"I’d encourage brokers to open the door to more lenders": Claire Askham, Buckinghamshire BS

We spoke to Buckinghamshire Building Society’s head of mortgage sales, Claire Askham, about how lenders can keep the market moving amid current challenges, and the role of the broker within that.

Related topics:  In The Spotlight,  Mortgages
Rozi Jones | Editor, Barcadia Media Limited
21st June 2024
Claire Askham Buckinghamshire
"Lenders withdrawing rates at short notice is not helping brokers as it means they are sometimes having to do the job a number of times. What we really need is some stability on rates to rebuild consumer confidence."

FR: Please tell us a bit about your background and your current role.

I started out as a secured loan payout adviser for First National Bank when it was part of Abbey National Bank and then went to work for a secured loan brokerage on their prime team. When the market disappeared overnight, I got an opportunity at Legal & General Mortgage Club setting up their mortgage support services team. This was followed by sales leadership roles at Metro Bank and Vida Homeloans, where I was working when Covid hit. After that, I was fortunate to secure a key account manager role for Buckinghamshire Building Society where I worked my way back up. I’m now head of mortgage sales, overseeing anything to do with mortgages. My career history has given me a really good understanding of all areas of our industry and brought me to this point.

FR: What do you feel the current challenges are in this market?

There are a number of challenges at the moment such as lack of properties becoming available, uncertainty over rates and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Also, lenders withdrawing rates at short notice is not helping brokers as it means they are sometimes having to do the job a number of times. What we really need is some stability on rates to rebuild consumer confidence.

FR: What is the role of the lender in overcoming these challenges?

Lenders need to look at the part they can play to keep the market moving. This includes reviewing their approach to applications of the quirkier nature, because having a couple of issues does not make a poor case. We need to look at how we can support people with different needs.

We have completed a thorough review of the Buckinghamshire Building Society product range, with the aim of making mortgages more accessible for more clients. This has focused on adjusting criteria, reducing product fees or launching new features where necessary for people who currently feel excluded from homeownership, or at risk of losing a home, because of the situation they are in.

As a smaller building society, we are able to combine this innovative approach to products with a manual approach to underwriting, where each case is assessed on individual circumstances.

On a personal level, one of the best lessons I have learned in my career so far is that if something doesn’t feel right on a case, then more than likely, it isn’t. If you look at a case and feel you would lend them your own money, then it’s one to push for.

FR: Can you give some examples of your more accessible product ranges?

We have launched a new three-year fixed rate Impaired Credit Mortgage which is aimed at clients who are looking to get their finances back on track following credit issues and is available on a maximum LTV of 70% including fees.

With these products, the underwriter has the discretion to decide what we can and can’t work with when it comes to things like defaults, missed payments, CCJs, IVA and bankruptcy.

We’ve also been doing a lot of work around first-time buyers as we know they are finding it harder than ever to get a foot on the property ladder, both in terms of raising a despoit and affordability. Our new JBSP Deposit Lite mortgage provides a solution to both of those challenges, in one product from one lender. Low to no deposit options enable borrowers to purchase their first home by leveraging equity from parental property for the deposit. Then up to two parents can join the borrower on the mortgage to assist with affordability.

In addition, we recently bolstered our prime residential and buy-to-let product ranges with the introduction of two new five-year fixed rate products up to 90% and 80% respectively.

FR: How important is your relationship with brokers?

Our relationship with brokers is super important and we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs without them. The value of a good broker is in their advice, and this is needed more than ever. When I started, business completed via intermediaries was around the 70% mark – it’s now 90%, which shows just how valuable they are.

Despite the many challenges the market has been through, brokers always embrace them and adapt. I’m not sure any other industry is as resilient. It’s also the brokers who give us that vital information we need to make sure our products reflect the needs of today’s buyers.

Brokers know to turn to us when they have a case that mainstream lenders perhaps aren’t keen on, but our bespoke, manual underwriting approach also relies on the relationship the broker has built with their client. We benefit from the trust between broker and client to ensure we are receiving the open and honest information we need to be able to assess each case individually.

FR: What can brokers do to maximise business this year?

I’d encourage brokers to open the door to more lenders. Smaller building societies have so many niches that a sourcing system simply can’t detail. So if a key account manager knocks on your door, open it and let them in. How many applicants are out there who feel they can’t get a mortgage due to their situation, when there often is someone who can help them? By working with more specialist lenders, brokers will be opening themselves up to more business.

FR: Finally, what keeps you busy when you’re not at work?

I’ve just got my first puppy, Brody, so he is keeping me busy, walking and playing with him. Family is also very important to me and I enjoy spending time with my hubby and seeing my two nieces who live in Cornwall. My mum has dementia, so I also try and make the most of precious time with her. Going out on my bike helps me clear my mind and reset my focus.

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