"There’s been a lot written about the difficulties the self-employed, for example, are currently having, but there are others for whom the environment has undoubtedly changed over the past year."
We spoke to John Wileman, BDM for the East of England at mortgage and protection network, Stonebridge, about the role of BDMs during the pandemic and why he thinks other product areas should get a 'fair crack of the whip'.
FR: There has been a lot of talk about the role of BDMs during the pandemic, and how might it change going forward. What are your views?
I am the Stonebridge BDM for the East of England, supporting firms and advisers from Derby to Boston, and Nottingham up into Yorkshire, so it’s a fair distance to cover in any normal time.
Prior to the pandemic not many of us had ever heard of Teams or Zoom, but now video conferencing has become a way of life both personally and in business. Personally, I think this is fantastic as it shows just how well we can adapt. And, if you were to ask me if I’d rather be doing Zoom calls or travelling in the car for hours on end, it’s the Zoom calls without question.
Communication has never been so important though as it has been over the last 12 months. For me it’s been about ensuring I seek to understand first, as it’s all too common that people will assume, make a decision or provide support without understanding the full situation. And it’s also about trying to be resilient - if the pandemic has taught us anything it’s to adapt and be resilient.
FR: What do advisers get out of you as a BDM?
A big part of my role is recruitment and supporting advisers and firms in terms of where they want to go next in their careers or their businesses. Having an ability to listen, rather than just hear, is very important. It helps me to really understand what is important to advisers and businesses which is vital in order to add value with the appropriate support.
On top of that, I work a lot with our existing firms on coaching or highlighting other ways in which they might want to develop their business. That’s something I take a huge amount of satisfaction in, and to get appreciative feedback following those sessions is fantastic.
FR: What are the major challenges within the mortgage market at the moment?
For advisers, I think there are a number, particularly in terms of ensuring different types of clients can get the mortgage finance they need. There’s been a lot written about the difficulties the self-employed, for example, are currently having, but there are others for whom the environment has undoubtedly changed over the past year.
In that sense, we’re looking for far greater levels of confidence from lenders in those areas, which I appreciate is tough, because they are not quite sure how the economy might land, particularly when furlough comes to an end.
That said, the market would benefit from a return to high LTV lending and it would certainly appreciate a greater level of flexibility and understanding around furlough incomes and furlough-friendly lending.
As always, the other major challenge is around running a successful business and making sure you’re in the best place possible to do that. The benefits of a network during the last year I think have been shown ten-fold; having that bigger organisation which can provide support, resource and help, I think has been really appreciated by our AR firms.
Finally, I think we have to make sure that other product areas get a fair crack of the whip. It’s true that protection/GI, etc, all suffer when the mortgage market is booming. Someone recently asked me if mortgage and family protection are still important, and I was slight shocked because it’s perhaps more important now than it’s ever been. That message doesn’t often get through to clients and it definitely needs to.
FR: How have you found lockdown? Has there been anything specific that you could not have done without?
It would be a cliché to say Malbec, but it’s partly true. Having said that, on a more serious note, my family and friends have been hugely important. Taking time each day to reflect and clear your head, be it walking our dogs or just spending time together as a family has been vital. We need to remember as parents, this is time we would have never had with our children, even when home schooling is a chore. We have to accept that with the challenges of the pandemic, there will be good days and not so good days but remembering what is really important is vital.
FR: What do you see yourself doing next?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a traffic policeman, so I tend not to look too far ahead. In the mortgage market I’ve been an adviser, manager and underwriter, but I think this is the most rewarding role I’ve had. I’m definitely happy where I am, and I think there are a large number of advisers and firm owners who will continue to need both my help and that of Stonebridge. It seems to me that having an umbrella over you, can allow you to grow quickly and significantly, and so it’s going to be my job to help plenty more do this.