The Interview… Mat Rees, CEO, Beneficial Network

The Intermediary speaks to Mat Rees about what sets Beneficial apart as a network, and how it supports its Appointed Representatives (ARs).

Can you introduce yourself, and the business, for our readers?

Beneficial is a different sort of mortgage network.

We are former mortgage brokers ourselves, so we have a more informed insight into what advisers really need from a principal firm.

That has meant focusing on delivering a comprehensive service, at an easy-to-understand cost, while maintaining the personal touch.

What do you think makes Beneficial different to other networks and what feedback do you receive from new ARs as to why they have joined you?

One of the biggest factors for any broker firm when selecting a network is how the financials add up.

It’s important that the partnership works for everyone, putting the broker on the best possible footing for the future.

However, all too often those financials are rather complicated. The network may charge a fee that is calculated as a percentage of the broker’s income, with additional fees on top for further services, like the support or tech systems.

It can be tricky for brokers to work out exactly what the deal is going to cost them, and also act as a barrier to growth, since those fees can reach punishing levels as the broker expands.

Beneficial sets ourselves apart from other networks by only charging a single, flat fee.

It means that from the very beginning of the relationship, everybody knows where they stand and can budget accordingly.

A good network should help their members grow, not serve as a barrier to doing so, and we know that this way of working is highly valued by our members.

Why do you feel protection and General Insurance (GI) is still a struggle for many brokers to sell and increase their conversion rates and how do you help your ARs?

When a client comes to see their broker, their first priority is getting a mortgage in place.

Additional financial products like protection and GI are not what they set out to secure, and as a result it can be difficult for brokers to help clients understand how important they are.

This has only been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis – clients have much tighter budgets than ever before, and perhaps understandably want to focus on getting as much as possible out of their mortgage, rather than having to devote extra funds towards these further outgoings.

However, these insurance products are absolutely vital for most if not all mortgage borrowers, so it’s crucial for brokers to educate their clients on why they are necessary and why room needs to be made in the monthly budget to cover those premiums.

At Beneficial we have focused on making it easier for brokers to do just that, which is why we hold regular events and workshops, covering both group training and one-to-one training, to give brokers the tools they need.

We have also built an extensive panel of providers, meaning our members always have options available to suit their clients, no matter their circumstances.

We know many brokers have sought to expand into other types of lending like bridging and commercial to maximise revenue and find new opportunities, is this the same for your ARs, if so, what sort of business have you seen an increase on and how are ARs supported?

That’s absolutely true. Diversification is crucial for most financial businesses, particularly mortgage advisers.

The reality is that if you rely on purchase activity then you will have had a difficult time over the last year or so, with rising rates having such a detrimental impact on transaction levels.

Advice businesses need to have further strings to their bow so that they can stay busy and maintain revenue levels even when the residential market is on a downturn, and a good network can be a vital ally in helping them do just that.

At Beneficial we have seen striking increases in interest around bridging and commercial over the last year. While the housing market generally has slowed down, there have been plenty of investors who have spotted the opportunity to secure a great deal on a property, or who want to add commercial assets to their existing portfolio.

There are clearly opportunities out there for investors who are brave enough, which is why we have worked to build a wide-ranging panel operating in these sectors.

We also hold regular training sessions so that brokers who have not worked in these areas can feel more comfortable in supporting such clients.

How important is tech to brokers when they are choosing a new network?

Technology is central to how all brokers operate today, whether they are directly authorised or appointed representatives of a network.

The days of relying entirely on pen and paper are behind us, with a host of tech systems now in place which can help brokers be more efficient and support their clients to a higher standard.

If you are looking to select a new network, then understanding the technology proposition on offer is crucial.

Brokers need to be confident that the systems being utilised by their network are going to actively help them in working with their clients.

But one aspect that is often overlooked by advisers is the cost of that technology. We know that some networks expect their members to cough up additional fees in order to secure access to those tech systems, meaning it’s yet another cost to include when comparing a new principal firm.

By contrast, others – like Beneficial – include the access to the technology as part of the flat-rate fee.

What advice would you give to brokers either looking to move to a new network or change from DA to AR and choose their network partner?

It’s crucial to work out what you need from your network from the outset. There is no perfect network; what works for some members might not be ideal for others.

If you understand what sort of support you need from a network before you start comparing their services, that will make it much easier to identify the right business for you.

Doing your homework is crucial too. This is a big decision for your business’s future, so you need to take your time and make sure you’re comfortable with it.

That means doing your due diligence over the fee structure, the technology that’s included, and most important of all how you are going to be treated by that network.

I know from the ARs that I’ve spoken to lately how vital it is for members to feel valued rather than just being another number.

Finally, what are your ambitions for Beneficial in 2024 and beyond?

We had a terrific year in 2023, but we don’t believe in standing still.

In the year ahead we would love to expand the number of ARs we work with and continue to invest in the technology and training on offer.

At Beneficial we are committed to helping greater numbers of brokers provide an even better experience to their clients.