"Competition is strong in the marketplace, not just with advisers but customers looking at different routes. "
We spoke to Jessica Szczelkun, sales and relationship director at SortRefer, about how to tackle uncertainty in the housing market and the benefits of creating a better work-life balance.
FR: As sales and relationship director at SortRefer, what does your role involve and what does a typical day look like?
No two days are ever the same, which keeps me busy. I look after the key partners and manage our team of five regional account managers who are based out on the road and I also head up the relationship team, which sees me liaising with all our panel providers alongside Laura, Kate and Andy. Building good relationships is vital in our industry and is something we pride ourselves on.
I am also involved in product development at SortRefer. My unique set of skills allows me the benefit of seeing the industry from all angles and come up with solutions which suits both parties. We strive to continuously evolve and provide cost effective, relevant products to benefit the advisers and their clients.
FR: You have quite an unusual CV – you’re a trained solicitor and have also been a mortgage broker – how do these skills come in useful for your role at SortRefer?
Our industry is renowned for being disjointed, especially in the past, although it is getting better, slowly but surely. Moving house has always been highly emotive and everyone involved is trying to get that client to their end goal. Sometimes (and it is the exception not the rule) cases can become tricky, having the benefit of being able to see the issue from all angles certainly helps to bring issues a quick resolution.
At SortRefer, we essentially act as the middleman between our panel of conveyancers and advisers. Being able to marry up the different parts of the process with some inside knowledge allows me to understand the pain points, allowing the business to create bespoke, relevant solutions.
FR: What are the biggest issues facing advisers in the current economic environment and what should they be aware of when dealing with clients?
There are quite a few issues facing our industry currently, some more historic and some more recent.
The housing industry will always be up and down, but we’ve seen more uncertainty than ever before in the recent years, following the ongoing Brexit conversations.
Thankfully, as this has now been dealt with, we are starting to see the marketplace gain buoyancy, with confidence increasing in customers looking to buy and sell. What is concerning is whether this is a knee jerk to the announcement or whether the market is genuinely getting stronger. Only time will tell.
Competition is strong in the marketplace, not just with advisers but customers looking at different routes. When winning a client being able to offer a range of services, such as conveyancing referrals, GI and protection will provide the customer with an all rounded service, peace of mind and additional income. This in turn should prove useful in the ongoing customer retention.
I am concerned that as we see the marketplace settle, we may be faced with an issue on the other end of the scale where we see a surge in house buying which the legal world may struggle with. Recruitment in this industry can be tough and training takes time. We have already reviewed our strategy and are ready for increased instructions.
FR: Why should advisers get involved in conveyancing?
It is a necessary part of the house buying, selling and remortgaging processes. Brokers are always involved, whether by choice or default.
The question is, how much involvement have they had in terms of recommending, are they getting remunerated for their referral and if there were issues, could they have got involved to help to rectify?
I think that most brokers are involved, and I would advise them to look for a source they can trust, that allows them the opportunity to track the progress of the case and a source with a reliable support system in place.
FR: Financial Reporter is holding its third Women’s Recognition Awards this year - what changes would you still like to see in the industry and what advice would you give to someone starting out in financial services?
I would like to see more flexibility across the board. Work-life balance can often be difficult overall in our industry as advisers have always typically worked long hours, including evenings and weekends. Incorporating family life into this can be difficult. There is more work involved now, more than ever with compliance and administration. If we set up enough infrastructure and support to give everyone – just not just women, more of a work-life balance, I think that would be beneficial to the whole industry and would in turn encourage more people to it.
FR: If you could see one headline about financial services in 2020, what would it be?
'Stamp duty simplified'.