Meet our latest Bridging Loan Diamonds
By Laura Miller
BLD’s Diamonds are always horizon scanning, looking for upcoming challenges they can step into and solve – from hand delivering vital equipment during the pandemic, to creating a new way to connect and share ideas with peers, to helping forge a path for the next generation of female leaders.
Here are four of the industry’s best, our next list of Diamonds…
James Anderson, operations director, MT Finance
Deliveries got us through the pandemic. Uber Eats and Amazon are not conventional heroes it’s true (some would argue they are the villains), but individual delivery drivers who kept going to keep us going, leaving the safety of their home so we didn’t have to, literally drove us through the worst of the coronavirus crisis. One of those whizzing around the South East like a pandemic Postman Pat was the bridging sector’s very own James Anderson, MT Finance operations director.
Instead of delivering groceries he was dropping off the laptops that would ensure, despite the uncertainty and disruption, lender MT Finance could continue as a business while staff worked safely from home. Joshua Elash, director of MT Finance, says: “The biggest challenge, and our most immediate initial success, was setting up the entire team to work from home. We count ourselves fortunate that we had a robust business continuity plan in place which was rolled out to perfection by our operations director, James Anderson, who literally drove across the South East delivering laptops to the team.”
Not only did he help out colleagues, James sought to lift some of the pandemic-induced anxiety from strangers. He had just bought a house in a road where it turned out quite a lot of elderly people lived, who were extremely worried about shopping for fear of catching Covid. “We got quite used to doing the ‘big shops’ for a few of our neighbours and it was really nice to get to know the people around us better. I now know who buys all the pork pies.” He jokes, but his service would have been a lifeline for many.
BLD’s Diamonds all have initiative by the boatload. Given his penchant for problem solving, even if that means a personal delivery, it’s little wonder when asked what he loves most about bridging, James says its entrepreneurial approach, of which he is a master operator. “When we have an innovative idea at MT Finance, the question is never if we can do it, it’s how. When we want something done, we put our heads together, figure it out, get it done. Working with smart people, imagination is not a limiting factor in making things happen.”
James has been a key player in that entrepreneurial approach at MT Finance over the last 12 months. When the lender launched its regulated bridging arm late last year, he led the team who developed the loan origination platform from scratch, building the calculation engines and systems to produce all the regulated documentation in house. “It wasn’t always easy but it’s been a great success,” he says. Likewise the tech team, which falls under his remit, has doubled in the past year, creating new challenges for a manager that James reacted to by developing MT Finance’s our own development methodology and process, Agile MT, allowing the lender to increase delivery by three times what it was previously, and cut bugs and queries from users in half.
Vanishingly few managers can get the job done while still being a team player. But James isn’t afraid to take care of the little things that make office life a little sweeter. As well as all his other duties, recently he has taken on the semi-official position of MT Finance Director of Snacks. It’s a fairly low-tech role compared to what he’s used to, mostly limited to providing the staff with individually-wrapped biscuit-based goodies, the most Covid-safe snack he could find. But, like all things pandemic related, this role is braced for changes too. “Although they’re definitely popular, I’m not sure if it’s really contributed to overall health and wellness so we’re making the move to swap out at least half of these to fruit. I’m not sure how well it will be received at first but I’m sure it’ll catch on – eventually.”
Faye Wilcox, managing director, Valorem Partners
Faye is a straight thinking, straight talking woman. Asked, ‘what is your biggest challenge in the industry right now’, her answers come in clear, sharp, bullet points: Helping more women into senior leadership roles; health and wellbeing; improving recruitment best practices for SMEs in this market. These are three huge ambitions. But Faye is unfazed in the face of a challenge. On health and wellbeing she has launched an exclusive partnership with CBTeach via a live webinar recently to help trusted clients create or improve their corporate support structures, and has also launched a product called VP Health Check.
The other two, fostering female leaders and the best SME hiring methods, are very much intertwined in her work. “From a recruitment perspective, I was always surprised at how often clients would propose to me that they are looking to hire a man. I have to say I don’t hear it as much anymore within the bridging industry, since 2018 there has been an increase in the number of female’s within the industry but also within senior positions,” she says.
