Back from reality

Ruth Badger starred as a no-nonsense contestant on BBC TV\'s The Apprentice but now she\'s come home to the mortgage industry as the public face of The Help Group campaign to reduce lead costs, she tells Nicolette Botbol

Ruth Badger is more commonly known as the runner-up in the BBC reality television show The Apprentice. She was narrowly pipped at the post to the role of Amstrad founder Sir Alan Sugar’s apprentice by blond bombshell Michelle Dewberry.

But the hard-nosed Badger stole the show with her tenacious, no-nonsense attitude – strengths she unsurprisingly developed in the mortgage market.

Badger has an extensive work history in financial services, with experience in underwriting and mortgage processing. She quit brokerage Compass Finance Group to become a contestant on the hit BBC show.

At the time she said she wanted to work for Sugar simply because of her desire to become a millionaire.

Badger says she was fascinated by how he rose from humble roots to national fame and fortune, particularly as she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth either.

Since the show, Badger has set up a business consultancy firm called Ruth Badger Consultancy. And as Mortgage Strategy reported on January 8, she is also the face of a financial services marketing campaign launched by Help Media Solutions.

The campaign, marketed as The Help Group, aims to produce leads for firms in the secured loans, insurance and mortgage industries.

The Help Group is consumer-facing, matching clients with suitable lenders and brokers.

“When I was approached to get involved with the campaign I understood the concept immediately,” Badger says. “It’s a perfect fit for this market and will make a difference.”

Badger calls it a unique marketing solution that is fact rather than profit-driven. She adds that cost, compliance, conversion and the “customer journey” are all prominent objectives.

One of the campaign’s goals is to reduce costs per lead so Badger unsurprisingly criticises the current cost of industry leads. But eBay-style lead distributor paaleads.com rejects her view, insisting that prices are reasonable.

“I welcome any new entrant to the market – the more competition the better as far as we’re concerned,” says Vanessa Blount, head of paaleads.com.

“However, due to our unique and transparent pricing method, I do not think that prices are too expensive. With our system, intermediaries set the price they’re willing to pay.”

Industry pundits have always questioned celebrity-led endorsements. In May 2006, Mortgage Strategy found a whopping 75% of its online readers voting that celebrities should not ad- vertise financial products. This followed the consumer backlash against Channel 4 Countdown star Carol Vorderman advertising unsecured loans for FirstPlus.

Jonathan Burridge, managing director of Quantum Mortgage Brokers, wonders whether Badger will be any different and even queries whether she will appeal to brokers and lenders.

Badger stresses that people should realise that she is first and foremost a businesswoman who happens to have appeared on television. This, she says, differentiates her and her campaign from other celebrity-led endorsements.

As for running her own company, Badger says that she is much happier being self-employed, which is perhaps inevitable given her straight-talking approach to business.

Her company’s pledge to prospective clients is ‘Don’t waste our time and we won’t waste yours’. But she prides herself on what she thinks of as her unique selling point – the personal touch.

“I will always promise less and deliver more,” she insists.

Badger was born and brought up in Wolverhampton. She graduated from secondary school with three GCSE grades A to C in English Language, English Literature and Religious Education – but an E in Maths.

It goes to show that being academically gifted is not necessarily the road to success in business.

Aged 16, Badger launched herself into the working world by signing up to a youth training scheme at her local job centre. After completing the scheme she got a job with the Benefits Agency, where she worked for four years.

Aged 22, she made her first move into financial services as a loans processor for Purple Loans, now owned by GE Money Direct.

In just three months she was promoted to senior processor, then landed a position as assistant team leader. During her time at the firm she was awarded the titles of employee of the month and employee of the year.

She quit Purple Loans to become general manager of loan sales at Compass Finance, later becoming operations manager at the company.

There is no doubt that the industry recalls the day that marked a fresh start for the mortgage industry – Mortgage Day on October 31 2004. Badger admits that she is not the Financial Services Authority’s biggest fan but believes “what it does is worthwhile”.

Nevertheless, she remains apprehensive about the secured loans industry’s imminent regulation.

“The process needs to be smoother,” she says.

As for the market’s health, Badger believes the signs are good, particularly in buy-to-let. However, this could be as much wishful thinking as rational prediction given her own investment in the sector, which she considers more important than her pension.

Badger predicts that house prises will continue to rise, with the 2012 London Olympics playing a part. The Centre for Economics and Business Research has said that the effect of the event could be enough to help the UK avoid a predicted housing slump.

Despite the researcher predicting a price slump in 2008 with growth falling to 2%, it thinks there will be a sharp rise in 2010 with 2.8% growth as the capital readies itself for the Oly-mpic competition.

As for Badger’s rise, continuing success seems likely if her career so far is anything to go by. But in an industry as close-knit as the mortgage market, she’ll have her work cut out, particularly if her campaign to reduce lead costs does not succeed.