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Together

Meet the Experts: Uday Bola, Products

In this first in a new series of posts, we're introducing some key members of the Together team to our partners in the mortgage industry. Over the coming months, we'll be speaking to people from IT, marketing, underwriting and other important functions of our business.

First up is Uday, from Products. We caught up with him over a brew.

Tell us about your role, and what it involves.

I'm the New Product Development Manager, working across both personal and commercial finance arms of Together.

It's my role to manage the delivery of entirely new products, whether we're looking at new risks, new channels, or new customer types. My team monitors changing market demands, speaking with a variety of stakeholders - everyone from brokers, to our underwriters and sales teams, looking at data like sourcing system and criteria searches, customer feedback and competitor initiatives – to gather feedback.

Based on what we learn from them, we decide whether there's a niche we could be serving but currently aren't. We then go away and develop a product that would serve that market, within our own acceptable risk framework.

Refurbishment bridging loans are a good example. We'd not offered these explicitly in in the past. Once developed, the team handed it over to the bridging loans product manager. They then manage the product and it ensure it stays relevant for customers.

Why is it important to develop new products constantly?

In the mortgage market, the customer and their needs are constantly changing. Sometimes that's driven by changes to legislation or regulation, and sometimes it's because of bigger, societal changes.

It's also a hugely competitive market, so it's vital to have a USP and to remain relevant to what mortgage professionals and their clients are demanding.

For instance, high street lenders have been offering borrowers rates of 1.5-2.5% on mortgages for years now, but both they and challenger lenders are moving closer to the specialist lending space and testing new products. This is great news for borrowers, if they qualify, and means we have to stay ahead of the game and constantly improve our offering.

Coupled with our underwriters' hands-on approach, it means we can support those applicants who don’t fit algorithms and need a human assessment of their circumstances.

What goes into developing a new product, and how long does it take?

How long is a piece of string?! Some products take relatively little time, and others are much more complicated. We have to consider the impact of the new product on IT systems, the source of the funds we're going to lend, how we're going to market the product – all of which can vary.

In terms of the process, it all starts with a conversation, typically between the product team and our broker partners. Broker feedback is so valuable to us, because they're the people who are hands-on with clients every day. So we're keen to hear about those cases you've not been able to place anywhere at all, and those ones you've had to take elsewhere because we couldn't help.

Brokers don't have to wait to be asked; any broker can pick up the phone and speak with us, even if they've placed no business with us before. We welcome feedback and market information as it’s what helps us stay ahead of the competition.

In your opinion, how does our approach to developing new products differ from other lenders?

I think compared to some of the really big lenders, we can be more agile. There are fewer layers of sign-off involved; if I need to speak to a key decision-maker, it's just a case of walking up to their desk and having a chat. That's not to suggest we don't have robust compliance structures in place – we certainly do – but the working relationships we have aren't stifled by being spread across multiple offices across the UK and we don’t have a hierarchical culture.

I think our people at Together itself set us apart. Our people know the specialist lending market inside out, and have decades of experience between them.

I think, also, that our relationships with brokers is different. It's completely two-way, and we frequently check in during the development of a product to make sure we're still delivering what the market is demanding. And we'll be frank where we need to be. If we can't deliver something, we'll say so – and why.

I think it's one of the reasons that brokers know and trust products we deliver will be genuinely useful.

What's driving change in the specialist lending marketplace right now?

There are two major drivers.

Firstly, society's definition of 'normal' isn't the same as it was, meaning our lifestyles don’t necessarily fit the way lenders traditionally evaluate customers. For example the world of work is evolving rapidly, and how people make their money is increasingly complex; it's now completely normal to have a second income, or to be self-employed in the gig economy, or to run your own business. This is where specialist lenders have an opportunity.

Secondly, the buy-to-let sector has become more specialist with the relatively newer categories of portfolio landlords and those who operate under a limited company structure. Then there's the changes to mortgage interest relief, which needs a more hands-on approach. Something Together can provide.

What happens after we launch new products?

We trial each new product or product change for three to six months with one of our trusted broker partners before rolling it out to the mainstream. It's crucial that we work any kinks out at this stage – so we use this time to test the market's appetite for the product, and things like system capability and the clarity of our messaging around it.

From day one, we monitor the performance of the product. Is it working for brokers, Together and most importantly for customers? Are we delivering the customer outcomes we want to?

Based on that, we can tweak the product to make sure it's absolutely perfect. But, naturally, we try to do that before anything goes out of the door in the first place.

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