‘We look at everything across the bridging space’
By David Craik
Clifton Private Finance believes joining the Bridging Loan Directory is yet another sign why it should be ranked amongst the top bridging finance brokers in the UK.
“We are at a size now where a lot of people know who we are because we have won industry awards and built up a strong reputation for delivering a fast, friendly and professional service,” says the group’s Head of Bridging Sam O’Neill.
“We think we should be spoken of in the same breath as certain other bridging brokers who have been around for a lot longer than us and who we have always looked up to you. They know who they are!”
Indeed, Clifton Private Finance has only had a bridging arm to its business since around 2017. The bulk of the business, offering services such as HNWI and Private Bank mortgage broking, business loans, asset and invoice finance is based in Clifton, Bristol and Salisbury.
The bridging arm, based in Cardiff since 2019, offers services including residential and commercial bridging loans, business bridging, bridging for short-term lease, hotel and care home fees bridging and loans for expats.
It also provides bridging finance for property development, development exit and refurbishment finance.
“Back in 2017 the company was a traditional mortgage brokerage,” explains O’Neill.
“I was working with them at the time as an introducer carrying out any of their clients bridging requirements. Once they had identified a mortgage situation where their clients could use a bridge, then rather than turning them away I would come in and provide a solution.
As that service became more sought after it made sense from a commercial perspective for us to work together. I joined the group that year.”
O’Neill has helped to grow the bridging arm from just himself to 15 over those last six years.
“Clifton was a good example of a company that thought they didn’t have lots of clients who needed bridging services. But it turned out that they had loads,” O’Neill says.
“Once one mortgage broker helped a client identify a bridging need then another one would pipe up and say they had a similar case! So, with increased knowledge and trust within the firm, the general growth of bridging as a sector and greater understanding by clients our volumes have grown.
In fact, I don’t believe that there is a mortgage advisor out there who does not have a client who will at some point have a need for bridging services.”
O’Neill says that regulated residential bridging forms around three-quarters of the team’s work including everything from chain breaks, to downsizing, refurbishment and buying properties clients can’t get a mortgage for to do up and let out.
“We also handle deals involving ex-pats and clients based in Europe,” he explains.
Indeed, one recent example was a 1.5 million euro bridging deal after Clifton was approached by a company that owned two contemporary villas in Marbella, Spain. They needed a bridge to pay off the mortgage on one of the properties and to refurbish the other before selling.
“We look at everything across the bridging space,” he says. “Perhaps because we are online only a lot of business comes directly across our desks.
That is opposed to having a set pool of introducers who give us certain types of clients and therefore certain types of deals.
So, a European request for a bridge to buy something in Spain or France is equally as likely to come before us as Doris or Jim next door deciding to downsize.
We are not just the neighbourhood mortgage advisor for residential bridging. We are global.”
Clifton works with only a handful of introducers at present, but O’Neill is keen to develop this side of the business. “We are actively trying to increase the number and joining the BLD is another good way of taking that next step,” he says.
“But we will remain predominantly an online operation because let’s be frank, that is the way of the world at the moment. Everyone is going digital so to have that as a specialism of ours is another plus.”
That doesn’t mean that face to face interactions are ignored. O’Neill says it is important for his team to have one-on-ones with clients and to send out packs of property and offer documents with ‘our business cards’ in the post.
“Bridging can be a big financial decision with many emotions involved. It is nice to sit around a table with a family discussing those plans with a piece of paper in your hands,” he says.
“I’m a big believer in building client relationships, especially in today’s competitive market. We are also investing in Customer Relationship Management systems and client service staff to help us understand them a bit more.”
One more pillar of Clifton’s growth is, O’Neill explains, its use of specialist divisions. “Our team is solely focussed on bridging with other employees in our group dedicated to their own areas of expertise such as commercial,” he says.
“We want experts who know their business inside out. The clients then know they are getting the best kind of service and not a ‘jack of all trades’ approach. It has really helped distinguish our offering.”
Helping to build this high-level bridging team is Clifton’s graduate only recruitment model. “We have never poached anyone from a rival broker. Every broker we have here, apart from myself and colleague Senior Finance Broker Mathew Phillips, has come through our graduate scheme,” he explains.
“We don’t have a set number of graduates that we have to have every year. If we hire two or three in a particular round, then that’s great but if we don’t find what we want then we won’t just take the best of the rest. It’s not about numbers. It’s about getting the right people in the right seats.”
Indeed, in the four years that the scheme has been running, it has taken on only seven graduates as brokers. “We have another three in training at the moment,” O’Neill reveals.
Those graduates, like their colleagues before them, are taught the Clifton values and ethos right from the beginning.
“If you recruit from other companies, I think it would be hard to teach the bad habits out of people. They will have their certain ways of working, processes and preferred lenders,” he says. “But with our scheme we are singing off the same hymn sheet which in an ever more regulated environment is a huge USP.”
Those values include ensuring that every box is ticked, and every eventuality is covered the first time round when dealing with a client enquiry.
“You don’t want to do things quickly just for the sake of saying you are the fastest,” he says.
“Actually, taking your time, being thorough with every part of the process and explaining to the client the steps you are taking and why you are recommending what you are recommending can actually be the quickest and most effective method.
Ensuring that you are on top of every little criterion or procedural point a lender has means you are the most knowledgeable person on every deal. “
He adds that there may be some lenders out there who are traditionally perceived as being slow but in reality, they are very efficient if you know how to use them.
“I don’t think enough brokers take the time to learn the process of these lenders and how they work. As such they don’t win as many deals as they could,” O’Neill says.
What is somewhat harder to control however is the economy and its impact on the market and client demand. However, despite recent higher interest rates and volatility O’Neill says Clifton continues to remain defiant.
“Rates are higher, but we are not seeing much push back,” he says. “We consistently grow our numbers in the right direction.
Again, it goes back to being open and honest with your clients about costs. Bridging will always be too expensive for some people but if the juice is worth the squeeze and it meets their needs then it will remain popular.”