‘Don’t try shooting the lights out before you know your market’
By Laura Miller -
Prince Phillip is currently recovering in hospital, reportedly as a health “precaution”, and at 99 years young the prince is understandably keen to take no risk too lightly. It is a stance Philip Gould of Avamore Capital, understands.
“My fundamental role as an underwriter is due diligence, and ensuring our lending is secure,” says Gould, “but what I love most is the broader picture”. Players in a deal are not unlike a family, royal or otherwise, where everyone comes together to get the project over the line.
“Borrowers, solicitors, brokers, there is something special in the fact we are all different yet have the same focus, troubleshoot together, navigate challenges, and, in the end, all work to support the developer sitting at the heart of it,” he says.
In recognition of risk management’s role in lending, perhaps more so in the age of Covid, Gould was recently promoted to the senior leadership team at Avamore Capital, the first time the lender has given internally the role of principal.
Gould says the move made him “extremely proud”. It is testimony to his contribution. Last month Avamore hit the £250m lending milestone, attributing 60% of completions to Gould since he joined as senior underwriter two years ago. Before that he headed up credit at alternative finance platform Proplend, where he says he also played a key role in growing its loan book from £30m to £60m in 18 months.
“I’d always had a specific interest in property”, he recalls. Starting at Barclays as a corporate credit analyst in the technology, media and telecoms division, after two years he moved to cover real estate. His three years in Barclays’s property credit team “proved to be a real launch pad for my career”, he says.
Young blood and old hands are often thought mutually exclusive. In Gould’s experience they are deeply symbiotic. “Learning from colleagues that were extremely experienced, had a firm grasp of the core tenants of property lending, a deep understanding of the sector, and had been through a few economic cycles,” was invaluable, he says.
Specialist lending, he found, was a different beast again. “The market is very small and heavily based on relationships,” he says, “when you start out it’s really important to foster partnerships outside your company, surveyors, solicitors, brokers, planning consultants”.
Tough water to navigate, but Gould advises those starting out, or thinking of joining the industry, to stick with it. “When you’re trying to learn and make connections it can feel overwhelming, but time on this at the start of your career will pay dividends in years to come,” he says.
Outside of work, Gould is either cycling or supporting Liverpool FC (which has the nicest manager in Jurgen Klopp, shame about that 2-0 defeat Saturday at home to derby rivals Everton), but his first love is golf.
Mark Twain said it “spoils a good walk” but Gould has played since age seven, at one time regionally for the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Handicapping has long and less than riveting rules, but of Gould’s 10 handicap Golf Digest says, “unlike players at other skill levels, a 10-handicapper tends to follow a consistent form” – fitting for an underwriter.
Back in the office his biggest challenge right now is speed. “Every lender is quick in the specialist market and that’s why a lot of customers choose to work with us over a mainstream bank. This year things have taken much longer to complete,” he says.
Traditional ways of working have buckled under the twin pressures of Covid and a stamp duty holiday. “The industry has been beholden to a legacy structure, a lot of hand-written processes, and has been fairly stagnant in our use of technology versus other sectors,” he points out. Covid forced property to adapt. “Long term we’ll see businesses harnessing this change for the better,” he says.
Asked what advice he would give to someone entering the market now, he returns to the value of human relationships. “Experience as much as possible,” he says. “There are so many different types of people, some focused on numbers, others on relationships or due diligence, there is something for every type of person to be good at”.
If you find yourself in an area you don’t love, look around as “inevitably there’ll be something else in the sector that suits you”. But he adds, master the basics. “Don’t try and shoot the lights out before you have a good grasp on the core tenants. There is plenty of time for that further down the line.”
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