How was 2011?
It was a year when we further increased our lending but also made some major changes. The biggest change was increasing our buy-to-let lending tenfold compared to 2010 as we saw the opportunity to do more. It’s satisfying because we have managed to keep our prime residential business going at the same time.
What is the biggest challenge for 2012?
To shift the way we develop products and have more products with particular customers in mind. For any other industry it is accepted practice but there is not enough in the mortgage industry. We see lots of companies talking about two or three year trackers but little innovation around the design of new products. We have started to build specific products for specific needs. For example, we are developing flexible mortgages, let-to-buy products for struggling home movers and cashback options for first-time landlords. There is a particular need for self-employed borrowers that lenders need to focus on and address more imaginatively. We have our next three target groups lined up for next year.
Is buy-to-let becoming overcrowded?
We think it will keep growing and is not overcrowded. There are still some areas that are underserved as many companies are lending small volumes in vanilla areas. In the short-term the inability of borrowers to buy is having a big drag on the purchase market and there are investors searching for opportunities because of stock market volatility.
Which three people, alive or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
I’d like to get our three kids in the same place. One lives in London, one in Sheffield and one is 10 and lives at home. We don’t get together often enough.
Apart from property what has been your most extravagant purchase?
I saw a brilliant painting by Russian artist Dmitry Lisichenko in the West End about seven years ago. I had my eye on it for a while and when it didn’t sell at auction I got in touch with the artist and bought it directly. It’s a painting in very placid colours of a lady sitting on a sofa. I went to a gallery recently and saw exactly the same picture with a different lady on the sofa so it is obviously one of his settings with different people. It’s easily my most extravagant purchase.
Interview by Samuel Dale