Countrywide goes back to basics after disastrous year

Countrywide goes back to basics after disastrous year

Countrywide, the mortgage and estate agency group announced a complete change of strategy after it slumped from a £17.5m profit in 2016 to a £208m loss in 2017 and cut its dividend following a "disappointing year".

The group, whose brands include Mortgage Intelligence, Mann and John D Wood, parted company with chief executive Alison Platt earlier this year.

Chairman Peter Long, the former head of TUI Travel who became executive chairman earlier this year, said today (8 March) that after three years of financial underperformance the group was changing its strategy.

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He said that the previous strategy in sales and lettings, of operating them as a single business, had resulted in them losing significant amounts of staff and that the group is going "back to basics" to try to rebuild itself.

He added that under "industry veteran" Paul Creffield, who has been promoted internally to operations director, some staff have returned to the business.

Mr Long said: "His deep understanding of the market and operations means that we have quickly been able to identify what we need to do to begin addressing our under-performance.

"The restructuring of the group in 2015 assumed that sales and lettings was a single retail business and a retailer was recruited to lead this area.

"There was a failure to appreciate that in fact these are trading businesses, each with very different characteristics and customer bases requiring different operational expertise."

He said that other failures included denying individual managers autonomy due to excessive centralising in what should have been an "entrepreneurial" culture.

Mr Long said: "Centralisation also led to us adding substantial overheads to the group."

He added the estate agency business also confused customers with its "digital hybrid", which has now been terminated.

However, in the financial services sector, where Countrywide operates Mortgage Intelligence (MI), and recently acquired telephony business The Buy to Let Business (TBTLB) and Mortgage Bureau, business was better.

Overall mortgages completed grew from £15.7bn in 2016 to £17.7bn in 2017, and although the business suffered from a decline in buy-to-let following the stamp duty changes, other areas of the market performed well.

The group has renewed its relationship with Aviva, in order to supply customers with mortgage protection products, it said.

Countrywide shares were down nearly 20 per cent in early trading.