Big Interview: Sabinder Robinson-Sandhu, Avamore’s new Director of Operations
By David Craik
BLD caught up with Sabinder to discuss her rise to the top and what she hopes to achieve in the new role.
Customer, culture and corporate responsibility are on top of the to-do list for new Avamore Director of Operations and board member Sabinder Robinson-Sandhu.
Sabinder, who joined Avamore back in 2018 as a Marketing Co-ordinator and was most recently Head of Operations and Marketing, started her new position last week and has already set out her short and long-term ambitions.
“My role is to work very closely with the heads of all our departments – sales, credit analysis, underwriting, investor relations and asset management,” she explains.
“It’s about setting manageable goals which lead to us hitting our overarching targets. Making incremental tweaks to processes to enable us to close more deals.
If something is not quite fitting or we are seeing a drop off in how things are running, then it’s our joint responsibility to find solutions.”
Sabinder believes that the customer lies at the heart of the operations function. “Operations should be customer led. Every internal change that we make should ultimately benefit our customers externally,” she states.
“Our key goal at Avamore is to create the most outstanding customer experience in the market. For us that means focusing on internal efficiencies which cuts down processing times and means we can do more deals, quicker, on behalf of our brokers and borrowers.”
Another goal in her new role will be a strong commitment to organisational culture. “We’ve all at some point in our careers had that dreaded moment on a Sunday evening when you don’t want to go back to work and then, the Friday feeling, in contrast, is the happiest ever as you look forward to your two days off,” she says. “I want Avamore to be the furthest thing away from that.
We have all of the niceties and the perks but it’s more than that, It is about creating a really comfortable, respectful environment for people that will ultimately lead to a happier, healthier and productive workforce.”
Avamore already has a strong ethos that encourages their staff members to grab opportunity and further their careers. “Here the management team build you up to succeed. If people want to progress in their career and try something new or branch out into a different department then we will always endeavour to support them.
We are a unique company dedicated to the success of every individual within it and with this new role I want to make that foundation even stronger.”
Sabinder says she herself can vouch for the authenticity of this ethos after progressing from an entry role five years ago to now sitting on the board.
She joined Avamore after being impressed by the team whilst working for them via a marketing agency. When she joined, she was one of only seven staff but, she believes, that helped develop her skills and her confidence.
“From where I came from to where I am now is quite unusual, but it is down to that attitude of empowerment across the whole team,” she says. “We’ve never had a hierarchical structure here. Yes, we have respect for the leaders naturally, but it’s always felt we are on the same level, striving towards the same things.
We all work together in the same room, and so there aren’t any physical barriers, you never think you can’t ask a question because day to day everyone is within reach!
You can see the top level, watch what they do, and with that you feel more confident to step into things yourself. The walls are down, and everything feels accessible.”
As time progressed and Sabinder took on the role of Head of Marketing in 2019, she began to develop an appreciation of the importance of operations.
“With a smaller team if you see something that needs doing but you don’t have a dedicated person, then the management are quite happy for you to do it.
I knew that I was operationally minded, and I could see the benefits that an overarching operations role could bring to the organisation.”
Those skills really came to the fore during the Covid pandemic and the need quickly arose to move from office to remote working processes and procedures.
“It gave everyone a bit more time to take a step back and look at what we were doing as a business and the areas we needed to address,” she explains. “I helped push the operational side of things during Covid.
When everyone came back post-lockdown, the company’s staff numbers had grown from around 15 to 25 staff. A clear need to address a lot of our systems and functions presented itself and we needed to operate more like a streamlined company.
That meant looking at things like replacing legacy IT and taking on new areas such as disaster recovery planning.”
Sabinder was named Head of Operations and Marketing in 2021 but began to naturally navigate more to the operations part of the dual role.
“One of the things which pushed me fully over to operations was leading the development of our online calculator last year,” she says. “Although it is not a game-changing piece of equipment, I believe it is ahead of our competitors in terms of functionality and reliability.
Technology will really underpin our operations, processes and customer experience.”
Indeed, another focus of the new role will be to lead the development of Avamore’s loan servicing platform which is due to launch later this year. “It will be essential for our growth, streamlining operations and improving efficiencies.
It will allow our team to do what they are here to do rather than get tied up with administrative tasks,” she explains.
Sabinder has also led the company’s ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) drive. “Over the past year, we’ve been building our long term ESG strategy.
For us, that means driving a sustainable plan which spans all three aspects. We have conducted internal surveys to understand motivations and priorities as well as external investigations to gauge the opinions of stakeholders,” she says.
“ESG is, rightfully so, an ongoing conversation and at the moment we are doing some work with our Monitoring Surveyors to benchmark developers on ESG performance. It is only until we have a strong data set that we’d be in a position to start investigating what new products could look like.
For us we want to ensure that we address ESG in the right way, focussing on longer-term solutions rather than simply achieving ‘quick hits’.”
Part of the ‘G’ focus also includes, Sabinder says, creating a new Chairman role for the group – a move set to be officially announced in the next few weeks.
“For a company of our size such a move may not seem essential, but we are dedicated to corporate governance. In our view, it’s of the utmost importance if you are a £500million plus lender,” she says.
“We have a responsibility to run the company in the most effective way.”
Sabinder is also excited about helping set the company’s strategic goals as part of the board. “It is a huge privilege. I don’t see myself running a business of my own, so this is my opportunity to really shape an organisation,” she says.
“We look at the business two or three years ahead of where it actually is. It is about making the right decisions to ensure you are sustainable over the short and long term.”
At present, she describes the bridging market as ‘very interesting’ with high interest rates, uncertainty over developer exits and borrower hesitation.
“For us the key is to maintain good credit standards. There can be a temptation to relax your baseline in order to close business, but we don’t want to sacrifice our reputation to do so,” she says.
“We know that by acting prudently we can ensure that we are here for the next 10 years and beyond.”
Talking of longevity Sabinder is the longest serving employee at Avamore. What has been her highlight?
“Helping develop the Part-Complete Development product was a huge achievement,” she states.
“It is immensely rewarding as a small lender to create something completely new and see your peers move to replicate it. I don’t think that’s something which happens very often!”