The Interview… Ranald Mitchell, director at Charwin Private Clients

“Absolute garbage.” “Utter dross.” “Borderline schizophrenic.”

That’s the kind of response I was expecting from Ranald Mitchell, co-founder of Norwich-based independent mortgage broker, Charwin Private Clients, when I asked him how this year has been for his business given the torpor that has defined the property market during 2023.

So when he replied, “2023 looks set to beat even 2022, which was our best year on record, and October was our biggest month ever, so much so that we’re on a major recruitment drive to cope with the demand”, it was less a curveball than a Gatting Ball.

Not that Ranald Mitchell, like the late, great Shane Warne during that legendary delivery in Old Trafford on 4th June 1993, has ever had much need to wear white zinc on his lips or nose.

Mitchell, you see, grew up in the Highlands of Scotland, just north of Inverness, where the sun is something you only read about in the papers or marvel at on TV.

Professional tooth fairy

When asked how he got into the mortgage game, Mitchell delivered another Googly: “God knows. I was meant to be a dentist.”

In September 1992, a young Ranald Mitchell packed his toothbrush, waved to his family through a wall of rain and sleet, and headed off to the University of Dundee to embark upon a six-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery course. But three years in, he decided that root canals and fillings weren’t for him.

Though rudderless and lost at never being able to achieve his lifelong ambition to ask people to ‘say aah’, 30 years to the day after he started his dental course, in September 2022, he found most of his clients were saying ‘aah’ of their own volition, as Kamikwasi’s mini-Budget hit mortgage rates for six.

Thanks to Trussonomics, that particular box on Mitchell’s bucket list had been ticked.

Oh the joys

Like most people who drop out of Uni, Mitchell drifted and did little of note for a year or two, while trying to work out his true calling: “The Highlands back then weren’t exactly a land of milk and honey so, having no idea what else to do, I bit the bullet, joined Abbey Life in 1998, did my FPCs (Financial Planning Certificates for those of you who might make it past 2035) and became an in-house financial adviser in Inverness. Oh, the joys.”

At Abbey Life, Ranald’s role was to advise people on investing for their futures, but he quickly realised that the average Brit doesn’t care too much about the future and is perfectly happy to see their capital eroded by inflation in savings accounts paying dismal returns.

What he did learn, however, and quickly, is that what people do care about — in fact are obsessed with — is property, so he kicked pensions and investments into the long grass and decided to set up as a broker.

At the same time, in the year 2000, he also decided that he would like to experience sun first-hand so thought to hell with it all, and moved to Norwich, where his girlfriend was based. Sadly, fate intervened and they split up three months later. But by then Norwich was his new home.

From Abbey to Cathedral

While the first brokerage firm Mitchell set up was a success, in the end he decided to shut it down as one of the people he’d gone into business with was “a bit of a plonker” (that wasn’t the exact term used but The Intermediary has some editorial standards). 

Then, in 2008, 10 years after he joined Abbey Life, and precisely 11 hours and 22 minutes before the global economy and UK mortgage market collapsed, he launched Charwin Private Clients along with his partner, Diana Day, a qualified accountant.

Through sheer determination and an outright refusal to fail, they got through the Global Financial Crisis and Charwin Private Clients went from strength to strength.

In 2017, Mitchell acquired a whacking great big office space in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral (while the location of Charwin Private Clients is divine, the derivation of the name is a little more everyday: “My cat’s called Charlie and my dog’s called Winnie”).

Braced for a tough year

Since then, the firm’s growth has surpassed all expectations with 2023 shaping up to be its biggest year yet. So how have Mitchell and his team managed this?

“Pragmatism, determination, and a lot of hard graft. We were all braced for a tough year after the mini-Budget and our team had the right focus and mindset as we went into 2023. They’re all driven and entrepreneurial and knew that this year was going to be a scrap so did whatever it took to make it work. Throughout the year, the team have continued to improve and have worked harder than ever to deal with the increasing flow of enquiries. Some of our team have been writing £25k-30k each month and get half of that along with full marketing and support. They’re always motivated, always learning and always improving and I’m privileged to have every one of them.”

