Lenders must focus on improving service levels during the 'return to work'

Rory Joseph and Sebastian Murphy | JLM Mortgage Services
17th September 2021
Sebastian Murphy Rory Murphy JLM
"If lenders get this wrong then the repercussions – particularly in terms of service levels – will clearly impact on the subsequent service, and advice, we can give to clients."

The start of September hasn’t just been a ‘Back to School’ period but for many employees and employers it has also been about going ‘Back to Office’.

Of course, not everyone or every firm is doing this or has even introduced it yet. Many continue to have the vast majority of staff working remotely/from home and this looks like it will be the way for many months to come.

This ‘return to work’ however partial does open up a potentially tricky conversation and situation for many firms. Lenders, for instance.

Previously, this wouldn’t have been a conversation at all – we suspect very few lenders had anyone truly working from home for the majority of their working week. Perhaps BDMs but this was by necessity rather than design, and we suspect some lender management types were not overly enamoured of this approach.

However, now this can’t be shied away from. Clearly lenders have continued to lend throughout the pandemic period – although let’s be clear service levels at some have been nothing short of shocking, and still are – and it has been shown to have ‘worked’. But, now what?

Employees are in the box seat and, as mentioned, whereas this previously wasn’t even a conversation to be had, now it’s going to be a really important part of both existing staff working practices and recruitment. And it’s not going to be a simple process either because of the multi-faceted roles and responsibilities that come within a lending organisation.

So, what does it mean for the adviser and the client? Well, if lenders get this wrong then the repercussions – particularly in terms of service levels – will clearly impact on the subsequent service, and advice, we can give to clients.

Don’t get us wrong – some lenders’ service levels have been abject in both a pre-Covid and Covid scenario. It didn’t seem to matter whether they had staff at head office, or working from home, their ability to process the business, answer enquiries, deal with advisers and clients, always seemed to be compromised.

Therefore, the fact that some of these lenders may have more staff working back in an office environment, for more of the week, still doesn’t fill us with confidence about their ability to process cases and to work with advisers in a timely manner.

However, there is clearly a line to be drawn here for others and getting it wrong will hurt many stakeholders. For instance, we’re sure that every lender will want to move forward with staff and take some of the benefits that working from home has brought.

It was clear for many years, prior to the pandemic, that large numbers of employers were completely inflexible when it came to working arrangements, believing that unless staff were in an office environment then they couldn’t be trusted to do their jobs and subsequently productivity rates would plummet.

The “I bet you’re sitting around watching This Morning in your pants” mentality permeated through management and now that certainly shouldn’t be the case. If anything, for some employees, their productivity levels would have increased considerably because of their ability to work from home.

Of course, they might not wish to do it all the time, but not having a commute or not being waylaid in a thousand different ways – as they might have done in an office environment – has helped them to reach levels that some employers would not have thought possible. A huge positive that you’d want to keep on embracing.

And there lies the challenge for any employer, not just lenders: how do you work with employees to ensure they get the most out of the work/life balance they want, that they are allowed to work from home were appropriate and for the right amount of time, and the business also secures all the benefits it can from the right approach for the right employee?

It’s a tricky one and it may not sit comfortably with some businesses, particularly a lender business, for example, which has different requirements for different roles.

If you’re a compliance manager, for example, how appropriate is it for you to be working from home for the majority of time? Might you need to be in the office to deal with the paperwork, or is everything now available online so you don’t need to be?

Similarly, for lender administration staff/those answering queries, etc, can this be done wholly from home if that’s what the employee wants to do, or do they need to be in the office at least some of the time?

Take BDMs, for example. It has always seemed slightly bizarre that BDMs from all over the country would often be required to be in head office for a certain number of days each month. Surely, they are better suited to be out on the road? And, if they are required for meetings, well now we have Zoom/Teams to take care of this.

Each individual and each individual role they carry out might well require a different conclusion to be reached. That’s a tricky ask potentially when you also want to provide everyone with equal opportunity. Navigating this successfully, particularly for lenders, is crucial – we need the vast majority of lenders to get it right so their service can improve.

Covid has been an excuse they have relied on for poor service over the last 18 months. At the outset it was understandable; now it is not. Advisers will continue to vote with their feet and we suspect employees will as well, if lenders can’t find a happy medium which delivers for all.


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