Lender Exchange is a secure portal for lenders to manage their conveyancing panels. It is operated by Decision First, a joint venture between title insurance company First Title and Decision Insight. Law firms must pay a fee (ranging from £285 to £995 per annum depending on the size of the practice) to use the portal. Lender Exchange was imposed on the legal profession when it launched in the UK on 4 August 2014. The first lenders making it mandatory to use Lender Exchange to be on their conveyancing panels are Lloyds Banking Group (which includes retail mortgages for Bank of Scotland, Birmingham Midshires, Halifax, Lloyds Bank and Scottish Widows Bank) and Santander.
Law firms must input and keep up to date on Lender Exchange a plethora of information such as each solicitors previous employment history covering at least a period of 10 years. Practicing certificates and Professional Indemnity Insurance certificates must be uploaded to the system annually. Much of the information that each law firm must spend time and effort inputting into the system is readily available from the Law Society of England & Wales, the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Scotland. These Law Societies repeatedly offered to provide the data free to lenders but their offer was refused without any explanation. Des Hudson, when he was Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales, said that the result was:-
A single commercial provider has been given a powerful position and the potential to control the dynamics of the conveyancing market and introduce needless cost to the detriment of consumers.
Lender Exchange state on their website:-
We’ve been working hard with banks and building societies to deliver a service which makes the lives of conveyancers across the UK easier when dealing with lenders on panel related issues… we aim to make the process of applying for panel membership and updating lenders on changes in your businesses easier, quicker and more cost effective (for law firms and lenders alike).
Well that was certainly not my experience of Lender Exchange yesterday.
I received an e-mail from Lender Exchange that read:-
Further to our previous emails regarding outstanding information and/or documents, our records indicate that the requested action has still not been taken.
As 28 days have elapsed since our initial request and despite several reminders, you have failed to supply your firm’s PII or a reason for this continued delay, your firm has now been suspended from the following panel(s):
Lloyds Banking Group
Your access to Lender Exchange remains active at this time, however you will need to contact the appropriate lender(s) directly to discuss your panel status with them.
I couldn’t understand this as I knew that I had updated all the information requested on the secure portal in advance of the deadline date previously given to me by Lender Exchange.
I assumed they had an administrative glitch in their systems.
I phoned them up.
I told my story to the lady who answered the phone. Having done so she advised me that she had nothing to do with Lender Exchange. She was in another department of Decision First and if the Lender Exchange phone lines were busy they overflowed to them. I was to phone back in a few minutes when hopefully someone at Lender Exchange would answer the phone before it went through to the overflow again!
I waited a few minutes and phoned back. To my relief it did not overflow this time but was answered by a lady actually employed by Lender Exchange. I told her my story. Yes she could see that I had uploaded all the information that I had to onto the system but I had not pressed the “Submit Firm Details” button. This was on a different page from the one I had updated the information onto and after updating the information I was supposed to know to go to that page (no alert supplied to do so) and press the correct button. There are actually two buttons next to one another on the relevant page: “Update Firm Details” and “Submit Firm Details”. Although I was actually in my mind updating firm details and had previously submitted firm details I was not to use the Update button but only the Submit one. So having been talked through this confusing system I pressed the submit button.
Having now resolved the administrative/technical issues caused by the Lender Exchange system I assumed my law firm was no longer suspended from the two lenders’ panels. No I was told. My law firm remained suspended and I had to take it up direct with the lenders in question to see if they were willing to reinstate. I asked to speak to her manager.
The manager showed me no sympathy. The Lender Exchange secure portal was proven to work and I should have used the 64 page user guide available online if I was unsure how to operate it! A very quick glance at the user manual suggests it is aimed at the first registration process and not the actual updating of information once registered. However, the manager reiterated that my inability to use the Lender Exchange systems properly meant my law firm was suspended from the two panels in question and there was nothing more she could do about it. If I wanted reinstated I had to contact the administrators of the panels in question direct.
Now I would class myself as very computer literate and technologically savy. If I couldn’t follow how to use the Lender Exchange online portal correctly how were the many solicitors who are less computer literate fairing?
Anyway, the prospect of achieving the work on my desk I planned to deal with on Friday afternoon was fading fast. I now had the prospect of phoning two lenders before me.
Both panel administrators were very pleasant indeed and a nice change from my encounter with Lender Exchange.
I learned from both that they had no forewarning or any knowledge that Lender Exchange were issuing such e-mails! Thus Lender Exchange had intimated suspension to law firms on behalf of but without the authority or consent of the lenders!
Apparently 50 such e-mail were issued to law firms by Lender Exchange yesterday and 250 are scheduled to be issued during the forthcoming week.
I was reassured by both panel administrators that my law firm had certainly not been suspended from their panels and I was to simply ignore such communications from Lender Exchange. This was comforting indeed but should Lender Exchange not have ascertained this before being so adamant with me that suspension had taken place? The Lender Exchange portal still shows my firm’s panel status as suspended today. No doubt I will have to spend a good part of the forthcoming week getting them to amend that status to reflect the actual fact that suspension never took place at all.
No, Lender Exchange certainly does not make the lives of conveyancers across the UK easier when dealing with lenders on panel related issues and it does not make updating lenders on changes in your businesses easier, quicker and more cost effective (for law firms and lenders alike). It is a complete and utter fiasco and the lenders need to sort this mess out. I trust the Law Societies will be lobbying them to do so and hopefully, this time, the lenders will sit up and take notice.
Now I have got that out of my system I will be spending the remainder of today, Saturday, doing the work that Lender Exchange prevented me from doing yesterday afternoon.
What do you think of Lender Exchange?
Picture Credit: The image used is © BBC from the television series Little Britain