Long Read  

Is it the end for online mortgage brokers?

Is it the end for online mortgage brokers?
Habito announced proposals to cut their broker team by more than a dozen employees. (Habito)

Approximately 70 per cent of all UK residential mortgages are advised sales.

From first-time buyers seeking help to understand their finances, understand the home-buying process and to qualify for new build purchases, to those customers with more complex specialist lending needs, the demand for mortgage advice is constant.

The question facing broker firms is how should the advice be provisioned? Can the adoption of technology and changing customer behaviour (brought in by the Covid-19 pandemic) disrupt the traditional broker model, making it more affordable while improving profit margins?

In a recent move that could be construed to throw doubt on the online broker model, Habito announced proposals to cut their broker team by more than a dozen employees.

Does this indicate the online broker model is flawed, or could other factors be in play? The answer is likely to be a combination of factors, some specific to Habito, others of a much more general market consideration.

Looking at Habito itself, the model did rely on a high-profile marketing campaign and paying basic salaries well above the industry average, so cost cutting when the market turns is probably to be expected.

Market-wide factors

Added to this, one should also consider the targeting of the advertising campaigns, which were loud and aimed at a younger audience. An audience that in the cities, for instance, are not necessarily interested in getting on to the property ladder – a worrying trend for developers who insist on flooding our cities with luxury flats, but that is a story for another day.  

At a recent roundtable I attended, a common theme amongst wealth and mortgage professionals was how millennials are more concerned around living their lives than attempting to build up the large deposits required to then saddle themselves with long term debt – an interesting divergence from the traditional views we have held since the Thatcher governments of the 1980s. 

We should not underestimate the impact of this on a business model that could be perceived to be targeting youth as a disruptor.

More central to the pressure on advice are the market-wide factors we see creating a slowdown in the mortgage market. Evidenced by the reduction in mortgage approvals.  

Our market, which is consistently challenging for first-time buyers, has seen prices rise by approximately 30 per cent in the past five years and is now suffering from wider economic headwinds.

An energy crisis, crippling rates of inflation, political uncertainty, rising interest rates, and wage growth lagging behind inflation – it is no wonder the fear of prolonged recession looms large, so seeing people become more focused on protecting their lifestyle rather than extending themselves is to be expected.

Tech investment 

So what can brokers do to help? The engagement they have with their customers must change. It needs to provide more efficient support, provide facilities to help customers control their finances and to reduce friction and costs in the application process. This is where the use of technology can help.