2022: an eventful year

Thora Kehoe

Whichever way you look at it, It is fair to say that 2022 was an eventful year! It is also true to say that it was wholly unprecedented. Looking back, it seems strange to think that in January we were still emerging from the global pandemic with Omicron infections finally peaking towards the end of month, before we really saw Covid-19 subside – hopefully for good.

As many challenges as Covid-19 brought, one thing is for certain: the mortgage industry emerged looking very different from when the pandemic began in March 2019. This is mainly due to the sector’s sudden and mass adoption of technology. This was of course done out of necessity – brokers couldn’t meet with clients due to social distancing rules, and so online quickly became the norm. I am pleased to say that as we left the days of lockdown behind us, the use of technology has not only been retained, but has gone from strength to strength, and we ended the year having come on leaps and bounds, with the industry – and its customers – benefitting to no end.

Indeed, as 2022 progressed it became clear that homebuyers are more receptive than ever to a premium digital experience when it comes to their mortgage journey. At Smartr365 we were delighted, early on in 2022, to meet these new customer expectations with the launch of Experian’s Open Banking and credit reference data – an industry first. Through this partnership with Experian, homebuyers are able to easily share bank statements and categorise spending habits and credit reports, granting lenders direct access to the all-important information they need in order to make the best possible decisions for their customers, both quickly and efficiently.

Cost of living crisis

However, as we emerged from one crisis, it was not long before another crisis was well underway. Indeed, if 2020 and 2021 were characterised by Covid-19, 2022 was undoubtedly a year marked by rising inflation and subsequent rising interest rates resulting in a cost of living crisis the likes of which has not been experienced in recent memory. Early on, the industry identified that this prolonged state of economic uncertainty would reinforce the importance of protection plans for those looking to buy a home. With this in mind, Smartr365 unveiled a new home insurance partnership with Uinsure in June.

The integration allows brokers to access home insurance quotes within the Smartr365 platform. Many firms seek to offer a full package including mortgage, protection and home insurance advice. Our integrated service with Uinsure allows brokers to do this seamlessly – saving time and increasing conversions, whilst offering a more holistic service for homebuyers. The integration doesn’t just share fact find and quote information, it also syncs updates on the case, meaning broker and homebuyer always know exactly how their application is progressing.

But the developments didn’t stop there – we also introduced further enhancements to our integrated insurance offering, including adding more detailed options for home insurance products, tracking of NTUs capabilities, and design improvements.

As they year progressed, we have made regular revisions to our protection area, bringing a host of updates to our protection forms and upgrading our connection with solution builder. We know that as

the cost of living crisis has rumbled on, brokers have benefitted from these integrated capabilities – and, in turn, homebuyers too!

New Consumer Duty: we are here to help

On the 27th June, the Financial Conduct Authority official announced its new Consumer Duty rules bringing the delivery of excellent customer outcomes into ever greater focus.

Working to an ultimate deadline of April 2023, financial services firms were, by necessity, quick off the mark to begin drafting and implementing plans to meet the Consumer Duty. As a service provider to the industry, we at Smartr365 saw it as our own duty to do what we could to ensure brokers and lenders alike were meeting the standards required.

Under Consumer Duty, the ability for firms, networks and compliance teams to review cases proactively, ensuring that the best advice and experience was provided to their customers is important. This means firms need to stay on top of their case load, ensuring that they are proactive and responsive to customers so we launched a revamped ‘Tasks’ area, providing greater flexibility when it comes to managing caseloads across teams. Built off the back of direct feedback from our customers, this function now forms the backbone for many of our firms’ day-to-day workload Larger enterprises and networks want the ability to customise their workflow with additional checks, validations and Fact Find questions. We also developed the ability to connect downstream processes with automated triggers based on the mortgage workflow. These tools allow larger firms benefit from the value Smartr delivers while maintaining their own processes.