Ranald says the vast majority of his team are self-employed and that he’s always on the look-out for experienced brokers who want to work in an environment that treats them as adults and lets them get on with it, knowing they have everything they need to support them.

Ideally, Mitchell says, he would love his whole team to be in the office, as it’s a useful sounding board and place to share experience and ideas. But he understands the way working habits have changed since the pandemic, accepts that some people want or need to work from home and, to attract brokers around the country, knows that allowing people to WFH is key to his firm’s ongoing growth and success.

To this end, two of his 20-strong team work in Chesterfield, one in Peterborough and one overseas. “As all are very experienced brokers, and driven, they just get on with it.”

Purchase market to go wild

Looking forward, Mitchell expects mortgage rates to continue to drop and for 2024 to be a much better year for brokers: “I think we are turning the corner now, in terms of inflation and the economy, and lenders have had a dreadful year so will want to start 2024 on the front foot. They are eager to get money moving and I think rates will be at much more respectable levels by the summer. The purchase market has the potential to go wild next year. There’s a lot of pent-up demand with many buyers understandably delaying amid all the uncertainty.”

And while “buy-to-let on the whole is struggling”, Mitchell says the firm’s professional landlord clients remain active, adding to their portfolios at a time when house prices are under pressure. He adds this is also driving increased activity in the bridging market, as experienced investors use short-term finance to snap up properties.

Ingredients for success

One of the reasons for his company’s success, says Mitchell, is the fact it operates nationally: “Being a national player really helps. It allows us to cast our net further and takes us out of the local fight for business. It also means we can tap into more lucrative areas and focus on specific geographies depending on regional trends.”

Other reasons he gives for the ongoing strength of the firm include the diversity of products it covers, from owner-occupier and buy-to-let mortgages to bridging loans, equity release and protection.

Since 2016, Charwin Private Clients has also packaged second charges, an area that has performed well in 2023 as more people have sought to consolidate unsecured debt or make home improvements. Mitchell says: “Secured loans often create better outcomes for customers than forcing them down the remo route.”

And then there’s his firm’s clever tech: “We have built proprietary forms that semi-underwrite customers at enquiry stage, checking their affordability and taking into consideration things such as LTV, credit status and LTI. As a result, anyone who comes through our process we should be able to help. With technology, we have removed many of the pain points brokers have and massively improved our team’s efficiency and outcomes. Effectively, we don’t hand our brokers shit enquiries that demoralise them and cause them to howl expletives on the holy soil of Norwich Cathedral. Our proprietary CRM is also almost complete, which is more of a holistic practice management tool rather than a basic CRM. We are creating white label versions of both tools that other brokers will be able to licence from us if need be.”

Chocolate fireguards

As for marketing, Mitchell says he ditched the agencies he was working with a few years back, as they were as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

He now oversees the marketing side of the business himself and encourages his staff to develop a social media identity that reflects their personalities, as people ultimately buy people.

Since early 2023, his firm has also been using Newspage to build trust in the Charwin Private Clients brand via mainstream media exposure.

Neopolitan not vanilla

It will come as no surprise to the reader that Charwin Private Clients is directly authorised. Mitchell says that “being DA gives us the freedom and flexibility to operate without the bureaucracy and micro-management of networks. It also enables us to change direction on a dime, which was necessary during Covid, for example”.

So how does Mitchell picture the future of broking? In a nutshell, and showing his age, “Neopolitan” rather than vanilla, complex and credit-impaired rather than prime and low LTV.

“With constant advances in tech and people using apps to swap rates at the vanilla end of the market, brokers are having a tougher time than ever to attract this type of business. However, almost all our cases these days have quirks or problems that need fixing, whether that’s credit impaired, high LTV or high street refusal. It’s here where I think the future of mortgage broking lies.”