“Challenges always create opportunities”

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Steve Smith Roma Finance

What does bridging have to do with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation? No, (surprisingly) not the decade long 25 million euro refit of the colosseum.

UNESCO’s mission of sustainable development and intercultural dialogue includes the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme – LINKS.

People’s specific place-based knowledge must be factored into environmental goals. Local problems often demand local solutions.

Steve Smith, national sales manager at Roma Finance, knows all about that. He may not realise it, but Smith is bridging’s UNESCO LINK.

Smith, who was promoted to his current role in May, supports brokers and their clients across the South West and South Wales for Roma.

He does that by leveraging local knowledge painstakingly built up by investing virtually his entire working life in the same area.

“I live in Gloucestershire. I’ve a strong connection to the area and a wide network of introducers, having worked on this patch for 20 years,” he says.

When increasingly central government decisions are made by algorithm, including in town planning, local knowledge like Smith’s is becoming even more valuable.

Last spring the Government announced with fanfare the “tearing down” of English town and country planning regulations.

However the algorithm the reforms use to set how many new homes need to be built in local areas, will lead to London and the south seeing a housing boom while swathes of the north will see fewer homes built.

Local councils had to point that out, and were able to because they are populated by people with intimate local knowledge, like Smith.

“I assist a diverse range of clients and that makes every day different and interesting, plus I’m lucky to have a great network of introducers across the region,” he says.

His favourite thing is making people as excited about Gloucestershire as he is. “I love the fact that I support all kinds of borrowers and investors to realise their ambitions. It’s a great feeling being part of that growth.”

Smith spent 10 years from 2000 as a BDM at Gloucestershire HBOS, including through the formative Great Financial Crisis years.

“I joined Cheltenham and Gloucester as part of a management scheme and the moved into commercial banking with HBOS, becoming a BDM,” he says.

He also worked on the broker side for seven years as commercial director for a brokerage, “which gave me invaluable insight” before joining Shawbrook Bank as a BDM.

This first-hand experience of both sides of the funder-broker dynamic provides Smith the advantage of a fuller understanding of property deals from all perspectives.

All of which he is now using at Roma, which he joined in 2019. “I joined as a senior BDM covering the same area I have lived and worked in for over 20 years because I was hugely impressed with the business’s ambition as well as the overall integrity of the management team,” he says.

The team, he points all, work well together because they are all operating from the same page. “We all have a clear idea of Roma’s aims and values, and there’s loads of expertise within the business, so we’re always learning from each other,” he says.

Roma has grown its lending significantly in 2021, with November being its best ever month for new business.

A quarter of all new business comes from existing borrowers and customer referrals. In June, in honour of World Environment Day, it launched an environmental sustainability competition for UK schools, inviting students to reimagine their local area and create a sustainable and environmentally friendly house or community. There’s that commitment to local again.

Roma has had a relatively good crisis but Smith is circumspect about the future. “Nobody knows the extent of the damage that the pandemic has caused and is still causing to our economy,” he says.

With an air of a man who has, by this point, pretty much seen it all, however, he is keen to see any glass half full: “It is a challenging environment to work in, but challenges always create opportunities. We should grasp those opportunities and try not to worry too much about what we can’t control.”