"We have already seen online virtual house viewings becoming an important feature and I expect to see more innovation from lenders- specifically around green finance."
We spoke to Sam Ward, commercial director at Dudley Building Society, about the firm's return to lending and how Covid-19 will continue to affect the mortgage market into 2021 and beyond.
FR: Dudley Building Society has returned to lending following the Covid-19 crisis – how has the outbreak affected the Society and what will be different going forward?
We have been fortunate that we were able to remain fully operational throughout the crisis with very little disruption. We took the decision to temporarily withdraw from new lending for many reasons, but it enabled us to ensure we could manage the pipeline we had and divert our resources to our existing members who needed that bit of extra help through this time.
The only difference going forward is that we have less mileage on the clock! I think the industry has proven that we can all be just as productive (if not more!) working from home. I think we can all be thankful that the technology was available which enabled us to maintain our service. In some respects, we have now caught up with what technology can accomplish.
FR: Given the call for building societies to be more innovative with product design, what does the Society have to bring to the party at this point in what is an unprecedented period?
We will continue to offer a range of products that align with our strategy of serving the underserved. There is still an overreliance on blanket underwriting which relies on making customers fit into a very specific data set. With the world of work changing from a traditional template of regular or guaranteed employment to one which is more than ever affected by the cyclical nature of our economy, it is important that cases are assessed on individual merits as many consumers have been affected by previous downturns and yet are still penalised for past histories.
FR: Aside from differences in product and pricing, what would you say are the USPs that brokers find attractive about using Dudley BS?
Apart from our lending philosophy which I have outlined above, I’d like to say that it is because we really do care about our members, our partners and our Society. We will always go out of our way to ensure we can help and we offer more human interaction at the other end of the phone and we have a growing reputation for thinking things through to try and find the best possible solution.
FR: Dudley distributes exclusively through the intermediary sector. Is that strategy still viable and do brokers really appreciate your support of the adviser channel?
It’s not only viable it is vital. Advisers provide solutions for customers based on assessing the best alternative sources available from a wide range of providers. Customers going direct to a specific lender are at a disadvantage unless they have the time to assess many more lenders to reach the right solution for them. Now more than ever consumers need to be able to seek advice. On a personal level, I speak to so many people who just don’t know where to start. Ensuring they get in touch with a quality adviser means they get the right financial outcome.
FR: How has your personal role been impacted by Covid-19 and what has a typical day looked like over the past few months?
Everyone has been impacted in different ways, whether it has been working from home with children, caring for the more vulnerable or being on their own 24/7. What the past six months have allowed us is more time to reflect. For me, it has been challenging at times trying to be good at being Mum, arranging home schooling and then working effectively at the day job and it’s been mentally challenging to balance all three.
FR: How will Covid-19 continue to affect the mortgage market into 2021 and beyond?
Many are predicting that house prices will fall. Maybe they will, although there seems to be more property increasing in value than falling right now. I do however think that borrowers will spend time reconsidering their housing needs in light of the pandemic lockdown. There will be more consideration for a garden, home office or relocating away from cities and I think that lenders need to be aware of the profound changes to buying habits that will be a consequence of Covid-19.
I also believe that at the top of Board agendas will be a re-evaluation of how companies work and their thinking on whether employees need to be housed in office hubs and whether geographical flexibility needs to be embraced.
We have already seen online virtual house viewings becoming an important feature and I expect to see more innovation from lenders- specifically around green finance. I think in summary Covid-19 has been the wake-up call many of us needed to reconsider what the future will look like.
FR: Financial Reporter held 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?
The advice I give to all women is to try and remain relevant, keep developing yourself and be confident in what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to bring new ideas to the table and keep challenging old ‘norms’.
FR: If you could see one headline about the financial services in 2020, what would it be?
I’d like to think that through all of this, building societies especially have stood out and really tried to help their members and the wider community. We certainly have. It seemed to matter more – as an industry, we need to keep building on this.