How long have you been with Assetz Capital and what is your role?
I re-joined Assetz in June 21, having previously worked on the Northern Ireland portfolio as a consultant, pre-pandemic. Now, as a Relationship Director covering Northern Ireland, I am responsible for representing the Assetz brand, managing the current loan book whilst identifying opportunities to continue to grow the client base of high-quality SME borrowers.
How did you get into property lending, and what made you become a Relationship Director?
Good question! For as long as I recall I have had an interest in the property sector, having gone straight from university into property banking. One Global Financial Crash later, during which I worked borrower-side for 8 years, I have reverted to what I enjoy best; helping to provide funding for property investment and development projects for experienced clients.
What’s the best thing about working in property lending?
Well, it isn’t the hours! Quite simply, I get a kick out spending time on site with the borrower and contributing in some way to deliver a tangible product, something meaningful. I have been involved in funding development projects for many years across NI, and will often pass schemes long-completed, now mature and occupied – which is quite gratifying.
What does a normal day look like in your role?
My day starts at 5am with a 10k run and protein shake……sorry, wrong audience! I haven’t had a ‘normal’ workday for as long as I can remember! Best laid plans for a typical day’s work in this role can be obliterated by just one email or call, so I try to just remain as flexible in my approach as possible. I do mix the week up between admin management (with massive support from a very efficient Relationship Support Team), client / agent meetings and site visits throughout NI. I think it’s essential to be visible and accessible, and to be on the road so to keep in touch with the market; most clients also love the opportunity to get their funder on site to show off their work.
Let’s chat about the market, what changes have you seen in product desire from borrowers in Northern Ireland in the last 12 months?
In my opinion the impact of the pandemic on all sectors cannot be understated and coupled with Brexit, it clearly had the potential to be instantly detrimental to the NI property market in particular. However, in hindsight the advent of CBILS was absolutely necessary to absorb the shock of the pandemic and has been the overriding theme over the past 12 months. It appears to have been a welcome initiative that instilled confidence when it was needed most. It provided an opportunity for borrowers to continue to function, while also introducing some much-needed support to the local economy – whether that be through Contractors, Agents, Solicitors and QS’s, who were also indirect beneficiaries. As far as I can tell, like everybody else, clients just want to get back to business as usual and leave the pandemic behind. Assetz are now accredited under the Recovery Loan Scheme and are again assisting borrowers in the NI market by stepping up to provide much needed funding in a market where mainstream lenders are not fulfilling their traditional function.
After the extended break in lending non-CBILS loans due to the lockdowns, how does it feel that the market is now opening back up?
As mentioned, CBILS was welcome and necessary – albeit it was before my time started with Assetz – so I missed all the fun! The bounce back in the NI market has been remarkable and contrary to what might be expected, the residential market has been reinvigorated to some extent by the government’s supporting initiatives. It’s particularly encouraging to see the apparent level demand for family homes at realistic and sustainable prices across most of NI – presumably driven to some extent by those intending to work more from home and so able live in a more rural setting, with more space, a better work/life balance and where value for money can be hard to ignore.
What’s your favourite thing about working for Assetz Capital?
I love doing these questionnaires! Apart from that the variety of the role is quite enjoyable – meeting clients, getting deals done and the accessibility of those needed to keep the process flowing. Assetz is a relatively small, close-knit team making a big impact. Without exception, everyone that I have encountered in Assetz so far are doing their absolute best to deliver, often in challenging circumstances. The client is kept at the fore of what Assetz are about – and to me, that is key.
What keeps you focused and motivated?
I am naturally quite disciplined and methodical in how I approach work; but not in a box-ticking, bean-counting kind of way (big respect for the accountants of the world)! I simply enjoy working with reasonable people and getting the job done. There can be a real sense of satisfaction when a deal that we’ve been working is drawn down, particularly those for new clients. But that passes, so we’re naturally motivated to get on to the next!
Tell us about an exciting upcoming deal that you will be working on.
I have a few deals at various stages; the acquisition of a hotel site with planning for 200 rooms in what is an extremely prime and historic location; a multi-phase residential development project that would deliver over 200 homes; and a mixed-use commercial investment anchored by a UK National, located within one of NI’s premium retail parks. Although these are advancing, they may never get to drawdown stage, which is just the reality of lending. However, every one of them is an opportunity for us to put our best foot forward and reflects Assetz’ restored appetite to consider larger property transactions, in strong locations for quality promoters.
What’s your favourite activity outside of work?
I’m not sporty as such, so I’ll not pretend to do the rugby, golf, or football chat! I live in Belfast but I’m not a natural city-slicker, having moved here many years ago. So now I like to spend time with my family on weekend breaks, anywhere on the coast close to a beach – summer, or winter!
What is the one thing you can’t live without? My wee daughter, nothing else needed.