60 seconds with...

Maria Harris, Director of Retail Mortgages, Atom Bank

As a new lender, what factors influenced the decision to make Atom Bank's mortgages intermediary-only? 

Being intermediary only was an important choice for us.  Our entire proposition is based on being open, transparent and always doing the right thing for the customer so when it comes to something as important as a mortgage, we believe that customers should have access to the very best advice available.  For us, this means giving the customer access to independent, whole of market advice and we saw intermediary as the best way to deliver this but we also saw a way we could shake up the sales and originations process using the technology that our bank is built on.  We’re a digital bank which means we’re only available to customers via an app.  This gives us lots of benefits in terms of being able to offer biometric security, real-time decisions and updates, personalised branding and intuitive customer experience but the intermediary market didn’t feel quite ready for this level of technology yet so we’ve taken the best of both worlds to create a unique broker and customer mortgage journey.  

At the Leaders Forum, you'll discussing the impact of digital technology in the sector - do you think robo-advice will become the norm in the near future? 

I don’t think there can be a norm.  Every customer has different needs and wants to engage with their intermediary or lender in the way that best suits their needs in that moment.  Some customers will always want face to face relationships, others love having everything on their mobile device.  From facetime to webchat to instant messenger and self-service, communication channels have changed so robo-advice offers another channel which gives customers choice.  For me, more choice is a good thing for the customer.  The more options we can give customers to engage with us, the more likely they are to get involved in discussing their finances and making better choices.  If robo-advice can make the process easier or attract a new group of customers to the mortgage market, then it will become part of the norm.

Aside from tech disruption, what do you feel are the major challenges facing the sector, and what can brokers do to overcome these? 

At the risk of sounding clichéd, the biggest challenge in our sector continues to be housing supply and demand.  We’ve had so many initiatives to try and tackle the housing shortage but every year we come up short, but it’s not just the volumes of houses being built, it’s the quality and types of housing which are available.  People’s lives, expectations and tastes have changed so much in the last couple of decades but our housing strategy hasn’t kept pace.  There’s still a lack of affordable houses for first time buyers in certain parts of the country, a lack of homemovers to free up the stock in the middle, and with people living longer and having very different lifestyles in later life, we’re now seeing a bigger issue with last time movers.  When you add all these together, we don’t seem to have a cohesive housing policy that covers the full housing chain.  Brokers can help by educating customers as much as they can on how to manage their finances well, protect their credit score and by making them aware of all the different home ownership options which are available.