Broker Focus: Mike Brown, director, Crystal Clear Financial Services

Please describe your firm in a few sentences

We are a small mortgage and protection firm based in Guildford. We deal with a significant number of first-time buyers and self-employed clients, with both categories becoming increasingly specialist.

Everyone in the team has one objective: to make things happen, with the ultimate aim of making a real difference to real people. We spend a lot of time educating our clients and bringing them on the journey with us.

What led you to become a broker?

I have worked in financial services for more than 20 years, starting off with a life company, and about 11 years ago, a friend of mine suggested going self-employed. With that, the leap from a great employed role to the world of self-employment was taken. This was about six weeks before the credit crunch hit hard.

It has been the hardest thing I have ever done, but dogged determination has got the business to where it is today. Our focus has remained the same throughout the past 10 years of Crystal Clear, but our knowledge and capability improve day by day. As they say, every day is a school day!

What are the biggest issues facing you as a broker?

Regulation will always be an issue, but we have the support from our network, so for our business, this part is assisted well
by them.

The other big issue is keeping up to date with technological developments, particularly with the onset of APIs.
If we get the value-add right with our clients, then even with the arrival of disruptor businesses to the market, brokers like ourselves will push through and succeed.

What one thing could lenders do to improve brokers’ lives
the most?

The elephant in the room as far as I am concerned is the valuation process, particularly on remortgages with the free valuation, but not exclusively with remortgages. The system is broken.

Everyone acknowledges this, but only the lenders can work this through to a different outcome.

Fundamentally, where there is a down valuation, the comparisons are not available to challenge, and surveyors are not going to overturn the decision in most cases as too many of these could see them struck off-panel. Therefore, the metrics of appeal do not work. I appreciate that lenders need
to protect themselves with the security of the property, but we have had down valuations which were clearly wrong. One lender told me that they do not have an appeals process as the surveyors are professionals. I am not doubting that, but we are all human and we all make mistakes.

There needs to be new thinking, even if it is a different set of appeal metrics or for the clients to pay for a different valuation service, as this would save clients, brokers and lenders time and money.

What plans do you have for the future of your firm?

We have a number of key plans for the next few years. First, with an increasing number of lenders offering retirement interest-only products, I believe a firm should have the equity release permissions to be able to give a full overview and most appropriate outcome for the client, so gaining this qualification is essential.

The next area is the understanding and development of the next generation, more commonly known as millennials, and how they interact with organisations like us. We have implemented WhatsApp for business and look forward to live chat, and educating new clients on the benefits of using a professional adviser.

Our third objective is for all advisers in the firm to reach Level 4. While it is not mandatory at the moment, further studying and qualifications can only help to build credibility, knowledge and, ultimately, client satisfaction.

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