Consumer Duty reinforces the importance of good advise and outcomes for homebuyers, and our new Compliance Portal allows firms and networks to automate, review and audit the mortgage and protection advise being provided. The portal allows compliance teams to ‘snapshot’ the advice at a point in time and rate the suitability of the advice and the completeness of the documents on the case.

A time of change

September saw the UK undergo a series of fundamental changes and none so deeply felt as the passing of the Queen. Indeed on the 16th September, the nation went into mourning for a monarch that had, for an incredible 70 years, stood as the country’s figurehead and leader.

The move from summer into autumn also brought with it another change to leadership with Boris Johnson stepping down as prime minister and succeeded, for a brief but impactful time, by Liz Truss. Towards the end of September, Truss’ Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced what became known as the ‘mini budget’ – although, it has to be said, that the fallout from it was anything but mini.

Indeed, Kwarteng’s budget included a number of tax cutting initiatives that, designed to stimulate the economy, sent it into somewhat of a freefall with mortgage rates soaring and lenders removing products from market at pace. With Truss and Kwarteng both having since resigned from office, we are still living out the effects of their policies – although I am pleased to say that the situation has since very much improved.

What this period certainly served to demonstrate is that in a flash, the market can go from turbulent to far more turbulent still, and, in this climate, what consumers need is a degree of certainty. Against this

backdrop, we at Smartr365 have continued to build a range of tools to streamline the mortgage journey in order to help deliver quick decisions, and lock in rates, before markets move again. We saw a peak in the usage of our integrated Lender integrations during this time, proving the value of these services for brokers. This will continue to be a focus for Smartr; increasing lender coverage and working with lenders to develop further integrated functionality between Smartr and mortgage applications.

We also redesigned our ‘Summary’ screens to highlight all critical information needed for quick lender updates or client calls and improved our Sourcing Brain integration so that multiple products, ESIS and research docs can be pulled back and presented to clients.

As the market has remained unpredictable, and with homebuyers requiring more attention than ever from their brokers, we know this streamlining has been welcome.

2022: drawing to a close

As we neared the end of 2022, the industry continued to navigate unchartered, and undoubtedly choppy, waters – but a sense of some calm returning could without doubt be felt. Lucy Frazer took over as Housing Minister and new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced a new plan for the Budget in which he confirmed that Stamp Duty Land Tax cuts would remain in place until 31st March 2025 – welcome by many homebuyers, and first time buyers in particular.

In further reaction to Consumer Duty, at Smartr365 we launched a range of updates to enhance our Suitability Letter features, allowing firms to add more detailed formatting and a consistent approach to how they explain their advice to customers.

In December, we were also proud to end the year with an API integration with Nationwide, the world’s largest building society. Indeed, following the ‘mini budget’ we had seen lenders act en masse to withdraw or raise the pricing of mortgage products almost overnight, creating shockwaves in the industry. This underscored the importance of instant applications, and we saw a spike in the usage of our integrated lenders during this time. Our integration with Nationwide will see many more benefitting from these features as we go into 2023.

Conclusion

As we approach Christmas, we saw the Bank of England announce its 9th consecutive base rate rise – although mortgage rates have begun to reduce slightly. As the cost of living crisis continues, strikes across various industries, including rail, healthcare, and postal network were marked features of the run up to the festive season; and as everyone prepared for the holiday break, mortgage market activity began to slow, as is expected at this time of year.

2022 was an eventful year, with many challenges to overcome and much achieved as a result. It was a year that, for us within the mortgage industry, really underscored the importance of variety, both in terms of advice and products, and of the importance of a tailored approach.

These were at the front and center of our minds at Smartr365 and we are delighted to have been able to support our industry partners over the last 12 months as a result. We are, in particular, proud to be able to say that, following our most recent lender integration, we now cover more than half of the UK mortgage market by volume, with an expected rise to 62% in the first quarter of 2023. As the New Year gets

underway, we look forward to continuing our work to make the homebuying process as quick and easy as possible, for all involved – and to further developing our capabilities to support our partners and bring technology even further to the fore of our great and ever-evolving industry!