LV='s head of equity release speaks to Retirement Planner about winning lifetime mortgages provider of the year at the Equity Release Awards
How does it feel to win the award?
Absolutely bowled over and ecstatic. Of all the awards in the year, it's really nice to win this one because it is specifically focused on the equity release industry. We're very pleased and very honoured. We're in strong company. So, thank you very much.
What makes your product and service stand out from its competitors?
Our product is very much designed with consumers in mind. We ensure our terms are clear for customers to understand. We also offer guarantees on our flex products. But the proposition is broader than just the actual product itself. Our servicing proposition, our lending policy, all of these things add up to something our peers feel we do particularly well.
We focus on speed-of service and responsiveness of service. When advisers phone us [to] query something, someone is there to listen to what they're saying.
We're also very prepared to listen to what we can do differently? We all hope things will go right, but that's not necessarily always the case. I think you're often judged by how you handle things when they aren't going so well.
We're very quick to listen to the feedback we're getting and make changes in our proposition in order to address it. It was actually about 18 months to two years ago we were told while everyone loved dealing with us, there were organisations out there who were able to turn things around faster. We've really focused on that. We've bought in a new surveying practice. We outsourced our conveyancing to remortgage and conveyancing legal service specialist Enact.
All of these things have added up to really significantly reducing our turn-around times so that people can get their money quickly, which I think is appreciated by advisers as well as the terms and conditions we offer.
How do you think demand for lifetime mortgages will develop over the coming years?
It's certainly going to increase. More people are turning to their housing equity to help them through retirement. It's also something that's becoming more accepted. There was a time when people would talk about equity release, as if was a nasty smell under their nose. I think that's pretty much disappeared. Our customers seem more than happy to tell all of their neighbours and friends that they've done it and how it's helped them. I think attitudes have changed enormously and I think that will have an impact on the market.
We will also see an increasing number of people looking to equity release to assist in domiciliary care.
As well, once confidence starts to pick up, more people will go back to looking at equity release for lifestyle purchases.
The biggest change over the past few years is people looking to use equity release to pay off debt and we don't perceive that pattern changing in the short term. Lots of people seem less and less comfortable in carrying significant credit card debts, they'd really like to get shot of them if they can, even if they can service them and this is a way to bring the balance sheet to rights.
The other potential constraint on the market is the number of providers - it's a small market at the moment in terms of provision and it would be good to see new entrants coming in to fill the inevitable demand.
What are LV's plans for 2012?
We're very focused on our equity release proposition for 2012. One of the key things we're starting to look at is how this should form part of our overall proposition. So when people are coming up to retirement and they're looking to at what to do with a suit of customer focused at and in retirement products and working out their finances, advisers are helping them look at how their housing equity will fit into that plan, rather than all of these decisions being isolated from each other.
There is no doubt that housing equity has a role to play in that whole retirement conversation. That's something you'll see a lot of from us over the course of next year.
Vanessa Owen is head of equity release at LV=
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