“The business lounge will be here and this is where the conferences are going to be up above,” says Financial Services Expo director James Prosser as he directs Mortgage Strategy around Old Billingsgate Market.
This is the site he has chosen for his new business exhibition which is due to take place in just under a month on the 1 and 2 October, and he is clearly excited.
The 1875 building was originally the site of the world’s largest fish market, Billingsgate Fish Market, up until it relocated to Canary Wharf in 1982. These days it functions as a corporate hospitality venue right at the heart of the City of London.
Industry trade fairs for the UK mainstream mortgage market have been a relatively sedate area for the last 12 years.
There has been little by way of competition with the established Mortgage Business Expo in London, produced by Clarion Events, running since 2001.
At the 2003 MBE in London, just 12 months before the UK mortgage market was regulated by the Financial Services Authority, there was a bit of controversy when one exhibitor employed a stripper to dance at the back of their company’s booth.
That distraction was quickly shut down and mortgage industry trade fairs have been relatively sedate affairs ever since.
That will all change this year with the launch of two new trade fairs.
In March this year it was announced that the team behind the Commercial Finance Expo at the NEC was launching the Finance Professional Show at Olympia.
Run in part with the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers, the trade body’s chief executive Adam Tyler said the show would be the “rekindling of the good old days of an Expo in Central London”.
Then in June it was announced that FSE was being launched by Prosser via his company Front Events.
FSE, FPS and MBE are all being held within 45 days of each other. FSE is at the beginning of October, FPS is being held on November 6 and MBE on 13 and 14 November at the ExCel in East London.
Up until April this year Prosser ran MBE but he left to set up on his own. Clearly he believes he is onto something with a broader selection of services on offer, with mortgages, commercial lending, protection, distribution, legal and surveying, alternative lending and technology.
But the obvious question to ask is whether he was worried if the market was barely scraping one event, was he concerned that there was not any space for a second or third one?
“Yes, always a worry,” he says. “But having stepped out to the marketplace with this idea and the support I’ve been shown has been phenomenal – there’s a real need for a show like FSE.”
Media sales to protection broker
Prosser’s background is primarily in media sales with his first job out of school in 1998 selling the classified section of an engineering publication at Inside Communications which was part of the Mirror Trinity Group.
In 2000 he then joined a company called City Financial which had a number of trade titles focused on UK financial services, from protection to mortgages.
But when the downturn hit in 2008 he was made redundant and as the intermediary market fell apart in the wake of the credit crunch, he decided to become a protection and general insurance broker under the umbrella of Personal Touch Financial Services.
“It was good, hard work, it was difficult times post credit crunch,” he says.
He was a broker for just under a year when he decided to return to media sales, this time in the engineering press, working on the title Industrial Plant & Equipment, which is published by Western Business Publishing.
Then in 2010 he was headhunted by Clarion to solely work on MBE.
MBE’s main show at that point was in London having cancelled its Manchester show in 2008. So after his first show in 2010 he reactivated the northern show as well.
One of the criticisms of MBE from brokers has been that in recent years the focus has primarily been on a booming bridging market.
He counters that in part this was down to the fact that these were the types of firms showing interest in the exhibition.
“The mainstream lenders were not in abundance in terms of supporting the show,” he says, “which is where my contacts and network base really shined to be able to bring them into the show and keep that alive.”
Fast forward two years, coming up to the back end of 2012, he says he started to toy with the idea of FSE.
“The support from Clarion was there but I felt I was very much a one man band.” he says.
“This was no fault of them, it was all down to me, but considering myself something of an entrepreneur I wanted ownership of the show and at Clarion that was an impossibility.”
So in April this year he left the firm and after a three month non-compete started to put together what became FSE.
A key area of focus for his expo has been its location. One of the criticisms of the last couple of MBEs that Prosser ran was its shift over from the Olympia and Earls Court region to the ExCel Centre out in East London.
By contrast Old Billingsgate Market is walking distance from Bank and London Bridge.
“I conducted a survey, I’m a big believer in research, to 2,000 brokers and the things that came back as important were, as I imagined were, location, education and exhibitors,” he says.
So having sorted out the location he then needed to sort out the educational aspect.
To that end he spoke to the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries chief executive Robert Sinclair and the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association’s chairman David Finlay about runnings FSE’s seminars along with IFA Centre managing director Gill Cardy. Mortgage Advice Bureau will also be running the protection seminars as well.
It also has a mix of different brands from mainstream lenders to technology, legal, insurance and other financial services providers as he intended.
The aim next year is also to broaden out the FSE to include investment and wealth for the 2014 show.
But with there so many events now, be it packagers, lenders and even media companies, do people have time this day to take two or three days out?
“The idea of being whole of market, to take a day or two days out of your working life, to visit and see all of your potential needs for your clients as a broker, in the heart of the city it makes perfect sense,” he says.
