Nicola Firth

An interview with Nicola Firth: Knowledge Bank 'has created a revolution in the criteria space'



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In an exclusive interview with B&C, Nicola Firth, founder and CEO of Knowledge Bank (pictured above), shared her views on Ying Tan joining the criteria search specialist as non-executive chairman, the evolution of the company, and what the specialist finance industry is still lacking.

How do you feel knowing that an industry powerhouse like Ying was compelled to make a significant investment in Knowledge Bank

It is fantastic validation for the business and proposition, as well as for our future plans.

Ying has a complete understanding of what it takes to be a start-up, but also what scaling a business looks like, and everything that goes with that journey.

With his background, Ying brings a unique blend of both corporate and entrepreneurial experience, which is hard to find. 

Looking back, how has Knowledge Bank evolved into what it is today?

I couldn’t be prouder of what the team have achieved to date. It was borne out of an idea of how we could make things better for brokers, lenders and, ultimately, the customer — and it has created a revolution in the criteria space. 

I’m also incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to do for the specialist market. For years, smaller and specialist lenders have been underserved in the market, with only sourcing systems to display their products on. As a result, brokers often struggled to justify recommending these lenders as, by their nature, they are never going to appear at the top of sourcing tables. We’ve turned this on its head by giving both smaller and specialist lenders a platform where they will be at the top based on their criteria matching the customer’s needs. 

Knowledge Bank has come a long way from being just a concept to a multi-award-winning system used by thousands of brokers. This evolution has been amazing to be a part of, but we’ve got so much more on our roadmap, and I’m incredibly excited for our next chapter!

What is Knowledge Bank’s ultimate aspiration?

Our mission is to be respected by our clients and the marketplace as the leading global mortgage tech platform, utilising data and AI to drive better decision making, improve productivity, and enhance activity.

We believe we are in a unique position of having the largest database of mortgage criteria held anywhere in the UK and covering every lending type offered. 

In addition to this, we also have millions of data points and insights to better inform the market. In our opinion, this is something that hasn’t been available before, which opens up massive possibilities for lenders to both save on costs and increase revenue.  

Where are the gaps in the specialist finance market, and what can be done to fill them? 

I think technology is a big part of what is lacking in this sector — although I will say that the innovation from some finance providers in this space has been outstanding.

I think the difficulty is the variation in the size and scope of these lenders, as one size doesn’t fit all. The challenge in these areas is to take what is typically a very manual approach to underwriting and automate as much of that as possible. Some of the technology to do this already exists, such as AVMs and electronic ID and signatures, but there is still room for development in other areas of this process.

I think the other thing that isn’t necessarily lacking, but there needs to be more of in the specialist market, is education. Some lenders — such as Precise Mortgages, Kent Reliance and Kensington Mortgages to name a few — are doing a fantastic job when it comes to this, but reaching the right audience is the challenge.

Brokers will naturally gravitate to what they know which, for many, will be the mainstream market. For some networks, the specialist arena sits on the periphery of their core proposition but, others, such as Connect for Intermediaries, embrace this sector as its core. Therefore, it’s key to ensure that brokers are aware of where to access that help and support to enter this sector.

Overall, I think the specialist market works well and the lenders do a fantastic job in providing solutions around products and criteria. It’s a vital part of our space, and a growing one, too, as more cases, for various reasons, fall into the realms of ‘specialist’ than ever before.

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