I may look as if I am in my early 30s (I wish) but I have been involved in the bridging sector for longer than I care to remember; certainly a good few years before the global financial crisis turned the world on its head.
Despite the ups and downs I have loved every second of it, and it has been fascinating to watch how the sector has evolved over the past decade and a half.
While the principles are the same, the practice of bridging has changed beyond recognition. These days, it is more transparent, professional, competitive and innovative. It is a sector I am genuinely proud to be part of and one that is a key contributor to the UK economy. But there is something that really irritates me.
Since the financial crisis, specialist property lenders have been an integral part of the alternative finance wave in the same way as all the peer-to-peer funders and marketplaces that serve the business sector.
But while these companies are hailed as innovators and disrupters – quite rightly, I hasten to add – bridging and specialist property lenders, although equally innovative and disruptive, are still often perceived to be ‘in it for themselves’.
The world of specialist property finance has been revolutionised over the past 10 years in exactly the same way as business finance — but fewer people know it.
Our industry needs to PR itself more proactively, demonstrating through the mainstream and social media the value we add — whether that is helping an everyday homeowner to downsize, a landlord to refinance their portfolio or a developer to acquire a plot or secure the actual development finance to build the new homes this country needs so much.
Maybe it is time to rethink the vocabulary we use to describe our sector and the products we offer? The term ‘bridging’ comes with a degree of baggage from the Wild West days pre-financial crisis, when, in all fairness, it was a bit ‘Shoot from the hip’. Yes, ‘bridging’ accurately defines what bridging does but, if it puts people off, perhaps it is time to ditch it altogether and run with something more generic and palatable.
‘Alternative’ or ‘specialist’ property finance covers most of what we do as lenders and is a lot less daunting to the uninitiated, who ultimately hold the key to our sector’s future growth and success.
‘Alternative’ or ‘specialist’ property finance covers most of what we do
I am thinking out loud here but, as someone who has spent a big part of his life working within specialist property finance, I want it to go from strength to strength. If a gentle re-brand, a subtle re-articulation of the language we use, helps achieve that, there is no harm in giving it a bit of thought.
What has also become clear to me during the past few years is that it has never been as important for any lender or broker involved in specialist property finance to have a differentiator. The sector is more congested than ever so, unless you can offer something different, do something differently or somehow look different, you will always be swimming upstream.
The differentiator could even be the way you package the services you offer, or the language you use to describe them; all the more so if you’re a consumer-facing broker rather than a broker-facing lender.
But what I am sure of is that, in a saturated space, the old advertising industry adage of ‘Be different or be damned’ has never been more important.
Mark Posniak is managing director at Octane Capital