Faye is more than just a witness to that change, she has helped make it happen. When clients come to her to find the best candidates for their opening, before recommending the merry-go-round of same old faces, she will often ask if they are a supporter of the Women in Finance Charter, (the government-backed scheme to redress the unaccountable imbalance of female leaders). If they are not, Faye spends some time educating them about the scheme, and how it could benefit their organisation (companies with women at the helm saw returns that were 226% higher, according to a 12 year study of the returns of Fortune 1000 companies by US trading firm Quantopian).
Change doesn’t happen by accident, it takes people willing to stick their neck out and risk being unpopular. It also takes sustained pressure over time to see results, just like the formation of a diamond in nature. Faye’s mission is to keep pushing against what is thankfully emerging as a more open door for equal representation for women in bridging, by asking companies to look inwards at their structures and processes to see if there is a better way of doing things, in order to get access to the best candidates. “I think if companies are willing to offer more flexibility around working from home or part time hours, then subsequently we would see even more women enter the industry and stay. I also would like to see this level of flexibility for Women in Management and C Suite level roles,” she says. Faye’s position is simple: there should be no reason why a woman cannot achieve their aspirations of being a mother while combining this with having a successful career. Putting her money where her mouth is, she has also recently created and launched The Inspirational Women in Finance Podcast (episodes out soon).
People make a company, so it matters who you staff your teams with. This is especially true of a sales and relationship-led sector like bridging. Faye sees no point stuffing any old candidate in a role. She works closely with a business to provide clarity around the skills, talent, experience and impact they need to hire, marrying these up in perfect harmony with the company’s objectives. Using her knowledge, expertise, relationships, time and enthusiasm, she successfully helps them hire the talent they need for their business to grow. “I love that my clients trust me to meet their needs and each time they come back to me with their next hiring project, which could be three or six months down the line,” she says.
Phil Mabb, property finance broker, Bridge Development
Property loans in the time of Covid have been odd things. Both everywhere in the form of government-backed business lending, and at times nowhere, if you were trying to get a high LTV residential mortgage, for example. Schrodinger’s loans. Navigating this market has, even for experienced professionals, required a great deal of skill to adapt and advise on completely new products under the coronavirus business lending scheme. But Phil Mabb saw an opportunity to provide certainty in a chaotic world. He invested in a paid marketing campaign for CBILS loans that proved very good at generating leads, boosting his own business while helping others in need.
Having successfully generated the business, he came through for his clients, and those referred to him by others. “During the difficulties of Covid, Phil has been receptive to all my client’s needs in relation to the CBILS property product from the British Business Bank,” says one satisfied business customer, “I had not heard of this product and neither had the 14 clients I have referred to Phil, yet he was available late evenings and weekends to talk my clients through their eligibility and understanding of a brand new product at a stressful time for most property entrepreneurs”.
The reason Phil is so popular is he takes the time to make solid recommendations and be available to answer any questions, in an important book-ended process that has allowed some clients to receive CBILS offers for refinancing property loans, and who have then proceeded to enquire on new loans, testament to the relationship advice Phil provides. All the while, according to his clients, Phil has kept his fees fair and appropriate, and puts TCF front and centre on all cases, without exception. (Asked what his biggest challenge is in the industry, he replies, “TCF please”).
After six years of trading positive year on year growth as a sole trader, Phil’s words of wisdom to the next generation of brokers are worth hearing. “Come with both your eyes and ears wide open”, is his key message. In a fast-paced and ever changing industry like bridging it is a good, if often forgotten point, much like the need to pay your dues and absorb the wisdom of others. “Our industry won’t leave you bored and the income can be substantial, but expect to tread the boards as you learn the trade and build your client bank, without which you have no business,” he says.
