Big Interview: Damien Druce, Commercial Director, Black & White Bridging

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Damien Druce Black & White Bridging

BLD asks the leaders in the bridging sector to look back at 2021 and look forward to 2022. What opportunities and challenges lie in store?

You would imagine that Damien Druce, commercial director at Bristol based Black & White Bridging, would be looking forward to a slight slowdown in activity in December.

Perhaps a time to wrap up some Christmas presents and sit by the log fire thinking of the successful year just gone. A 300% growth in applications, a 1000% hike in completions and a 4 million% increase in social media impressions.

But as you’d expect for a business with such stellar levels of growth the idea of a quieter December was never really on the cards.

“We were expecting a lull in December. But we just keep getting applications in on a daily basis,” Druce says. “It’s fantastic. We have broken internal records every month and continue to do so.

Our momentum and loan book are growing and if the market continues to perform next year as it has done in 2021 then it will be another good year in 2022.”

Fundamental to its growth this year was the re-branding of the business away from the previous Bath & West Finance name in March.

Devised by Druce and founder Martyn Smith, the aim was to create a more dynamic image for the group which provides residential and semi-commercial bridging, development, refurbishment and auction finance in England and Wales.

“Our previous brand made us sound more like a building society than a nationwide lender,” Druce explains.

“The change has landed really powerfully with clients. We’ve gone from single digit loans a year at the previous B&W to double-digits per month at the new B&W!”

The group’s new mantra – ‘No grey areas. Truly transparent lending.’ Has also caught the imagination of the industry.

“There is so much in the market for brokers and intermediaries to cut through in terms of finding the right home for their deals,” Druce says.

“Previously they have just gravitated to the path of least resistance, so a lender where they know the Business Development Manager or with whom they have completed a couple of deals in the past.

Now they are getting more alert to other options out there and because our messaging is quite strong, they are willing to give us a chance. We’ve also put ourselves out there much more than before.

It is a land, sea and air approach organising zoom meetings with brokers, going to industry events, and pressing the flesh in face-to-face visits,”

Druce says the relatively small size of the firm – it should have 15 employees by the end of January, triple the amount 12 months ago- has also helped it land deals.

“We are nimble and can huddle together in a room with a client and get a deal structured and done,” he says.

“Indeed, that is another strength of ours, we are deal structurers. We have that experience and passion to make it happen for our clients and I believe that is a differentiator from our peers.

We could compete on price but instead we compete on our ability to deliver excellent service and attention to our clients needs. It’s about being transparent about what you can and can’t do in terms of rates and products.”

Apart from the internal changes B&W has also been bolstered by the upward momentum in the bridging market particularly residential as a result of the Stamp Duty holiday.

“Residential has continued to perform either in line or above expectations,” Druce says. “In comparison there is a fear in the market that commercial is a riskier class.

We don’t think it is if there is a clear and demonstrable plan for the asset in terms of future use.”

What he is seeing currently is semi-commercial demand so LOTS (Living Over the Shops) which he believes are a quick and easy win for Local Authorities.

“They mean that high streets will help not just the daytime economy but the night-time economy if there is a residential element there as well,” he says.

“My advice for lenders or brokers looking to do commercial in 2022 is to study local or neighbourhood development plans. That way you can bring forward commercial schemes which will complement them.”

He is also seeing challenges as the year turns in development finance given inflation and the rise in the cost of materials.

“There are concerns there and we are alert to it. You need to ensure that the schemes you are lending to are viable or you can get caught out,” he says.

“We have years of experience in development but those bridging lenders who are perhaps trying their hand at it could face some pitfalls.”

What then of 2022?

Looking at the market Druce expects the residential side to continue its current trajectory at least in the first half of the year.

“We are still working through the issues caused by Brexit and Covid. We might see some turbulence by the middle of the next year, but we may also keep going and never look back,” he says.

“Residential, development and commercial demand remains high, and the supply is there to meet it. We certainly see green shoots all around us.”

He hopes they will also emerge for disadvantaged children when it looks to set up a Charitable Trust next year.

“We intend to put a certain amount of money from every completion we do into it, and we hope some of our closest intermediaries will do the same,” he says.

“We will then set up a grants committee to consider applications for things such as University accommodation or driving licences.

We may even look at offering employment in financial services to some of these kids. Many of them will be from backgrounds which would never consider it as a career option.”

As for the company itself Druce says it will soon be appointing a new non-executive director who he tantalisingly says will be well known to many in the market and will provide more expert advice going forward.

He adds that it is no secret that the company is looking to diversify into term debt next year alongside its other offerings.

“If we need to slow down then we will put our foot on the ball,” he says. “But we have a clear plan. A black and white plan and we will continue to be hungry for sustainable growth.

We approach the new year with a confident mindset. I am an optimist.”