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An interview with Financial Reporter

We spoke to Michelle Westley, head of marketing at Brightstar Financial, about how to grow the amount of specialist business you write and what brokers who partner with a specialist distributors have in common with Richard Branson!


FR: Do you think most brokers understand the benefits of working with a specialist distributor?

We work with a lot of really engaged brokers, who understand the benefits of partnering with a specialist distributor and often work regularly across several lending areas with us. Some are more than capable of sourcing and placing the case themselves but work with us to be able to maximise their time. But there are many brokers not currently active in the specialist lending market and aren’t comfortable with helping these clients. We tend to hear that they’re unwilling to hand the advice process over and would rather turn the client away, so some aren’t recognising the opportunity at all. They’re missing out and more importantly, so are their clients.


Just look at Richard Branson, he can’t fly a plane, but his business carries millions of passengers all around the world every year. And he’s making a tidy profit from something he is unable to do himself. The principle is similar.


As a specialist distributor, our purpose is to support every broker in providing the right solution for their clients. For firms that do take a more hands-on approach to specialist lending, we can provide the expertise to upskill and diversify and for firms whose core business model lies in other areas, we say – you don’t need to be an expert, you just need 60 seconds to talk to and access the knowledge and experience of experts who work are immersed in the market. There are other benefits as well, of course, and we can offer exclusive products, levels of service and influence that many brokers can achieve by working directly with lenders.


Nowadays brokers can also choose how they work with a specialist distributor. If they want to keep ownership of the advice their client receives, they can choose a more traditional approach where a specialist distributor researches suitable solutions and manages the process with the lender.


Alternatively, for brokers who would rather focus on other areas of their business, they could choose to refer a case in return for a share of the proc fee.



FR: What are the benefits for brokers of referring business?

No broker is, or can be, an expert in every part of the market and so the likelihood is that brokers will have some cases that are slightly different to usual that require more effort to research and more time to place.


This is worth it if it results in a good customer outcome, but if you are not an expert in that part of the market, how can you be 100% sure that the outcome they have received is the best possible outcome they could achieve?


There is also opportunity cost to consider. For every hour you have spent finding the right solution for that client, could you have worked more efficiently and effectively working with clients in your core markets?


By choosing to refer some cases, brokers can benefit from improved opportunity cost by focusing on what they do best and earn incremental income at the same time in the form of a referral fee.


The brokers that do, will undoubtedly increase client retention, and the likelihood of referrals.



FR: What tips do you have for brokers to grow the amount of specialist business they write?

Firstly, I would say, be alert to every opportunity and never turn a client away because you are unfamiliar with their particular situation – find an expert with whom you can partner or refer the case. The long-term cost of losing a client is often quite considerable – it’s not just a case of losing out on one proc fee.


Also, ask your clients questions about their current circumstances, plans and concerns, not just regarding their mortgage, but any of their finances. For example, a lot of brokers will work with clients who run their own business but may never ask whether that business owns its premises or has any funding requirements. These are all opportunities to help your clients and help the growth of your own business.



FR: What’s it like to work for the Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For in the UK?

It is a great place to work. That doesn’t mean we don’t have bad days or frustrating moments, but the culture encourages everyone to have a really good attitude. We are all fully committed to giving our best because we’re happy, and we share a strong sense of belonging where people feel cared for and motivated.



FR: If you could see one headline in 2019, what would it be?

I’d really like it if we got to a position where not one (viable) client was turned away by a broker because they felt they couldn’t help them.