Like so many of BLD’s Diamonds, however, Phil’s care and attention towards the needs of others stretches far beyond the boundaries of the day job. Covid stretched us all in new and often not altogether pleasant ways, from the pressure of being stuck at home, to the fear of our loved ones getting ill, or having to manage on less income. But in every there are the helpers, and Phil was one, supporting local communities in West London with his volunteering work.
Starting during lockdown 1, Phil has been delivering PPE for BikeShed, which has been providing free courier-style services to support the fight against Covid-19, including one regular weekly trip from his home in south west London to Chelmsford to take back to a Church in Putney for distribution to local hospital in Brompton. He has done many such trips, long and short, crucially filling the gap in those frantic early days when all hell had broken loose but before PPE production caught up and demand fell. More recently BikeShed collaborated with the Royal Free Hospital to distribute Oximeters to doctor referred Covid-19 patients who had to rely on volunteer deliveries. By all accounts Phil has done more than 100 drops as part of this project, including a lot of time spent delivering to what emerged as the hotspots across London, risking his own health and likelihood of catching the virus, day and evenings during all weathers.
Sabinder Sandhu, marketing manager, Avamore Capital
Coronavirus created new challenges that required new ways of thinking across every aspect of bridging from lending to underwriting, and, especially – in those heady early days where rates and criteria were changing daily, if not hourly – a new approach to communications. Sabinder has been put forward as a BLD Diamond for stepping up to overcome the challenges of remote working and ensure industry-wide collaboration to keep messaging in-sync, and peers supported, at such a vital time.
“Like everyone, we had a strategy in place but after the outbreak of Covid, it was really like going back to square one. We had to be really mindful of what we were saying publicly and be sensitive to the fact that people could be going through really hard times both personally and professionally,” she says. Her reaction to these unchartered waters? She devised and organised the Cross Reference forums for marketers in bridging lending, virtual meetings to help deal with the unprecedented marketing challenges. Feedback from those who used the sessions revealed them as a useful, and fun, way to discuss new issues and ideas with other professionals. “All credit to Sabinder for creating an environment where a bunch of otherwise highly competitive marketers are able to come together in a spirit of collaboration – that’s no mean feat!” points out one testimonial.
BLD Diamonds are not just about looking back, but about who the torchbearers are for the future. Sabinder is one of them. Sabinder joined Avamore Capital as marketing coordinator in April 2018. At the end of our tumultuous 2020, she was promoted to head of operations and marketing. When asked what qualities she thinks a successful leader should have, she describes someone who is “a good listener, someone who motivates others and cares about the growth of their peers as well as themselves”. Good leadership is something Sabinder feels really passionate about. Outside of work she co-runs a charity that focuses on promoting leadership in young people, a community spirit of sharing experience (rather than pulling the ladder up behind you) that flows into her view of how to lead: “When people get into management positions, I think they should use their knowledge and seniority to everyone’s advantage,” she says, “I see being a leader as a privilege which means when you’re in that position, you should be generous with your time and committed to supporting the people around you.”
Sabinder brings a solid wisdom to her own career that will no doubt prove absolutely pivotal to younger peers coming through, about how to take the rough with the smooth and avoid those long internal conversations where we beat ourselves up for being imperfect and human. Asked what one thing she would tell her younger self, she says, “in a company, you always have value to add”, and recalls times when she started out when that wasn’t easy to see. “I remember it could sometimes feel scary to put your ideas out because other people were more experienced but, what I realised is that no-one can be an expert in everything.” It is this level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence companies are increasingly valuing over oppressive burnout cultures.
Not that she is a stranger to hard work. Her personal mantra is don’t ask anyone else to do anything that you’re not prepared to do yourself. She also believes if you aren’t willing to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in, then it’s unreasonable of you to expect someone else to do that same. But that all this is achievable, even as a leader during a pandemic, only via a successful work life balance based on setting personal boundaries and sticking to them. Which is a good example to set.
Laura Miller is a freelance journalist who writes about money and business. She regularly appears in UK national and trade newspapers and magazines, and has previously worked for ITV News and the Telegraph among others. Find her on twitter @thatlaurawrites