortgage market? Did providers, brokers and consumers get the support they needed?

I don’t think apportioning blame is helpful. Besides which everyone has a view depending upon their perspective and the personal impact. As someone once said to me…every time you point a finger at others you should remember the three pointing back at yourself!

If there was one aspect of the current market you could improve, what would it be?

To see house price deflation bottom out so that we have a baseline from which we can look forward. Market stability is crucial.

How long do you think it will be before the market recovers? Where do you think the market will be in 2012?

With the considerable uncertainties in the global economy, let alone the housing market, it is difficult to feel at all certain about the outlook for the rest of this year, let alone for 2012. The key underpinnings for the market into the medium term remain: that the desire for home ownership is strong; the extent of new home building is falling behind the pace at which new households are being formed; and economic recovery will bring rising real incomes.