The Conveyancing Association (“CA”) should be applauded for releasing its strategic aims, targeted at improving the overall conveyancing and wider home moving experience. Whilst a few organisations have been looking into this for some time and have already made good inroads, it’s nice to see the CA put its muscle and collective intellectual resource together, to deliver better all-round outcomes for customers.
We have, however, seen similar industry led initiatives seemingly fail over the last couple of decades. For example, over a decade ago the mortgage industry was on a path towards establishing a common trading platform for mortgage applications. Whilst this initiative ended up with a split amongst lenders and eventually fizzled out, it could credibly be argued that this initial push was a genuine catalyst for market change, at a time when fax machines and post ruled the world.
I distinctly remember Halifax not long after this, launching its electronic mortgage submission technology, with the lofty aim of achieving 90% or more of its intermedediary mortgages online within a finite short period. Many in the industry chortled at the level of ambition. For those that were close to this at the time, you will remember that Halifax succeeded with its objective, dragging other lenders with it.
There are two key things we can take from this;
Firstly, those that embrace change and aim high, are typically able to create genuine competitive advantage through becoming first mover. Whilst those that follow can fine tune and perfect what they follow with, a first mover on a level like this usually is remembered for being the first to run through what feels like a brick wall, and often benefits from disproportionate upside. In this example, Halifax more than likely benefitted from increased interest rate margin, through intermediaries being happy with slightly higher mortgage rates, because the process was so much better that everyone else’s.
Secondly, at the right time with the right technology, anything within reason is possible. As a sector, we simply cannot afford to stand still, ever.
The conveyancing sector, in my personal view, sometimes gets a bad press. Of course, there are very good exponents of conveyancing as well as the opposite. However, many in this sector have already made major changes in how conveyancing is transacted, improving technology, processes and completing cases more cheaply. This should be both recognised and applauded.
The real prize here is finding a way to create such a good overall process where price becomes less of a focus. As a Group ULS thrives through providing third parties and customers a high level of choice and price competition and we have seen a marked shift towards a strong desire for best service.
This is something I think we can and should all tap into.
I have seen first hand how talent has slowly been removed from parallel sectors such as surveying for example – when was the last time you met someone who mentioned they wanted to become a residential surveyor?
Some of this is due to the continual downward pressure on pricing, sometimes led by the major lending institutions, sometimes also by other players competing to win new business from competitors solely on price.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with this and customers stand to gain, I’d argue that in the medium to longer term this is not the case.
What the industry needs is a shift towards who can provide the best service, technology and communication for customers. This could create a shift away from downward price pressure, and this is much needed to enable firms to invest more deeply into their technology, compliance and people – ensuring that customers receive the best protection and service whilst making a major lifetime move.
Lenders often say they want best service or choice for their customers, but in reality procurement teams typically win the day by squeezing another pound from a new or existing provider.
The bravest and most forward thinking lenders are now shifting focus towards how they might pay a bit more to get a lot more, namely a significant reduction in the turnaround of their mortgage completions. At ULS we are now participating in some really encouraging discussions where it feels as though some are shifting much more towards customer outcomes and Net Promoter Scores, less so price.
For those that succeed, they will have looked more at their strategic value (of the entire mortgage process) and less at individual silos.
Whilst the conveyancing silo may not deliver immediate cost savings, overall value will have been created through increased lending market share and quicker turnaround of mortgage cases.
We will continue to push this theme, whilst ensuring we still have the ability to be the cheapest if we really have to.
Success for the CA initiative could be for us all to look back in five years time and see if this initiative was a genuine catalyst for change, and one that saw a real industry wide push to optimise the conveyancing experience.
If it was, and the result was happier customers, mortgage lenders and stronger conveyancing firms, I think we would all be delighted.
At ULS we will continue our investment in technology to ensure we become one of the market leaders pursuing the same objective as the CA and its members.
We wish the CA every success and look forward to working with our many business partners to explore the art of the possible, and become a genuine catalyst for change, at what feels like exactly the right time.