As lockdown starts to ease, what impacts on business were temporary, and which are likely to be permanent. Was everything bad or did some good from being forced to adapt?
Changing the delivery of our advisory service from face to face to 100% remote via telephone, text, email and video has been quite a revelation. Like most professions we sometimes embraced change reluctantly, preferring to wait and see, as opposed to jumping in feet first. Well Covid/Lock Down forced us to get our feet jumping. To date some of the changes we have had to adopt, have been a positive experience and business enablers.
We had been conducting phone interviews for a long time, but not everyone liked it or wanted it, advisers, and clients alike. In many ways the reassurance of a face to face meeting, was such that wholesale remote working, struggled to gain a significant foothold.
Not anymore, safe working practices, as imposed by lock down, are we hope, here to stay. Phone and email exchange of data has taken over and for those who wish it, this can be supplemented by video conferencing to great success, replacing the traditional whites of their eyes, face to face approach. We have all been forced to change and surprise surprise, we all like it. It is cost effective and with no travelling time, it is better, and safer for everyone. We could even be green.
Another area that has changed is around the requirements for proving proof of address and identity. We have used an electronic system for many years, that relies upon online checking of electoral role registration, passport and phone records, utility bills etc., to prove you are who you say you are, and live where you say.
Fine, for some of the firms we did business with on your behalf, but not all, so we still had to take copies of your passports and driving licences etc., just in case the lender being used, still wanted them.
Now with passport or driving license photographs and real time, side by side on-screen, face comparison recording, we can certify who you are without having to do a face to face meeting. It is an area that has still to receive universal acceptance and needs some development work, but we hope the profession will continue to adopt new lock down changes in this important area, permanently. Whilst the risk of Covid infection may be reducing, there is little point in unnecessary face to face meetings, for quite a while to come, when it is possible to sidestep them with practical use of technology.
Conversely having said all that, the opposite is also true. Businesses do need to meet one another. Lock down, sadly, means the only people, in our line of business, we are speaking to, are those we know already.
All well and good, but for businesses to thrive and grow, we need interaction with firms and business owners we have never met before, because that is where fresh opportunity is most often found.
Interaction, good feelings, synergies you were not looking for, all come from meeting new people, who may become business colleagues of the future or trusted friends to peer share with.
We must find a way to replace that or business will be the poorer. Right now, we are doing good business with a number of firms, who we would never have met if it had not been for casual meetings over, coffee, lunch, or dinners at pre-Covid professional gatherings.
Surprisingly, the real value, of what were often regarded as tedious industry bun fights, can now be seen, in their absence. They brought business owners together and when that happens, so does the magic, which now, is missing.
Automatic Property Valuations. With surveyors locked down, getting a property valued was difficult, lenders responded really well by increasing the loan to value percentages they were prepared to accept, from desktop valuations or more correctly automatic valuation models (AVM’s). This is a system whereby comparative property values, from known sources, are used to assess the security the new property offers, without having a surveyor conduct a visit.
At the height of lock down some of the lenders AVM’s got as high as 85% and even one lender at 90% for a while. This was a tremendous initiative to keep the market open and a real step in the right direction. We hope lenders will find that widespread adoption is not going to result in a dramatic increase in lending risk, if sound empirical data is used, of which plenty appears to exist. An opportunity to move forward, which we hope lenders will adopt permanently. It remains to be seen; the jury is out.
Day to day business meetings. Like them or not, efficient, or inefficient, business meetings are a way of life and where things get agreed and done. It is amazing what a difference quick and easy video conferencing, ala Zoom, has made to our working lives. In the last month, we have held meetings in Derby, Hornchurch, Marlborough, Surrey, Farnborough, Dartford, Wales, Scotland, Manchester, and goodness knows where else, all online. Lock down meant this was the only option if business was going to continue.
Previously this would have meant a lot of travel time as we would just have assumed, they had to be face to face, because important meeting are always done face to face, aren’t they? That meant train or car journeys and, in most instances, a whole day for one meeting, two, if organised well, and lots of people, travelling somewhere.
With video conferencing these were all done and dusted in an hour or so and nobody went anywhere other than the nearest connected device. They were not all trivial events either, some of the matters discussed and agreed upon were important and vital to the future of many businesses. Quite amazing, a huge change, and certainly not something anyone will be giving up, anytime soon.
Meeting with Lenders and Insurance Companies. During a year we have no end of face to face meeting with lenders who want to brief us on their latest shiny new products or Insurance companies who want to do the same. We want to organise training for our people because the market never stands still, and we must always keep ourselves informed and up to speed.
Now it is all done by video conference and because it is so efficient, we do more than normal and when appropriate invite a wider audience. We are getting important market leading data out there quicker than ever before. Our advisers are informed quickly and more efficiently because video conferencing is simply that good. A bonus is meetings are often recorded, which is great for reference purposes and much better than scribbling a few indecipherable lines in a notebook.
Recruitment has been our byword since we first launched and thankfully, courtesy again of video conferencing, we have managed to continue expanding our business during lock down. We have recruited several good advisers in the last couple of months, thanks to 21st century tech. A real bonus.
In short, we are not sure why it has taken so long for us to embrace the 21st century, but now that we have, there is a lot to like, so whilst being shut away in our own homes has been tough, some of the change this enforced, is actually for the better, and we like it. Whilst lock down has clearly been and still is, very difficult for so many to cope with, we hope our positive experiences, are reflected for some of you, reading this, in the wider community.