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A four-day working week is a good idea in theory, but not really compatible with the workload of a typical mortgage broker, according to intermediaries.

Last week saw the publication of the results of a trial into a four-day week, with the majority of firms stating that not only had it improved performance but that they were continuing with the structure.

However, when quizzed by Mortgage Solutions, mortgage brokers were split on the idea of a four-day working week. Advocates argued it had helped them to be more productive, working smarter during the week, though there was scepticism about the impact it could have on delivering adequate service to clients.

Boosting productivity

One mortgage broker who is already working a four-day week is Samantha Bickford, mortgage and equity release specialist at Clarity Wealth Management.

She said that since going self-employed, she has worked on the basis of usually having Frdays off, arguing that it leads to a healthier work/life balance.

“This encourages me to be more productive, work harder and smarter during the week, knowing I am taking a day or even an afternoon or few hours for myself at the end of the week. Especially with those dedicating their weekends to their children and family time, this means you have a day for yourself and your own mental health,” she explained.

Gary Boakes, director of Verve Financial, said that he too had been working a four-day week until recently, noting that he “felt I needed the extra time during the day to work on the business rather than in the evening”.

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Maintaining service levels

Stuart Powell, managing director of Ocean Equity Release, said that while he was all for a four-day working week in theory, it presented a challenge for smaller firms in ensuring such a structure did not impact their customer service levels.

“Many firms give people different days off, however for firms with less than five staff, this may reduce coverage for clients and be an issue in holiday times,” he added.

Bickford agreed that fitting in with client expectations and lender service challenges can make picking working hours more challenging.

She said: “If the working week dictates I need to work on a Friday ‒ for example, if this is most convenient for the client or if the week is so busy it is not possible to take the Friday off ‒ I will of course, but in general I believe a four-day week encourages productivity. I have no qualms about working slightly longer days during the week to have this balance.”

Are we working at capacity?

However, not all brokers believe it is a workable option.

There is “no way” a business that interacts directly with the public could succeed with a four-day week, according to Craig Fish, director of Lodestone Mortgages & Protection, who noted that there are times when even not working on a weekend will have an impact on a broker’s business.

He added: “Lenders could make things easier by improving their systems, but the costs involved to do this are likely prohibitive, so I fear that brokers will find themselves working ever longer hours to ensure that the client is getting a first-class service.”

If advisers are able to do the same amount of work in four days that they were doing in five, then they are not working close to their capacity, suggested Andy Wilson, director of Andy Wilson Financial Services.

He added: “I believe most brokers will work quite long and unsociable hours if they want to meet their own and the business’s targets. I also feel most would exceed the four days just to get jobs done and get cases through more quickly.”

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It might work for other industries, but not mortgages

Dominik Lipnicki, director of Your Mortgage Decisions, said that he was sceptical of how practical a four-day week would be for most businesses, noting that while he was a fan of flexible hours, “our clients would rightly expect to be able to be assisted at the very least five days per week”.

He continued: “I am not sure that many mortgage businesses would be able to afford to hire more staff to cover the extra day and if they did, surely, it is the clients who ultimately pay? I think that for some businesses, a four day week might work but that would very much be driven by the type of business that it is.”

This was echoed by Benjamin Blyth, director of Houz Mortgages, who suggested a four-day week does not really suit the mortgage industry as a whole. “We need the engine running seven days a week, but if a four-day week can be scheduled into rotas, it’s great for staff. I can never tie myself to four days because client demand will always vary across the seven days in a week.”

Working smarter, not harder

While many brokers were unconvinced about the merits of a four-day week, there was near consensus that technological developments had given them more control over the actual hours worked.

Chris Barker, managing director of Manchester Money, said that technology today means brokers can “pretty much work what hours they want, and from wherever they want to be, as long as it fits with their clients’ needs”.

Paul Seed, mortgage and insurance adviser at Mortgages 4 U, noted that meeting client expectations was now more about the response times rather than the hours or days worked.

He continued: “Speed of response, especially with live applications, is increasingly critical to maintain a client’s trust. People want to know that they are in safe and responsive hands.”

Embracing the benefits of flexible working can also deliver a better standard of service, too, some suggested. For example, Kylie-Ann Gatecliffe, director at KAG Financial, said that her firm is smarter now in working around clients, removing the need to pull 70-hour weeks.

She continued: “We actually produce higher results, coming in feeling fresh and motivated. Whilst clients can still have appointments on an evening and on a weekend when required, we plan our diaries so the whole team have a balanced week, rather than everyone being stressed and under pressure trying to juggle life/work balance.”

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By John Fitzsimons

Source: Mortgage Solutions

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