In an interview with Bridging & Commercial, Lorraine Hart, head of underwriting at Roma, talks about the market’s reaction to its new offering and how it plans to utilise Open Banking.
You’ve recently launched a term product. What has the uptake been like?
The key to a successful bridging loan has always been understanding the exit route, and we are now able to offer this ourselves in a truly innovative way. We’ve had excellent feedback from introducers and their customers as it de-risks bridging loans. Often things can change during the term of a bridge so, if this happens, we have this controlled exit on hand. Not only that, but the term loan allows for release of equity, so they can move onto their next project once their build or renovate-to-rent project has been completed.
There has been a tremendous amount of interest in this unique product and we’re already negotiating further funding so that we can complete more of this type of mortgage.
How does your lending in Scotland differ from other lenders who have moved into this market?
We lend throughout Scotland, not just the major conurbations. All of our products are available to the Scottish market. Scotland has probably been a little underserved in the past, but there is a thriving broker and property market there and plenty of opportunities for specialist lenders to be part of.
Open Banking is assisting you in your underwriting process. How else do you plan to utilise this technology?
Since we started using this at the start of September 2018, Open Banking has proven to be the fastest, easiest and most secure way for Roma to access a read-only version of an applicant’s bank statements.
It allows us to securely share banking transaction information and makes the underwriting process quicker, easier and more accurate. It also removes the hassle and delays often associated with the collection of paper statements, helping to ensure prompt, responsible lending decisions are made. We use Open Banking for our bridging loans and on our term product. Introducers and customers have seen the benefits of this cutting edge technology, which I believe Roma was one of the first bridging lenders to utilise.
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In a challenging market for talent, how do you look to retain staff?
We have grown significantly in the last few years, both in terms of the amount of lending we now do and in the number of staff we employ. But we haven’t had too many issues with finding and retaining quality employees. New staff can see just how innovative and forward thinking we are as a business, and that translates into excellent levels of staff retention. In fact, we now have a waiting list of previous interviewees who are keen to work for us. All new recruits go through the Roma Academy to learn all aspects of the bridging business in order to get a thorough understanding of the specialist market we operate in, and to ensure they are well placed to help introducers and their customers with the highest levels of knowledge and service as cases progress.
What are your biggest concerns for the bridging market this year?
It’s clear from the recent Q1 ASTL figures that bridging remains a popular choice and is becoming more mainstream in terms of the awareness of its uses for acquiring, renovating or changing property. However, in a growing market, how the lenders are funded is crucial because we have already seen some lenders cease lending in recent months. At Roma, we have funding from a variety of sources — including institutional funding — which is good for customers as it means we have undergone due diligence in order to get this and can sustain our funding lines well into the future. We’re seeing introducers ask more questions about the business and not just if we can lend on a particular deal.
How did you get into the industry?
By accident! I was cabin crew looking for something more ‘grounded’ and ‘landed’ my first job in finance as an account manager for HFC Bank, selling unsecured loans. I then worked for a number of other banks and gained experience in various interesting departments, such as customer and client relationship management, business development, audit, compliance and underwriting. So, it was all good experience for my job at Roma.
If you didn’t work in finance, what would you be doing?
Probably something in the health and fitness industry! But I’ve always been passionate about strong business relationships and providing the best service possible to customers and introducers.