In an interview with Bridging & Commercial, Laura Carr, head of underwriting at Hope Capital (pictured above), talks about the importance of brokers having direct access to underwriters and the need for more transparency and ease of comparison between lenders.
How important is it for brokers to have direct access to underwriters? Is this something you provide at Hope Capital?
We think it is incredibly important for people to have direct access to underwriters. This has always been a key feature of our service at Hope Capital. Since day one, both brokers and borrowers have always had direct access to a senior decision maker. We look at every case on its own merits rather than sticking to a rule book, so it can be really important to talk a case through with a broker so that they understand what we can lend against and what information we need to carry out our due diligence. We are completely transparent about what we will and won’t lend on and why.
At a time when there are recruitment issues in the market, how does the new starter programme work at Hope Capital?
As we have expanded, it has been crucial to have a robust induction programme in place. We have just completed a one-week training plan in the office for four new starters, which gives an insight into all aspects of the business and this has now moved on to our buddy system with an experienced team member, so that each member of staff is fully supported at all times. We’ve had great feedback from our colleagues, who have said: ‘At other companies, it has taken months for me to understand what I already know.’
You’ve just expanded your business development team. Will we see similar growth in the underwriting team?
Yes, it always follows that when we expand our business development team, we also expand our support functions. Last year, we expanded our business across underwriting and support by 40%. This was to ensure that as the amount of work increases, our exemplary level of service always remains as good, if not better, than it always was.
If you could change one thing about the bridging industry, what would it be?
I think that there needs to be more transparency and ease of comparison between lenders. At Hope, we are clear and upfront about our charges and fees but, from broker and client feedback, what often looks like a better deal on the face of it often transpires that there are further hidden costs, such as monthly management fees and onerous default costs, which aren’t clear from the start. From broker and client feedback, they often find it difficult to compare on a like-for-like basis because of a lack of clarity.
What will be the biggest challenge for the bridging market this year?
There are a lot of new lenders in the market who are trying to make a success of bridging, so there are a lot of people competing for new business. The challenge for some lenders will be to keep their standards high and carry out prudent levels of due diligence and not lend at any cost, because there is always a danger that those who do won’t be lending for long.
There is, of course, still the spectre of Brexit looming over us, which looks as far away from a solution as it has ever done. This level of uncertainty is bound to have an effect, not only on people wanting to borrow money, but also the type of projects that lenders will lend against. We saw this more particularly at the beginning of the year, although now there is a large element of ‘business as usual’ as people get tired of the ‘wait-and-see’ game.
What is the most interesting case you’ve dealt with?
There have been many weird and wonderful cases over the years. One that springs to mind recently was for a large loan secured on a unique old mill building. The case had been with another lender which moved the goalposts on the LTV late in the process, but what made it a challenge was that the client lived on a cruise ship and had set sail again thinking all was fine with the previous lender. Hope stepped in and, by using our video call facility, we were able to iron out any issues face to face and set out what we needed, such as an AST and employment contract for the caretaker onsite. The signing of legal documents was a struggle, but we were able to locate a professional onboard who was able to witness and undertake a Skype call with their own solicitor onboard. The legal documents were then couriered when the ship was at a docking point. There were further issues when, on the day of completion and final searches were done, there had been another charge registered on the property, which created more hurdles to overcome.
If you didn’t work in finance, what would you be doing?
I studied languages and originally wanted to work in the hotel and hospitality industry abroad. I got my first full-time job as a trainee manager at a local hotel, but soon realised that the unsociable hours weren’t all that great when my friends were out having fun! By chance, I knew someone who was in banking and they asked me if I would be interested in coming along for an interview, so that was the making of a complete career change. So, if I wasn’t in finance, I imagine that I would be living and working in France or Spain instead!