The value of face-to-face contact

For an industry that continually proclaims itself to be a people business, the level of automation that mortgage providers and intermediaries have introduced to their operations is often disillusioning for clients.

Like any industry, the mortgage market has sought to automate the mundane and repetitive parts of the borrowing process to make it quicker and slicker for everyone involved. It has also introduced new channels of communication to make it more convenient for people to do business. The idea is that if access to product is easy, and the administrative processes are automated, then borrowers can lower their costs and intermediaries can spend more time where they add value – in front of the client.

Nobody for a moment believes that systems can be the complete solution for mortgage intermediaries, but where they are used effectively they can have a huge impact on the speed and effectiveness of their business.

The same is true in the world of training. Technology has delivered some wonderful benefits to those studying for and sitting professional exams and has made access to information easier that it has ever been. Individuals can access the course materials, content and research they need online and at their own convenience. There is no need to stick to strict study timetables and each learner can move at the pace that best suits their own situation.

More than absorbing facts

But learning is about more than absorbing facts. It is about being able to take information and apply it to practical situations. There is no point in an adviser knowing what the Financial Services Authority (FSA) requires in terms of disclosure, if they are not then able to put it into appropriate and effective documentation that meets those requirements. What is the point of being able to recite the philosophy behind the regulator’s ‘Treating Customers Fairly’ (TCF) initiative if advisers cannot put it into practice in the business processes they employ and the advice that they give?

A good deal of the learning that is required by mortgage intermediaries to pass the professional exams in the market requires a certain level of fact learning. But there is also a lot that requires those facts to be applied to practical situations and it is here that face-to-face teaching adds most value to the learning experience.

In the same way that brokers work best in front of their clients when there is a smooth automated administration system running in the background, teachers work best when their students have done a good deal of the donkey work for themselves. Once students have taken on the facts and theories, face-to-face teaching can bring them to life, provide a forum to discuss their various implications and an opportunity to explore and work around difficult individual situations.

Not black and white

This is one of the reasons why the masterclasses run by the Institute of Financial Services (ifs) have proved so successful. There are a number of areas of regulation that are not black and white. There is not necessarily one correct way to do things under a principle-led regulatory regime and this is nowhere better demonstrated than in the approach to TCF that the FSA is insisting on. Every broker in the mortgage market has read and heard the phrase a thousand times and more. But what does it mean in practice? How have they changed their business to accommodate for it? How does the company culture reflect the TCF initiative in essence? Where are there areas for improvement and what is in the pipeline to make the changes?

These are all questions that firms need to have answers for. The practical implications of TCF are beginning to hit home and with 18 months already clocked up on the regulatory stopwatch, there is no longer any excuse for firms not to have concrete plans in place.

While the exams set by ifs cover the implications of TCF, many firms and individual brokers still feel it is an area where they could develop a better understanding. This is why as a body we have run masterclasses on the subject with the next one taking place in September. The masterclass is aimed at senior executives to learn in a business school type environment and provides the opportunity to question industry experts at close quarters on individual business models and how the TCF initiative can be implemented not only effectively, but also profitably. If businesses are unable to make the regulations work for them on an economic level then it will not matter how well they measure up to the requirements as they will soon be out of business.

Widen understanding

Not only does such an environment generate the chance to really get an understanding of the issues involved and how they affect a particular firm, but it also makes it possible for senior management to return to their firms and widen the understanding within their own companies.

There are a number of face-to-face learning opportunities in today’s mortgage market, run by examining bodies, lenders and intermediaries alike. What is important is that brokers take advantage of what is available and hand pick a number of face-to-face days that really address their own specific problem areas and help develop their business.

Having the basic knowledge to operate in the mortgage market is the very minimum that every intermediary should have. Technology has made it possible to access and learn that information conveniently and effectively. Backing that up with face-to-face learning will help consolidate the technical knowledge in place and enable intermediaries to put it into practice with better effect.