Benson Hersch, the chief executive of the ASTL, has appointed Vic Jannels as his successor after announcing in the summer that he would be hanging up his boots. With Benson’s final conference just completed it is a good time to look at what he has achieved and what lenders need from the association going forwards.
Benson has made a significant impact during his seven-year tenure as chief executive. In his very first year he set about turning around the reputation of the bridging industry to increase its respectability and the number of people who consider a bridging loan.
He brought in both a Code of Conduct which every member needed to sign up to. This included standards such as ‘acting with honesty and integrity in dealings with customers’ as well as rules around transparency and disclosing all costs and fees upfront to eliminate mis-representations.
He also brought in a Charter; this committed the ASTL to helping prevent fraud and also monitor proposed regulation and how it would affect members. The regulation conversation rumbles on still today, with both the ASTL and most of its members of the view that further regulation of the bridging industry is unnecessary.
The regulation position not-withstanding, Benson’s drive, as set out in his initial charter was “achieving higher standards … which improves the reputation of the industry”. This is something I believe everyone would agree, he has achieved, with the help of members who have the same drives and ambitions to put the customer first and act in a way that is honest and transparent.
So, what next? With the appointment of Vic Jannels as the new chief executive it is time to look towards the future. Inevitably the spectre of regulation will remain for some time, so it is essential that the ASTL retains a close relationship with the FCA and PRA.
The need to drive standards even higher across the industry remains. It also stands to reason that the higher standards are, the less necessity the FCA or the government will see in regulation. This will necessitate the ASTL to take steps, if it becomes aware of a member not operating to the high standards that the Code of Conduct dictates
The challenge the bridging industry has is not the main players but the outliers – the number of small lenders on the periphery that few people know anything about. There is a need to ensure that both brokers and borrowers only use reputable lenders that are a part of the ASTL in order to protect both themselves and their clients.
This highlights the need to broaden awareness of bridging amongst the wider mortgage broker population. Too many brokers are still unaware of bridging or really understand it. This limits the growth of the market as there may well be many occasions where bridging is absolutely the right solution and it is not being recommended.
The need for education and a qualification remains imperative, and the ASTL can play a central role in helping to ensure that this becomes reality, ideally as a module in CeMAP rather than as a stand-alone qualification that few brokers may choose to take. A stand-alone qualification could further restrict the numbers of brokers that recommend bridging rather than increasing them.
This is a key time for the bridging industry. It has come a long way in the past seven years, but the need remains to continue to drive up both standards and awareness so that bridging really does become a part of the mainstream landscape. We would like to wish Benson Hersch a long and happy retirement and very much welcome Vic Jannels on board.