Gemma Salousti

An interview with Gemma Salousti: 'The biggest challenge in the bridging market is feasible exits'

Gemma Salousti, senior credit manager at Octane Capital, was recently crowned the Underwriter of the Year at the B&C Awards 2019.

In an interview with Bridging & Commercial, Gemma talks about Octane’s productless approach, challenges in the bridging market and staying up to date with property trends.

How does not having a product sheet affect your underwriting process? How does it differ from your previous experiences?

Although we have no products, we still have lending criteria in place across all loan types. Equally, we don’t have to follow the ‘red-book’ approach when it comes to applications, unlike other lenders in the market.

Everything we do at Octane Capital is bespoke and that was one of the biggest attractions to me for joining the team back in June 2017.

Working at Octane feels exactly like it did back in the good old days when you were actually the decision maker behind the loan, rather than simply ticking boxes.

With a productless and bespoke approach, how long does it take to know if a deal is suitable for Octane?

There is no difference at all when it comes to having no products. If a loan doesn’t make sense to us, we come to a decision pretty quickly.

At Octane, we have such experience in the team that even the BDMs are pre-underwriting the loans that come to us, enabling us to get deals completed more quickly. 

If the deal is for us, great, we will work with the broker to get it completed in the quickest possible timeframe, enabling their client to access the funding solutions they require. 

What methods does the team have for staying up to date with trends in the property market?

First and foremost, we have regular team meetings, whether it’s the credit team on its own or the whole of the company. It’s great to sit down among your colleagues to discuss and identify any changes that are occurring in the market.

The whole team are also signed up to both the Bridging & Commercial Magazine and online platforms, which we value highly for providing news and updates around the market.

Some of the team regularly attend industry events, including seminars, breakfast briefings and roundtables. These are all fantastic ways of keeping up to date with the goings-on in the specialist finance industry.

If you could change one thing about the bridging industry, what would it be?

It would likely be the perception that bridging finance is extremely expensive and that it should be everyone’s last resort for obtaining funding, as that’s really not the case. 

The days of the ‘classic chain-break’ are long gone, and I actually can’t remember the last time I underwrote a loan purely because the borrower needed speed while they waited for a property to sell or a mortgage to come through. 

Bridging is so much more than that these days. If I was to look at my current deal pipeline, it’s a mix of refurbishments, commercial, foreign national BTLs, off-shore companies, planning bridges and finance to purchase large property portfolios. It’s about as diverse as it gets.

What will be the biggest challenge for the bridging market this year?

Well aside from the obvious ‘B word’, which I won't even begin to bore you with, I think the biggest challenge we face in the bridging market is feasible exits.

One of the main things we are really focusing on at Octane is ensuring we are providing long enough terms for our loans, which provides borrowers with the peace of mind that they can exit the loan in the correct timeframe.

We work directly with the broker to work out the correct term that is required for the loan. With all the uncertainty surrounding the market at present, I urge all lenders to make this one of their priorities in the coming months and beyond.

How did you get into the industry?

Funnily enough, I got into the industry with the help of my mum. When I left school, I qualified as a make-up artist, which really isn’t as glamorous as I once thought. But at the same time, I had a temp role at Abbey for Intermediaries, now known as Santander.

My mum was the office manager and I absolutely loved working in an office environment alongside a team. I really used to enjoy working with brokers, hitting targets and the pressure of getting deals completed within tight deadlines.

So, it all started from there really. I then got a job working as a case manager at another bridging lender before moving into an assistant underwriter role at a different company and up the ladder, and I’m now a senior credit manager at Octane Capital.

If you didn’t work in finance, what would you be doing?

If I wasn't working in finance right now, I would like to think that I would be a highly successful make-up artist, working with A-list celebrities in Los Angeles. Failing that, I’d settle for a leading role in a number of Hollywood blockbuster films and being married to a movie star! We can all dream, can’t we?

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