Conveyancer-lender communication “limited in the extreme” – claim

You will hopefully have seen some of the results from our 2022 survey of conveyancing firms looking at their lender interactions, relationships, and communication channels.

Each year, we ask conveyancers to give their assessment and rate how easy or otherwise it is to deal with lenders, specifically focusing on seven areas: the time they spend on hold getting through to the lender’s mortgage centre; the lenders’ response times to post-offer queries; the consistency in those responses; the response time for issuing redemption figures and the mortgage offer itself; the clarity of the mortgage instructions; and the actions of the lender in following up on registrations.

Our lender survey focused on 10 specific lenders – HSBC, Habito, Barclays, Woolwich, Birmingham Midshires, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Santander, Halifax and Nationwide – and if representatives from those lenders want to discuss their individual research results, then we’d be more than happy to do so.

In fact, you would go so far to say that it’s absolutely necessary if we want to improve the process, and specifically in order to provide feedback around the pinch points and where they can be avoided.

So, as a first up, it would be great to engage with both policy and valuation staff at all lenders, and it would be our aim to hold a series of workshops and working groups with of course, lenders and conveyancers, and preferably valuers as well.

This, just to point out, isn’t about playing the blame game here. It’s not about being picky or vindictive, or pointing the finger. It’s really about greater levels of collaboration and communication to identify the reasons and what each stakeholder can contribute to avoid the delays and wasted resources they inevitably result in. The provision of constructive feedback via our survey results and the experience of our member firms can help us all.

We have to be honest here and say communication between conveyancers and lenders is not always what we would want it to be. It’s notable, for example, that there is a whole industry of people working for lenders who communicate with mortgage advisers. We have regional sales directors, regional sales managers, BDMs, external telephone teams, underwriters, etc., plus Live Chat options and a plethora of email and telephone options. And, even with all of that, you still have a situation where mortgage advisers are currently bemoaning the level of communication they have with lenders.

For conveyancers, we have none of the above, and there are obvious reasons for that in terms of us not selling the lenders’ products. However, without conveyancers, nothing completed and no one gets the finance they need, or indeed, gets paid.

Upping that communication resource just seems like common sense. As one of our members pointed out recently, the channels for communication between conveyancer and lender are limited in the extreme. He had difficulty finding an email address for someone working at a lender in order to contact them and was told instead to send a fax asking what that email was.

We, of course, have the lender portals which are meant to smooth the process between conveyancer and lender, but as was also pointed out following our survey, it is rare to have case-specific communications issued via the portals. Indeed, one of the questions often raised by firms is why you have to communicate in different ways to different lenders via the same lender portal? Surely the benefit of a portal is the consistency of communication it could/should provide?

Asked what one specific change would make the single biggest difference in speeding up the post-mortgage offer process, almost half of all our respondents answered “communication via the portal”, because at the moment that is not the way that “communication” happens, resulting in the ongoing delays we have all experienced.

This is absolutely not to say that conveyancers don’t see the value in the lender portals. Far from it. They are hugely positive: the survey asked conveyancers if they felt the lender portal systems added any benefits to the conveyancers’ experience in dealing with lenders, and over 80% said “yes”, which means that adding a greater element of communication via the portals is going to go down incredibly well with an audience which already likes what it has and finds them pretty easy to use.

In 2021, we asked a similar question but open-ended in terms of its responses. However, the general tone of answers were similar in that conveyancers wanted more lenders on the portals, they wanted better response times, quicker answers to post-offer queries, they wanted greater information on how to contact lenders and the channels they could use, they wanted to know exactly what department they should contact, they wanted more consistency in terms of who they spoke to and the replies they received, and they wanted lenders to move away from fax and post to email.

Reading some of those replies from a year ago, you’ll wonder if a lot has truly changed in 12 months, especially when the second biggest change conveyancers requested in 2022 to speed up the process was a better response time to queries. However, if we don’t’ sit in front of each other and share this information, while discussing how these problems can be solved, then we’re going to be receiving the same answers not just in 2023 but all years going forward.

I do wonder whether in 12 months, after the delivery of the NTSELAT guidance on material information, things might have improved because the post-valuation queries will be far fewer if the lenders and the valuers base their mortgage instructions and valuation on the truth rather than as they do currently, on assumption. Not only will the transaction be quicker, but there will be far less waste for all stakeholders.

We certainly have an opportunity to work together with lenders and we think it makes sense to do that now. If you are that person at any of the lenders mentioned above, please contact us.

Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)

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