I speak to brokers on a regular basis and it helps me to understand the challenges which they and their clients face. Recently, I’ve noticed that some feel downbeat about the future and are wondering whether the current economic and political climate is grinding our industry to a halt. While I understand their caution and anxiety, I also think there are a number of indicators which suggest that there is no need to panic right now.
Reasons for optimism
There is a lot of interesting data available which reveals that things might not be as bad as the headlines make out. In March, the news outlined that the economy staged an unexpected fightback. Although most economists had forecast that growth was out for the count, January revealed that manufacturing and retail sales growth recovered from a weaker end to 2018.
The Office for National Statistics reported that monthly GDP growth jumped to 0.5% in January, the biggest rise since December 2016, and was a reversal of the 0.4% drop in the final month of 2018. Economists have now started to predict a stronger growth in the first quarter1. The Chief Economist at PwC had this to say about the latest figures:
“There are no signs yet that uncertainty over Brexit has pushed the economy as a whole into recession. If an orderly Brexit can be achieved, then the economy should pick up speed again in the second half of this year.”
The latest mortgage trends
So how is the mortgage industry faring as Westminster battles to reach some sort of agreement? UK Finance reported positive news at the end of 2018. In November, there were 36,200 new first-time buyer mortgages completed, 6% up on the previous year. With £6bn of new lending in the month, annual lending was up 9%2.
In January, FT Adviser3 quoted figures from the Equity Release Council which suggested that the market would reach the £4bn mark in 2018, up from £3.06bn in 2017. This made it the fifth record-breaking year in a row. According to a poll of 100 advisers in the same article, 86% expect the value of the equity release market to increase further in 2019.
It would be wrong to proclaim blindly that there is no reason to be cautious in the face of positive indicators. However, it’s also wrong to suggest that the latest political and economic uncertainty is currently grinding everything to the total standstill that many feared.
We all know what uncertainty does to business and consumer spending decisions. But is there a way through all this so that we can thrive and help to give consumers confidence in their decisions? Can brokers and mortgage providers help? Ikujiro Nonaka is a Japanese organisational theorist and in 2008 the Wall Street Journal listed him as one of the people most influential on business thinking. He famously had this to say about uncertainty:
“In an economy where the only certainty is uncertainty, the one sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge.”
Advisers and mortgage providers have to be able to adapt and evolve in an environment where certainty is likely to be scarce for the foreseeable future. However, if all areas of the industry can continue to be a trusted partner to those looking to move home, build a new house or develop their portfolio of buy-to-let properties then the causes of pessimism can be reduced.
The change in people’s attitudes and behaviour over the last five years has been remarkable as the country adapts to austerity and Brexit. Who would have thought that people would feel comfortable taking out a mortgage which would run into their retirement? Could anyone have predicted that people would be taking out a mortgage with income from several different sources when some of those income streams were on fixed term contracts?
I think there is still room to be positive if lenders can be flexible and anticipate new trends in the market. At Saffron, we launched our ‘Lending into Retirement’ product precisely because of the growing demand from people in their 50s. We have developed a process to make sure we can analyse, create and adapt products rapidly as we move through uncertain times.
We believe that brokers can also continue to thrive as their experience and knowledge will become an invaluable commodity. People with complex income will value a broker’s ability more than ever if they are under pressure and short of time. And, to repeat the wise words of Ikujiro Nonaka, ‘the one sure source of lasting competitive advantage is knowledge.’