“We will be running a really detailed conference with education being the main theme, continuous professional development accreditation as well, which as we know post Mortgage Market Review and Retail Distribution Review is extremely important for brokers and IFAs going forward.”
Two weeks after Prosser’s exit in April it was revealed that MBE was pulling the plug on the Manchester MBE. Clarion blamed a shortage of exhibitors on its decision to cancel the event which was due to take place on 23 May in Manchester at The Point, Lancashire County Cricket Ground.
The firm’s marketing manager Aidan O’Donovan told Mortgage Strategy at the time that there were not enough exhibitors to justify doing the event, although he was unable to say exactly how many exhibitors had actually signed up for it.
He also emphasised that the cancellation of the Manchester event would have no impact on the London MBE which will once again take place at the ExCeL centre on the 13 and 14 of November this year.
“From my point of view it’s frustration because visitor pre-registrations were actually ahead of last year,” he said.
Brokers were disappointed. Berkeley Alexander sales and marketing director Mark Hutchings says his firm has supported the Manchester MBE since it came back into operation two years ago that it has been a great place to create relationships and promote products.
“We are disappointed that that there doesn’t appear to be an event in that area at the moment,” he said. “From an industry perspective, it is very important that advisers and brokers in the North are supported and have these events to go to.”
Unsurprisingly, having worked on it up until his exit, Prosser was also disappointed at the move.
I was shocked, because the show was looking to do well, pre-registration on delegates was already up 25 per cent.” he says. “I was just disappointed for the market place more than anything.”
It’s to that end he says that he will be shortly announcing FSE North.
But with the additional competition from FSE, what does Clarion have planned for the London exhibition in November?
Mike Mikunda, who is coordinating the sales for MBE 2013, says that ensure that there is no confusion among brokers that FSE or FSP are simply rebranded versions of MBE it has started its marketing campaign earlier than usual.
To that end pre-registrations for Clarion’s event currently stand at 500, up from 100 this time last year and 30 the year before that.
“We want to be clear that the event is still going on and although it is scheduled to be the last of the three it is the established one, the one that they know is still there,” says Mikunda. “And that certainly seems to be getting picked up by the intermediary market.”
But with AMI working with FSE to provide its seminar programme, Clarion is looking to do something different at this year’s MBE.
“One of the things that we discovered in our post event analysis last year was that the seminar programme was highlighted as a weak spot,” he says.
So they have decided to go for a change of direction and put together a different sort of programme. He wouldn’t be drawn on what exactly that would be other than to say it will focus on the “relevance of the broker in today’s market” and he says it definitely will not be feature the Mortgage Market Review.
“We’re moving away from MMR as frankly it’s been done to death – we were doing it last year and there’s nothing more to say.”
But Mikunda is clearly up for the fight and the challenge that having both FSE and FSP in competition presents.
“Once in awhile the incumbent probably needs a kick up the backside,” he says. You can get a bit comfortable if you are the only show in town.”
He says looking back over the last two or three Expos he says there has been a lack of progression and development and points out that is “always the danger when you have an event without competition”.
“The change in the team, healthy competition, it can only be good news from the broker’s point of view as everyone is going to be anxious to put on a good show for them,” he says.
Good for brokers
So the big question remains whether three expos can survive?
AMI’s Sinclair, looking at it from the outside, says that just on the question of providing sufficient funding to all it seems unlikely that all will survive.
“I cannot see all three getting off the ground and if they all do, I don’t see all three being successes,” he says.
“There are a whole load of issues that are in need of addressing here and I’m not sure you’ll speakers of the right calibre and quality to debate issues to make it interesting enough for people.
“How big is the pond we’re fishing in, in terms of people that might want to come? And do advisers want to take that much time out of their diaries, I’m sure they don’t. So it’s all of this combined that leaves us in a space that needs resolving.”
MBE’s Mikunda predicts that some exhibitors will try all of the events, some will try two of the events, some will just try one of the events.
But the net result he says will be a dilution in terms of the exhibitor base from previous years.
“My guess is that going into next year there won’t be three events, it’s just not sustainable,” he says.
“It will be a case of everyone sits around a table and works out something that works for everyone or they battle it out. But I can’t see realistically in 2013 three events continuing to slug it out because the market while it’s recovering it’s not big enough to hold that – it’s asking too much of peoples’ budgets.”
And that’s something echoed by Prosser who is clearly equally up for the fight set to take place from October onwards.
“I don’t think so,” says Prosser. “I think the delegate base will tell as well.”
So the next month could be an interesting one for the market as the three events compete.
The ultimate winners though look likely to be mortgage intermediaries as the different brands look to come up with individual formulas to ensure their respective shows are a success. Let battle commence.