I’ve decided to write about the real costs of advice to consumers, to dispel some of the myths and preconceptions.
As a forward, I thought I’d explain my misconceptions prior to getting involved in financial services sometime back in 2005.
A few years earlier price comparison websites had appeared in the market launching with the message that they “cut out the middleman” and offered better value to the customer by removing their “margin” on the deal.
So before I started working in mortgages I believed that a broker was someone who took a product, added their percentage on top and sold it on.
Since working in the industry though, I have realised there is a myriad of similar misconceptions floating around.
Some people think the arrangement fees on a mortgage deal are to pay the broker.
Some are convinced the lender will offer a better rate direct.
But are any of those assumptions even remotely based on reality?
Let’s start with the idea that middlemen just add margin onto a products price.
I’m a keen photographer and if you share my interest you might well be familiar with the absolutely awesome Sony a7 range.
I won’t waste your time taking you on a photography lesson. But I will show you what you already know.
This picture above is from the Sony UK website for an A7 with kit lens showing a retail price of £1509.00 today on 08-06-2018.
Now we have the same camera and lens on sale with a “middleman” called Jessops and it is, after cashback 50% of the list price on the same day.
Sony’s own retail shops are selling the body only for the same price Jessops offer with the kit lens and the lens is upwards of £400 on its own.
In short buying direct from the manufacturer could cost you twice as much.
But you already know this. You already know that the idea of middlemen adding cost to everything is a fallacy.
Distributors in every industry will often have superior deals. We all see this every day.
Most of us have seen Trivago girl a million times telling us how they compare all the different prices for thousands of hotels daily, but does anyone really think you would get the best deal by phoning the hotel?
So how does pricing in the mortgage industry really work? And how much does our advice cost you?
Lenders whose products are the same through every channel.
Some lenders offer the same range of deals through every channel and have made promises to the market to never do what we call dual pricing.
This means whoever you go to be it direct to the lender, or any broker the deals available will always be the same.
Examples of this are Barclays and Coventry Building Society but there are many others.
For these lenders, if the broker offers you a fee-free service the lender is paying the cost of our commission.
You need to be aware though, that we might recommend a product based on best value for money, and another adviser might just recommend the lowest rate.
You need to discuss with both parties to work out why two different deals might have been recommended.
But if you have access to all the same deals through both, then you cannot be paying the cost of advice unless the advisor is charging an additional fee.
And this should not be confused with a product booking or arrangement fee.
Lenders will usually release multiple rates at the same loan to value.
Some with a lower rate, and an arrangement fee (often around £999) and other deals with no arrangement fees and slightly higher rates.
This is just offering deals to appeal to different customers with different sized loans and has nothing to do with the broker.
You can see in the example below Natwest offering various two-year fixes with different fees and cash backs.
And the best value product for each customer would depend on their loan amount, term, whether it was a repayment mortgage, and whether they would have to add the fee to the loan.
Lenders who do offer different prices and product ranges.
Other lenders like Natwest, for example, do offer different ranges direct at times to those they offer through brokers.
So, the assumption is that using us is going to be more expensive, right?
For various reasons lenders might offer much cheaper products via a broker than they do direct. As counter-intuitive as this may seem.
Below are two more screenshots from February this year.
Disclaimer – These rates and products were available in Feb 2018 but are used for example purposes only and are no longer available.
The first is from our sourcing system showing deals available with NatWest at 90% loan to value.
The product highlighted in black with yellow text and the product in blue text are both exclusive rates offered through various mortgage clubs for brokers at the time.
And then below are all the deals NatWest were offering to customers via their website at the same time.
Notice that our exclusive 2-year fixed was 0.5% cheaper than their direct deal, despite the lender paying us a commission of around 0.32% (the total is actually more as some will go to the mortgage club too).
So why on earth would the lender offer deals through brokers that in total cost them more than 0.82% in profits against their direct business?
You have to think about what we actually do because the lender would have to do all the same work.
That’s a professional adviser spending several hours on the phone to each customer. Hours spent processing documents, completing application forms, preparing compliance files and suitability reports.
They need the staff to cover this in a seasonal industry, so they would then have little to do half of the year. Those staff members go onto their pension scheme and pay national insurance and tax on their incomes.
They need to cover professional indemnity risks, telecoms cost, office space, computers, training, and development, staff turnover, and recruitment.
And then there is the fact that the broker market is also an advertising channel and comparative to paid advertising.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we will always have better deals with every lender. Often there will be little or no difference at all.
On occasion, their direct deals might be better.
Sometimes we will offer something a lot cheaper with the same lender. Other times our deals might not be as good.
Basically, there is no way to guarantee you get the best deal.
So the question really becomes one of time, stress, convenience and quality of service.
Do we end up pursuing the “best deal” when the cost of doing so outweighs the benefits?
I think the answer here comes down to the differences between using a broker and going direct.
In my view, with a good broker, you are going to be every bit as likely to get the best possible deal as you would be searching the market yourself with the difference being you don’t have to go through the hassle of doing that.
You’re also more likely to be protected from significant pitfalls.
I am going to follow this article with some others, one which highlights a life insurance provider whose contractual terms are so poor in comparison to their rivals I cannot justify recommending them and another one about the possible pitfalls of not taking advice.
Each article highlights how self-advising without a professional level of knowledge about implications like taxation, and different contractual terms could see you buy a cheap deal that incurs huge additional costs amounting to tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds over a lifetime.
Now we don’t want to scaremonger or imply that these risks apply to every transaction, but the point is to highlight the real benefits of advice that extend far beyond simply getting a good deal or better service and that even if that occasionally costs you more, it’s probably a cost worth paying for.
So make sure to come back and check out those articles over the next few weeks.