Ortus making a noise in Belfast
By David Craik -
Ortus Secured Finance is doing its bit to not just grow its own volumes in Northern Ireland but expand the whole short-term lending sector in the country.
According to Sam Dundee, lending manager at the Belfast office of residential and commercial bridging lender Ortus Secured Finance, a knowledge gap exists in Northern Ireland when it comes to bridging finance.
“A large part of the role here is education,” says Dundee, who joined Ortus this March. “It is about putting our name out there to borrowers who may have only used a mainstream lender before and are either unaware about or have never considered using bridging.
We are also continuing to work hard to keep up our close relationships with other crucial intermediaries in the country such as solicitors and brokers.”
Dundee says his conversations with those borrowers and fellow professionals is helped by his own career background.
A Chartered Accountant by training he has worked at Big Four accountant PwC carrying out external audits across a range of businesses such as PLCs and SMEs.
Most recently he spent three years at Allied Irish Bank where his role included managing primary banking relationships for customers in the manufacturing, hospitality and leisure sectors – all key areas of lending for Ortus.
“This dual background has been important in my new role. I have that core understanding of business but also lending as well,” he says. “I have that mix of the commercial and the personal.”
Indeed, borrowers and brokers are responding well to the team’s expertise, local presence and approachability in Belfast.
“They like to see familiar faces when they do a deal. There is a strong level of trust there,” he says.
“They know you understand the area and the needs of our clients. They really value that and of course the huge experience and knowledge we have in our team both here and elsewhere in the UK.
We’ve all been around the block and speak our client’s language.”
Indeed, Ortus has quite the tale to tell. It was set up in 2013 as a specialised commercial lender focussing on pubs and hotels.
But now it has offices throughout the UK in London, Belfast, Manchester, and Glasgow; offering residential, auction finance, development exit and commercial loans, as well as buy-to-let and holiday let solutions for developers, property investors, and property owners.
Dundee says with so much uncertainty in the economy as we emerge from the pandemic, as the cost-of-living soars higher and we face up to a European war, that there are more borrowers ready to listen to what Ortus can offer.
“As borrowers find it harder to secure loans from high street banks in this post-pandemic market, we are seeing a real surge in those that are turning to us over traditional finance,” he says.
“We are busy underwriting deals in Northern Ireland and mainland UK both in commercial and residential. They want our flexibility and quickness and quality of service. It is really booming in Belfast.”
On the residential side Dundee is seeing huge demand from high and middle earners as the Northern Ireland economy continues to benefit from an influx of companies from fintech to offshore industries.
“We’ve created quite an economic niche for ourselves in Northern Ireland and as the quality of living in the country improves so does the demand for more expensive property,” he says.
“In addition, we are also seeing more interest in buy-to-let renovations. It is a real advantage for us.”
The demand is also being driven by Ortus’s rates for standard residential bridging loans starting at 0.499%per month for loans between £100,000 to £3 million at up to 70% LTV.
Dundee does however express some caution about residential developments. “We’re all seeing the price increases there both in raw materials and increased cost of labour.
We’re also seeing delays in planning, such as 6 months increased to 9 months and 9 months increased to 12 months, but again it has given us the opportunity to come in and bridge some of the lending gap,” he says. “This allows developers to complete sales and exit.”
On the commercial side Ortus is seeing increased demand for warehousing off the back of the e-commerce boom in the pandemic and is leveraging its core hospitality offering as pubs and leisure facilities re-open.
“A lot of established leisure businesses were forced to shut their doors in the pandemic and were badly impacted. But there were also a number of other firms which hadn’t even reached their first 12 months of trading when the crisis hit,” he explains.
“Both were expecting to re-finance with their existing banks but again they have found it hard to do so. In these circumstances we’ve again been able to fill the gap and get them going. These are good, strong assets and we have supported a number of them this year.”
Dundee is confident that the demand for bridging will continue given Northern Ireland’s strong economic fundamentals, its education strategy and an increase in the number of brokers setting up which are committed to short-term lending.
“This isn’t a saturated market for bridging. There is a lot of opportunity to grow more for both those new brokers and ourselves. We are very ambitious in this market and want to work together with them,” he says.
“We will continue to rely on word of mouth and getting our name, services and products out there. I’m very optimistic about the sector here in Northern Ireland.”
David Craik is a freelance journalist writing news, feature articles, blogs and guides for national newspapers and magazines. His main areas of interest include finance, property and investments.