Page 59 - Bridging & Commercial Magazine Issue 5
P. 59

  Liz Syms: I got started in the market having had a background with a large, corporate company, and my partner at the time decided to set up his own estate agency, so I jumped into self-employment as the mortgage adviser in there. It quickly became more of a letting than estate agency \[and\] 20-odd years ago, \[that was\] the first grounding in working with landlords and property investors—which is still 75% of our business. \[A\] couple of lucky breaks with a few contacts from people building up portfolios and, now, here we are. Chris Whitney: I’ll be 48 this year and I still don’t actually know what I want to do for a living. (laughter) I was coming \[to\] the end of my A-levels with no idea what I wanted to do \[and\] a local National Westminster Bank, as it was back then, had an open day for students. Some of my mates were going and, as I wasn’t doing anything else on that day, I went with them ... I ended up having an interview \[and being\] offered a place on \[its\] management development programme, which I took, in Northamptonshire, where I’m from originally. I did a number of years with National Westminster Bank, did my ACIB (Associateship of the Chartered Institute of Bankers) exams and then \[eventually\] got itchy feet and an opportunity to move to London \[to\] work for John Garfield at John Charcol, as it was then. Really, it was just to do ordinary residential mortgages, but most of the guys there were more \[from an\] insurance or mortgage background, and I was sort of the black sheep of the family as I hadn’t really done mortgages before, more business banking. It got to the stage where, if anything came in that was commercial or specialist, \[they’d\] say, ‘Well, what do we do with these?’ and someone would say, ‘Give it to Whitney, he used to work in a bank.’ And it developed from there. I started to take these opportunities on, started broking on the business banking and commercial side of things, and that’s where I was pigeon- holed and where I am today. Caron Schreuder: So, you’ve essentially been a specialist since day one? CW: Yeah, pretty much. CS: That’s quite unusual, isn’t it? Most people make a transition from something broader, don’t they? CW: I guess I was a specialist before it became a thing. (laughter) LS: People accidentally fall into this industry. They don’t make a choice while they’re at school to become a mortgage or specialist adviser ... a lucky break happens—somebody you meet, somebody you speak to—and it goes from there. \[Connect\] grew off fax marketing. I got a fax from an accountant saying, ‘If you’ve got anybody who would like an emergency reference for your mortgages, get in touch.’ So, I faxed him back saying, ‘Yeah, no problem. If you’ve got clients who need a BTL specialist, get in touch.’ He picked the phone up straightaway because that was his business and I helped him build a portfolio personally of 150 properties, and then, obviously, he did the same for the same sort of number of clients that we then helped. That came off the back of a fax. CW: It’s interesting in that it’s not for everyone. We both know people who are very competent ... but they’re perhaps a banker going into broking, they’re not there for many months and then they’re back into banking again. Same with BDMs: we get a lot of BDMs for lenders suddenly announcing they’re setting up their own brokerage or working with a brokerage and then a few months later you get the call, or you see on LinkedIn, that they’re back BDM-ing with a lender. It doesn’t suit everyone. LS: There’s also a difference \[going from\] a corporate culture to a small business. That can be quite a challenge for some people. CW: There is nowhere to hide in what we do, is there? LS: No. CS: What shifts have you seen over the last five to ten years that have impacted your roles directly? CW: For me, the biggest one is where we actually get our money from . . . when I first started, it was pretty much all banks or subsidiaries of building societies or building societies directly. The bridging or specialist market back then was probably three or four \[lenders\] and, frankly, seen to be a bit of a dark industry. Some would say, probably, a bit dodgy. It really was lender of last resort. Even back then, the lenders used to try to sell the more expensive money on timescales, but you could get RBS to turn a deal around in the same amount of time as someone who wanted to charge 14-16% interest rates. It was almost a market that just wasn’t needed. Only if you didn’t have the right contacts and you were unlucky enough to have a situation where you needed that type of money would you go to that type of lender. LS: When I started at Prudential, we had three lenders and we weren’t paid proc fees. So, you didn’t do mortgages then in the way that we do them now because you’d only do a mortgage if you were doing the endowment at the same time. There are so many lenders to choose from now. Even before the credit crunch, we had lots of lenders, but now we’ve got lots of specialist lenders in the market, trying to get a small market share. That creates a massive amount of choice for advisers and clients, which is fantastic, but it also creates challenges for \[brokers\] in navigating the specialist market ... \[ They may have a\] scenario, this particular set of things \[their\] client needs—how are \[they\] going to match that up with 150 lenders out there? And that’s not including 150 specialist bridging lenders; you’ve got such a lot of saturation in that market. CW: I thought that the other day: there are hundreds of lenders. And I thought, well, actually, could there be thousands? There are so many and a lot of them aren’t necessarily branded names. \[It\] doesn’t need to be small sums of money; some of the amounts that family offices lend can be quite substantial, but they are relatively off-radar. When you read in the press about the size of the industry, I don’t think anyone has a got a real handle on \[it\] at all. LS: And, also, \[there are\] lenders who come into the market with maybe a little bit of money to lend, but they think they’ll get a better rate than if they put their money in the bank or building society. They’re not really the sorts of mainstream lenders that, in my view, brokers should be using... CS: What sort of due diligence do you operate when looking to work with a new lender? LS: The most important thing in this moment in time is to understand how they’re funded. Have they got more than one source of funding? We’ve seen scenarios where lenders have suddenly pulled out of the market, and what people don’t necessarily see is the knock-on effect that it has because of the time it’s taken to get to that point. If they were just about to exchange contracts, for example, and that funding has been pulled, it’s not necessarily the fact that Interview   57  Sept/Oct 2019 

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